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Kelp Harvest Time

It was Friday the 13th of May 2022, and despite nautical superstition, it was high time to harvest kelp at the Point Judith Kelp Company sea farm. After several days of strong northeasterly gales that hovered over New England waters, a weather window of calm wind opened. Longer and sunnier spring days brought warmer air and water temperatures to the Point Judith Harbor of Refuge kelp farm site. Our crop of Sugar Kelp had matured since planting the seed lines five months previously. The nutrient rich, cold, clean ocean waters of Block Island Sound were the perfect ingredients for our sea farmed crop.

Arriving early, the work crew geared up and Captain Dave Blaney directed a straightforward harvesting plan. “Cut the kelp where the blade and the stipe meet. Be cautious, the knives are as sharp as scalpels.” Captain Blaney informed me that the recent storm system had parted one of the three 1000’ kelp lines. He wasn’t certain what extent of a tangled kelp line mess we would find on location. The two boat crews headed out of the inner harbor to the offshore farm site. When we arrived on site the two boats agreed that we would first harvest the lines that were intact and save the tangled “spaghetti” for last.

My boat crew decided the most efficient method of harvesting was to lay the kelp line in an athwartship orientation over the rails of the stern work deck. In this manner the deck hands could cut and bag the kelp at a working hip level height. My method was to encircle a left armful of kelp, cut the bundle at the stipe end with the knife in my right hand, and drop the armful into the fabric tote that the kelp would be off-loaded from.

We had the ideal weather conditions for the harvest. The sky was overcast so it was not too hot, and the temperature was a spring-like 60ish degrees. The wind was light and variable. The work went on swimmingly with “a strong back and a weak mind” approach. We were rewarded with a fresh, salty, crisp, sea snack of raw sugar kelp whenever the spirit moved us to munch!

On my boat the repetitive harvesting work was enlightened by a significant level of lighthearted entertainment by my dory mates Bill and Lou. This pair of “old timers” regaled me with story after story of crabbing, lobstering, dragging, long lining, wives, children, and girlfriends, during “the good ole days.”

The last snarled kelp line presented an additional challenge but we approached it just as one would straighten out a plateful of spaghetti noodles. This was not our first nautical rodeo. Strong backs and weakened minds prevailed and the last sugar kelp blades were bagged and ready to deliver to the dock to be lifted and transported to the processor.

Hopefully, each and every individual on our planet is thinking about restorative ways to reverse climate change and to increase food security for the benefit of all. At Point Judith Kelp, we believe that growing kelp for environmental and societal benefit may be just one of many viable solutions to feed the hungry masses and to help recover a planet in need of healing.

Click here to learn more about NMI’s Office of Restorative Aquaculture.

David Bill

Restorative Aquaculture Program Director
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