Six people smile at the camera, standing in front of a mostly-hidden banner of seaweed and a white pavilion wall.

A Dive into Seaweed Farming

Growers and state and local authorities discuss the state of seaweed farming in California

By Lauren.Linsmayer

Seaweeds have been harvested in California by Indigenous peoples for millenia, but seaweed farming is a relatively new endeavor. The industry began in California in the 1970s with the first land-based seaweed tanks to provide feedstock for abalone and has slowly developed to now include several coastal and one offshore project. Interest in seaweed farming is growing, as a panel discussion at the California Seaweed Festival held in San Diego in early November explored. I had the opportunity to moderate the panel on “starting a seaweed farm in California,” which discussed the state of seaweed cultivation in California and provided insights about the increasing interest in this field.

Beyond food for human consumption, the applications for seaweed are diverse: medicines and cosmetics, methane-reducing feedstock for cows, bio-plastics and other biodegradable materials, and biofuels. In addition, there’s a growing body of evidence that farming seaweed can be net beneficial to the environment, supporting conservation and restoration goals (as our recent WSN Special Session on Restorative Aquaculture examined).

The panel consisted of seaweed aquaculture experts and practitioners representing industry, state government, and local authorities:

  • Randy Lovell, State Aquaculture Coordinator, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Natalie Arroyo, 4th District Supervisor, Humboldt County
  • Leslie Booher, Co-Founder, Sunken Seaweed
  • Paula Sylvia, Aquaculture & Blue Technology Program Director, Port of San Diego
  • Eliza Harrison, Director of California Operations, Ocean Rainforest

The discussion covered a range of topics regarding seaweed farming in California, including different market opportunities for farmed seaweed, on the ground experience in the Port of San Diego and Humboldt Bay, important factors when deciding where to site a seaweed farm, some of the key operational and business planning needs, and efforts to engage Tribes. While the time-consuming and costly process for obtaining the necessary permits and approvals for seaweed farming can be a barrier to entry, cross-sectoral conversations like this panel can help identify challenges and opportunities going forward.

OST will continue to examine the seaweed aquaculture science needs and knowledge gaps for the state in support of state policy and regulation development. Visit our webpage for updates on this work.

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