Farming Alaska’s seas


COSMOS COVE — It’s 4:30 a.m. and the wake-up siren screams. There is no escape. There’s barely enough room to catalogue over. Lia Heifetz, Matthew Kern and Clayton Hamilton stumble to their feet in the dank belly of the F/V Dial West. Adjust to go kelping.

«Kelp has always been a guaranteed catch for us when the fish weren’t penetrating,» laughs Heifetz. The crew pulls the anchor and leaves the quiet protection of Cosmos Cove, east of Baranof Island. They scan the iridescent horizon for beds of bullwhip kelp to harvest.

Heifetz and Kern initiated their business, named Barnacle, more than a year ago out of a trite passion for local foods.

«Both of us grew up in Juneau, and many of the pursuits that we do together are timed with the seasons and are tied to food. Whether it’s fishing, foraging or through with a fine-tooth comb, we end up with a seasonal surplus,» Heifetz says. «We put up all of this food to dole out with friends and family and live off of (it) the rest of the year.

«And one of those foods firstly,» she smiles, «kelp salsa has been a staple.»

Each year, the two would invite confreres over for a salsa-making party. When cupboards became crammed, they filled garages.

Today, the unite is commercial «fishing» for 600 pounds of wild bull kelp in Risk Strait. Clayton Hamilton, a fishing friend, volunteered his gillnetter for the overnight haste. Kern and Heifetz will turn this bounty into dry seasonings, pickles and their favorite — three flavors of bull kelp salsa. Aftermost year, the couple sold out, moving 2,000 units of kelp in very recently a few days.

«There!» Kern excitedly points to a cluster of green bulbs bobbing on the to the casual observer. As the tide falls, an enormous bed of bull kelp is revealed. Their twinkling backs arch out of the channel like sea monsters. The couple anchors down, do a moonlight flits up and straps knives to their Grundens.

Matthew Kern handles kelp after a harvesting session in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. (Bethany Goodrich)

Matthew Kern guides kelp after a harvesting session in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. (Bethany Goodrich)

«So, how are we active to do this?» Kern asks. This is their maiden voyage aboard a 35-foot container. «We probably should have waited to invite a photographer until we aerodynamic our process,» Heifetz adds as they lower themselves into a wobbling dinghy. Too example.

With sideways sheets of rain pummeling their cheeks, the couple manoeuvres into the kelp thicket.

«Anchor up,» Kern shouts. They yank ample kelp stipes (stalks) aboard to prevent their dinghy from float in the swell. For more than an hour, Kern and Heifetz slice stipes and alternate back and forth to offload totes of kelp to Hamilton aboard the Dial. An intrigued seal punches its head an arm’s length from their bow, watching with giant plans.

Little is known about managing and harvesting wild kelp. For that common sense, the two operate under an experimental permit with the Alaska Department of Fish and Tactic.

«Kelp is an important habitat for so many creatures. We want to be practicing sustainable gather techniques, and that doesn’t mean harvesting extreme volumes of resources,» Kern turns.

The two regularly exchange information, data and observations with Fish and Spirited.

«We can make products that are high value but don’t require mass amounts of a raw resource,» Kern discloses.

Back and forth, back and forth they go. The whole procession is a little comical. Typically, people try and keep kelp out of their fish clutch. Barnacle is a serious business, though, and Heifetz and Kern aren’t the merely entrepreneurs investing in kelp.

Lia Heifetz harvests bull kelp and pulls it into the dinghy in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. (Bethany Goodrich)

Lia Heifetz harvests bull kelp and apprehends it into the dinghy in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. (Bethany Goodrich)

Kelp: A win-win-win?

It’s trim for humans, too. In fact, the health and nutritional benefits of seaweed have swayed reporters and hipsters to call kelp «the new kale.» A peanut has about 15 dissimilar minerals and vitamins; a serving of kelp boasts up to 60. Kelp also has one of the highest concentrations of iodine, required for a healthy thyroid, found in nature.

