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July 2, 2024

Biddeford kelp company has record harvest as seaweed industry prospers

An Atlantic Sea Farms farmer harvests kelp in the glow of the sun. Photo / Courtesy HATTIE TRAIN A record haul and more farmers than ever puts Maine-grown kelp into 4,000 retail stores across the U.S.

Atlantic Sea Farms, a seaweed farming company in Biddeford, doubled its harvest from last year and has more “partner farmers” and retail outlets than ever.

This year, the farmers harvested 1.3 million pounds of kelp. That compares with 571,161 last year.

“This was my best harvest season to date,” said Bob Baines, a fisherman from Spruce Head who has been partnering with Atlantic Sea Farms since its inception.

However, the 2023 harvest was down from 2022, which was 973,356 pounds.

The company partners with fishing families to farm kelp in Maine, Rhode Island and Alaska. It has expanded the supply of line-grown kelp as well as the market for its products, which the company says are traceable and  “regeneratively” farmed. 

Seaweed hangs from a line over the water.
Photo / Courtesy Atlantic Sea Farms
Atlantic Sea Farms in Biddeford has expanded the supply of line-grown kelp as well as the market for its products.

Products have been sold since 2019 to U.S. consumers, chefs, and consumer packaged goods companies. 

In 2019, Atlantic Sea Farms had 13 partner farmers and a year later, its products were in less than 500 retail locations across the country.

Today, the company has 40 partner farmers 18 communities, and more than 4,000 retail stores across the country carry its refrigerated and frozen products. 

Just six years ago, seaweed aquaculture at scale in the U.S. was unproven, the company said: 53,500 pounds of cultivated seaweed was harvested in Maine in 2018. 

“Currently, our partner farmers are growing their existing farms and other skilled fishermen from harbors across the state are planning to incorporate kelp aquaculture into their annual business plan now and into the future,” said Liz MacDonald, the company’s kelp supply director.

“Kelp farming keeps commercial vessels and crew active on the water in slower seasons and keeps cash flow in coastal communities stimulating local businesses, schools and important working waterfront infrastructure.” 

The 2024 kelp harvest season paid over $1 million to the farmers, who now grow the majority of the farmed seaweed in the U.S.

Developing an industry

Atlantic Sea Farms provides free seed, technical assistance and a buy-back guarantee for the kelp grown on sites that the fishermen lease from the state and operate independently. The company then turns the kelp into value-added products in its processing facility.

Atlantic Sea Farms is a rebrand from a company called Ocean Approved, a kelp farm off South Portland established in 2009. 

Briana Warner, a former economic development director at the Rockland nonprofit Island Institute, began working with Ocean Approved in 2018 and transitioned it into Atlantic Sea Farms a year later.

Warner is a 2020 Mainebiz Next List honoree.

In 2022, she stepped onto the global stage when she was invited to discuss the “blue economy” at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting, held May 22-26 in Davos, Switzerland.

“Since 2019, we have worked incredibly hard to build an industry that affords the opportunity for fishermen to be true stakeholders in creating a more resilient coastal economy and healthier ocean,” Warner said. 

The company estimates that, since 2019, its kelp farming has removed approximately 500,000 pounds of carbon from Maine’s coastal oceans.

As a zero-input, high-yielding, locally grown farm practice that’s native to the coast, kelp farming is considered an enhancement to state waters and to waterfront economies,  said Thew Suskiewicz, the company’s seaweed cultivation center director.

Atlantic Sea Farms manufactures and sells fermented and frozen products, available nationally at natural and conventional retailers like Whole Foods, Kroger and Albertsons as well as specialty and seafood markets, food co-ops and other large-scale grocery outlets. 

Last month, the company was given the Whole Foods Market Supplier All Star of the Year award.

Its kelp is also available as an input in several products produced by other brands like Thorne, Navitas Organics, Earth Animal and GEM.

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