Kodiak’s commercial kelp harvest begins inside a seaweed nursery

Tamsen Peeples stands in the room where Blue Evolution keeps its tanks full of seeded string, which will eventually grow into seaweed. (Photo by Kayla Desroches/KMXT)

Kodiak’s seaweed industry is growing, partly thanks to the investment of one company.

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Blue Evolution, which is based in the Lower 48 and turns kelp into pasta products, successfully completed harvest in May with a local fisherman in the City of Kodiak.

Now, they’re gearing up to plant some more seaweed in Alaska waters.

Tamsen Peeples, Alaska Operations for Blue Evolution, unwrapped some dried kelp and dropped the leaves into a large tank at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Kodiak Fisheries Research Center.

“We basically try to simulate spore release by stressing out the plants,” Peeples said. “We dry them out, we put them in the dark, and that stimulates them to release their spores when they’re reintroduced to sea water.”

Next, Peeples poured some fertilized water into the tank to encourage spore release.

The ultimate goal is to grow the spores out enough to transfer them to one of their sites, a process which Peeples says takes six to eight weeks.

Peeples carried the tank back to the cold room where Blue Evolution keeps the rest of the seeded tanks.

The room is set at the optimal grow temperature for the kelp, about 50 degrees in the water, Peeples said.

Each tank is full of what looks like brownish spools of thread, which isn’t far off from the truth. They’re pipes wrapped in seeded string, and the string is darker or lighter depending on the growth.

Peeples pointed out the labels on the corner of each tank.

“You can see the date that’s listed is the date they were seeded,” Peeples said. “When we put the spores into these tanks with the string wrapped around the pipes, those spores swim around for about 24 hours before they settle onto the pipes. From there, they… grow into tiny little blades.”

Peeples said some of the spores are growing better than others, although she’s not sure why – the conditions are all the same, from the water to the fertilizer.

“The more I learn about kelp the more I realize we know nothing about kelp,” Peeples said. “We like to think that we know what we’re doing with it and how it operates and behaves, but it always ends up surprising us.”

Blue Evolution relies on the natural cycles of Alaska kelp and uses those plants to source the seed they use in their lab.

Their pilot year was an especially warm one and, it turns out, 2017 is on the chillier side.

“Last year, we were in full operation in our hatchery by late August, and we are currently still producing seed, so we’re gonna be two of three months behind what we were last year. Whether or not that’s behind schedule, we’ll see,” Peeples said.

Peeples said the permitting process also delayed things, but the Onion Bay and Larsen Bay sites now have their paperwork in order and are ready for outplanting.

Peeples said the other two sites are Womens Bay in Kodiak and one spot in the Ketchikan area.

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Kayla Deroches is a reporter at KMXT in Kodiak.

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