Lia Heifetz shows spore patches (sori) on a piece of kelp. (Bethany Goodrich)

Lia Heifetz shows spore spells (sori) on a piece of kelp. (Bethany Goodrich)

«There are a lot of environmental fringe benefits, nutritional benefits and economic benefits. It looks like one of those win-win-win font industries,» says Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Evolvement Foundation. In 2016, Gov. Bill Walker established the Mariculture Task Enforce to grow a $1 billion industry within 30 years. Decker is co-chair of that stint force and the foundation is researching mariculture opportunity in the state. A comprehensive trade plan should be presented to the governor next spring. So far, opportunity looks full of promise.

«We have a tremendous amount of space,» Decker says. Where Alaska shortages arable land, it shines in coastline. At roughly 35,000 miles, Alaska has assorted coastline than the lower 48 states combined.

Decker believes that kelp agronomy dovetails nicely with Alaska culture.

«Kelp grows in the cascade and winter and is harvested in the spring. That works really well with our time-honoured fisheries in the sense that folks are often busy in the summer and not complicated in fall, winter and spring months,» Decker says. «So it might be a satisfyingly adjunct or a way for folks to expand and add on to existing infrastructure.»

Lia Heifetz and Matthew Kern harvest kelp from a dinghy in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. F/V Dial West (foreground) provided transportation and support. (Bethany Goodrich)

Lia Heifetz and Matthew Kern crop kelp from a dinghy in Peril Strait, May 20, 2017. F/V Dial West (foreground) take under ones wing transportation and support. (Bethany Goodrich)

Big boost in applicants

Alaskans certainly part of interested. This April, the state received an increase in mariculture permit attentions. There are only 320 acres of permitted farms in Alaska and the majestic typically sees around five applications a year. This year, 15 applications were submitted that account for multifarious than 1,000 acres of coastline.

But Alaska is still working out the knots of monetizing kelp. Permitting begins at $450 for the first acre, $125 per acre after that.

«If those (utilizations) were all to be permitted, the annual lease payments would mean unkindly $150,000 of new money coming into the state,» Decker says. «While that’s not cheese-paring the budget gap by any means, it’s certainly something.»

Currently, there are no taxes on aquatic till the soil contract products at the time of harvest or sale.

Mariculture may be a promising option for bucolic coastal communities looking to diversify. Erik O’Brien is a fisherman and seaweed husbandman in Larsen Bay near Kodiak. He is also the economic development specialist with the Southwest Alaska Parish Conference.

«We have been looking at mariculture for a long time as a means to prop up coastal communities (that) be subjected to been challenged by … a lack of access to fishing opportunity,» O’Brien avers.

This year, O’Brien estimates he pulled about 10,000 thumps of kelp from his farm. Although he faced a number of challenges this opportunity ripe while learning the ropes, he’s enthusiastic about improving efficiency in years to get. In May, three new farms harvested seaweed from Alaska’s cold still waters for the first time.

A bed of bull kelp is revealed on the falling tide in Peril Strait when Lia Heifetz and Matthew Kern went out to harvest the plants. (Bethany Goodrich)

A bed of bull kelp is revealed on the falling tide in Threat Strait when Lia Heifetz and Matthew Kern went out to harvest the bushes. (Bethany Goodrich)

«This year was very much a pilot-scale uniform, and a lot was learned. In some cases the production was less than the farmers hoped and in one turns out that it was actually higher,» Decker adds. «But folks are not deterred. They are literally invigorated and encouraged. My understanding is that farming is going to continue into the taken in and farmers will even expand production.»

Matthew Kern stirs a large batch of Barnacle Foods Sea Verde kelp salsa. The company rents a commercial kitchen in Juneau for the summer to produce the salsa and pickles. (Bethany Goodrich)

Matthew Kern stirs a goodly batch of Barnacle Foods Sea Verde kelp salsa. The company fees a commercial kitchen in Juneau for the summer to produce the salsa and pickles. (Bethany Goodrich)

Joining value from coast to kitchen

Back in Juneau, Kern and Heifetz are donning hats and hairnets to get ready their green gold. The salsa recipe on the schedule today: Sea Verde. They take hold turns eagerly dumping freshly harvested bull kelp into their new industrial mix. Today, they plan to process 650 jars of this coastal nibble.

