Kelp cultivation in Japan. Stock photo: Fotolia

“Seaweed is the new kale” — sea greens are trending as a hip source of nutrition: fat-free, gluten-free, low-calorie, rich in minerals, vitamins and taste, according to foodies, food writers and advocates of the edible saltwater plants that include nori, kelp, and algae. Long popular with Asian and Nordic chefs, seaweed has “made the switch from niche health food to haute cuisine,” according to bon appétit magazine.

Seaweed is also good for the marine environment, dissolving excess nitrogen and carbon from the water, and helping to improve our estuary, notes North Fork Legislator Al Krupski.

Seaweed farmer in Maine Photo: Friends of Penobscot Bay
Seaweed farmer in Maine Photo: Friends of Penobscot Bay

So it makes sense that Suffolk County should look at the feasibility of growing kelp for market production, Krupski says. He cosponsored a bill last year authorizing a pilot program to do just that.

In June, the county got the go-ahead it needed from the State Legislature, which passed authorizing legislation to allow certain underwater lands owned by the state to be used for the pilot program. A bill sponsored by State Sen. Ken LaValle and Assemblyman Fred Thiele passed the State Legislature in June and is expected to be signed by the governor.

Thanks to that measure, seaweed cultivation will soon be coming to Gardiners and Peconic bays, Krupski said.

The pilot program will be conducted by Cornell Cooperative Extension, Krupski said.

“It’s a very important pilot,” Krupski said. “It addresses an urgent need and uses new technology to advance local aquaculture.”

Once established, a sustainable seaweed aquaculture industry could play an important role in our marine environment by removing excess nutrients, especially dissolved nitrogen, while creating new sustainable green jobs, he said.

Krupski looks to the success of Suffolk’s underwater lands leasing program for shellfish cultivation as a model for the new kelp initiative. In 2004, New York State ceded 110,000 acres of underwater land in Gardiners and Peconic bays to Suffolk County for the purpose of shellfish cultivation, authorizing the county to develop a leasing program with shellfish growers.

LaValle and Thiele point to Connecticut and Maine as examples of how “seaweed and macroalagae cultivation can yield an economically viable market product which also has the duel benefit of being a nutrient sink, removing excess nitrogen from estuarine waters.”

Suffolk County appropriated $80,750 to fund the pilot project, representing one-half its cost. Cornell Cooperative Extension will provide matching funds.

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