Fast-growing kelp can help mitigate the impact of climate change by removing carbon and nitrogen from the water. And compared with land plants and animal meats, kelp is loaded with digestive and nutritional benefits. Yet 95% of edible seaweed is imported – something Briana Warner, CEO of Atlantic Sea Farms is on a mission to change. Briana is partnering with Maine lobster farmers to grow and harvest kelp in their offseason, which helps diversify their income. Kelp farming “uses the exact same equipment as lobstering does,” plus lobster farmers already have a “massive skill set” on the sea, she says. Watch the video to see how line-grown kelp is harvested and turned into delicious salads and cubes for smoothies. Ocean foods like seaweed and kelp are predicted to be the hottest superfoods of 2023.
Read more: A Seaweed Farmer Talks Kelp, 2023’s Hottest Superfood
PIX: Shots of the ocean/lighthouse and town/Fish Market; Briana and Trevor walking down boardwalk to boat; preparing to sail.
Trevor MacDonald: Really just grab the tag in and pull it through.
Briana: How can we continue to keep Maine exactly like it is? The way to do that is by keeping people on the water and keeping people invested in the things that they love to do. BEAT, Beat
PIX: Trevor and Briana sailing. Lobster fishermen working.
Briana: Kelp grown here help fishing communities adapt to climate change by also mitigating some of its effects.
PIX: Briana fishing kelp out of the boat.
L/T: Briana Warner – CEO – Atlantic Sea Farms
Briana: We are so dependent on the lobster fishery. All the other fisheries are gone for the most part. And this lobster industry, while it's doing well, is terrifyingly volatile. The Gulf of Maine is warming faster than 99% of oceans in the world. We have a perfect temperature here, right now, for lobster to thrive. And just a few more degrees in the water, that is no longer going to be the case.
PIX: Shots of the coast.
TEXT: Briana is a development economist by training.
TEXT: In 2014, she began working at the Island Institute which supports Maine’s coastal communities.
PIX: Trevor driving boat with him and Briana; seaweed ropes on water.
L/T: Trevor McDonald
Trevor: When I was a kid, we used to go out 5-6 days at a time, my father and I. Just part of life, yeah. I never thought twice about it. I love it.
Briana: We were kind of looking into the different types of aquaculture that we could get fishermen into, oysters and mussels. At the time, seaweed was becoming more and more in consumers' diets, through sushi, through seaweed salads, through the seaweed snacks.
PIX: Boat dragging in kelp line; Trevor dragging kelp line; kelp in water.
TEXT: At the time, 98% of the seaweed eaten in the U.S. was imported.
Briana: It became very clear to us that kelp was a tremendous opportunity for fishermen. It's grown in the winter, which is counter-seasonal to lobster. It uses the exact same equipment as lobstering does.
PIX: Fishermen dragging kelp in their boats.
Fisherman SOT: Yeah, the kelp knives!
Briana: In addition, kelp can also help mitigate some of the effects of climate change by removing carbon and nitrogen from the water.
PIX: Exterior shots of Briana’s house in early morning. Briana packing car, driving to ocean.
Briana: My plan when I was a kid was not necessarily to be in kelp, or seaweed in general. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, which had long been known for its lumber and natural resource-based economies. Most of the industry had long left the place, and it was a pretty depressed place. And it's really informed the way that I have seen the world.
PIX: Kelp in water.
TEXT: In 2018, Briana became head of the Island Institute’s Ocean Approved project.
TEXT: It was the country’s first commercial kelp farm.
Briana: Ocean Approved needed to go on to the next step for the marketing and branding and better kelp farming. They had just harvested about 30,000 pounds of kelp.
PIX: Kelp in water; boat dragging kelp line.
TEXT: Briana changed Ocean Approved's name to Atlantic Sea Farms.
TEXT: She began to bring in lobstermen to grow the kelp.
Briana: The lobster fishermen, they're incredibly competent on the water, and they have all the equipment they need to farm aquaculture. Our promise to them always has been, we'll give you free seed, because we have to grow all of our seed in house. Kelp doesn’t just—you don't just put out lines and kelp just grows on it. And then we have a buyback guarantee for every single blade of kelp that they grow. Here we are three years later, and this year we're working with 27 partner farmers, most of whom are fishermen.
PIX: Trevor pulling up kelp line.
TEXT: Atlantic Sea Farms sold its products mostly to restaurants.
TEXT: Then Covid hit.
PIX: Product jars in Briana’s warehouse.
Briana: After Covid, we did a pivot into retail. When I say pivot, I mean a Hail Mary, because that's really what it felt like, because suddenly, not only did we not have those customers, but we had 450,000 pounds of kelp that we had to harvest in three months, and all the payments for that kelp, and all the ways to process it.
PIX: Briana pulling cartload of kelp through warehouse; sampling kelp.
Sue SOT: How much does this weigh?
Briana SOT: About 1,000 pounds. And this just came off a farm this morning. And this is our harvest by the people who harvest the kelp in two. I don’t have a knife on me…I got it. And you can just eat it right off—well, we’ll check out the farms, too. You can eat it right off the farm.
PIX: Workers packing kelp.
Briana: We did it. We'd get on these retailer calls and act like we're totally fine, like, “Oh, we don't really need this business.” And we had some incredible support from retailers that was beyond my imagination.
TEXT: In 2022, Atlantic Sea Farms harvested nearly 1 million pounds of kelp.
PIX: Briana and Matt in packing and recipe testing room.
Briana: Kelp is now very much being seen as not only climate friendly, but also incredibly nutrient dense and different. If we say nothing about its climate benefits, nothing about its nutrition, it still just tastes good.
Briana SOT: Matt is doing a lot of our recipe innovation. So Matt, what kind of new things are we working on?
L/T: Matt Haight
Matt SOT: Some vegan fish sauce. So I’m currently fermenting some of our fresh kelp with a couple of different blanched mushrooms, and then some ginger and onions, and then let it go for a little bit; and then blend in some miso and tamari to keep it gluten free, and hopefully tasting delicious.
Briana: Our whole mission is focused on getting more fishermen in the water. But the way to do that is to drive demand, and the way to drive demand is to make everything taste outstanding.
Briana: So when we're selling to wonderful chefs, we're not talking about our mission. We're talking about, “Hey, this is really good to wrap around fish, it keeps the juices in” or “Sprinkle a little bit of this on your ramen” or “Put this in your pesto.”
PIX: Briana in the small boat, waving to fishermen, riding away. Kelp in water.
Briana: Kelp is not a silver bullet for climate change. I think right now people are looking for silver bullets. It's all well and good, but we need to change our habits. And what kelp does is it helps people make better choices about what's on their plate.