«We are a small mom-and-pop shop now,» Heifetz says. «But we have a vision and a alleyway map to grow.»

An important junction on that road map involves transitioning from subterfuge kelp to farmed kelp.

«We are looking forward to using the wild kelp as a span until we are able to buy directly from farmers,» Kern explains. «Our upon is that by next year, we will have the market built and consequences tested. Meanwhile, the farmers will also have their methods in place to grow efficiently and we can come together to bring that kelp to superstore and both benefit,» Kern says.

Irritated sections of the kelp stalk, or stipe, are cut to be pickled by Barnacle Foods in Juneau. (Bethany Goodrich)

Kern and Heifetz are solving to provide an option for adding value right here in Alaska.

«When it be relevant to to harvesting any resource, we can harvest less of it if we are maximizing the value of it,» Heifetz says. «It’s round using resources more efficiently, and in Alaska, there is a trend of carrying out raw materials to be processed in other places. And while that may be the easiest thingumajig to do, the value that those resources bring back to the community and the part of the countries they are from is not always maximized.»

The couple turned the 600 lambastes of kelp they harvested in Peril Strait into more than 2,000 grates of kelp salsa in three different flavors, 150 jars of dill pickles and a to-be-determined amount of waterless fronds for seasoning packets. Further down the road, they foresee to extend their value-add mantra to include other wild and farmed ingredients.

«Proper like a fish processor is able to support a lot of fishermen and invest in the infrastructure, marketing and the treat of turning fish into fillets and into food, we want to do that with other resources,» Heifetz communicates. «So whether it’s berries coming from Hoonah or seaweed that is farmed for everyone the state, we want to be working with farmers and harvesters to be a guaranteed client and market.»

And who are their buyers?

While Kern and Heifetz want locals to remain stuffing their cupboards with Barnacle salsa, the two are also keen about bringing Outside money into their home state, dawning with tourists.

«We have over a million people filing to Juneau each year,» Kern says. «That’s a huge moment.»

This season, Kern and Heifetz partnered with other city entrepreneurs to build a storefront out of local wood and a salvaged shipping container on South Franklin Thoroughfare in hopes of tapping into that market.

Kelp pickles adorn a burger. (Bethany Goodrich)

Edifice an industry from the bottom up

Developing an Alaska kelp industry has drawbacks as well as promise. For one, farmers need seeds. The state of Alaska makes that seeds be propagated from wild samples within a 50-kilometer radius of the lease. This requirement was set in an effort to prevent negative environmental impacts of bring ining foreign seeds. Currently two operating hatcheries supply farmers with seeded families.

A lab at the University of Alaska Southeast is growing seeds with the support of

A pile of kelp stipes (stalks) after being harvested. (Bethany Goodrich)

A jam in of kelp stipes (stalks) after being harvested. (Bethany Goodrich)

Today, mariculture is slowly greater. However, as the state pushes for a billion-dollar industry, these questions may save more attention. As far as celebrating kelp as a carbon sink or a buffer to mollify ocean acidification, Oceans Alaska and The Nature Conservancy are partnering to scrutinize and quantify those environmental benefits.

«There are economic challenges associated with performing a business of any kind in coastal Alaska,» Decker says. «There is the elated cost of energy, the high cost of transportation and a lack of workforce because grudging communities are spread out and disconnected. But the seafood industry has those challenges as all right and has managed to overcome those.»

Despite the invites, Alaskans appear enthusiastic. There are benefits to building an industry from dawn, and Alaskans can fully explore their options early on.

For Lia Heifetz and Matt Kern, attain maturity the ideal kelp industry is about more than marketing Alaska’s resources globally. It is also hither living locally.

«Building businesses and prosperous industries in a remote stately like Alaska isn’t simple; we are up against some fairly substantial weirds,» Heifetz says. But like their business’ namesake ‘Barnacle,’ Kern and Heifetz are unwaveringly and stubbornly rooted to Southeast Alaska’s shores. «For us, success is about signing a sustainable home here. It’s about overcoming economic challenges, innovating and determination opportunities that complement our lifestyle and celebrate our unique culture.»

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