Long Island not only resembles a fish, fishing has always been an integral part if its economy. And while recreational fishing still remains as popular as ever, over-fishing, pollution, and climate change have all contributed to the steady decline of commercial fishing for decades. Especially hard hit have been clammers and lobstermen, as well as those who fish for flounder and scallops.
While many families who have plied the waters for generations have been forced to put their boats up for sale, others may soon find salvation in harvesting seaweed with kelp now being touted as the next cash crop.
In fact, researchers from the Cornell Cooperative Extension have reported harvesting the first crop of sugar kelp grown as part of a pilot program in the Peconic Estuary during the f2nd week in June. The project, which is being funded by Suffolk County, is designed to test the feasibility of growing the species of seaweed commercially.
According to Chris Pickering, a specialist in habitat restoration and director of the Extension’s marine program, he and his team have been testing 5 sites in the estuary. This one grown in about 15-18 feet of water in Gardiners Bay before being moved to Noyack Bay off Center Beach has proven to be their most successful crop to date.
Kelp is familiar to beachgoers, and is known for growing in underwater “forests” worldwide. Although kelp may be new to most American cuisine, kombu kelp is used in Japan, China and Korea to flavor stews and soups, as well as a wrap for rice and other dishes. When soaked in soy sauce it is also the primary ingredient for tskudani and other popular snacks. In addition, kombu is often used to soften beans during cooking. It is also useful for converting hard to digest sugars that can cause gastric distress.
Other types of kelp are also used in a variety of pharmaceutical products. For instance, another form of brown seaweed, Laminaria, is used to treat goiter due to its high iodine content, while powder made from alginate kelp is often used by dentists and orthodontists for making impressions of the upper and lower arches.
Meanwhile, a carbohydrate derived from alginate is used to as a thickener for toothpaste, as well as in salad dressing, ice cream, and jelly. It should also be noted that researchers at the University of Newcastle, in England, found that alginate was more effective in curbing the absorption of fat that most over-the-counter diet supplements sold during clinical trials back in 2010.
If all goes well, Pickering added that growing kelp commercially will not only help the local economy, it can benefit the environment. This is because kelp removes carbon and nitrogen from waterways, thus preventing the proliferation a algae blooms (red and brown tides) which release toxins harmful to shellfish and other vegetation.