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Kelp farmers on Long Island prepare for a burgeoning industry

Scientists and farmers harvest kelp from Setauket Harbor in May of 2021.
J.D. Allen
WSHU Public Radio
Scientists and farmers harvest kelp from Setauket Harbor in May of 2021.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has signed legislation to help establish a farming industry with a new crop — kelp. It’s a seaweed for which Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island have already set up commercial programs.

The hope is that the kelp farms meant for Gardiners and Peconic Bays can help restore water quality and fish habitat in eastern Long Island.

WSHU’s climate podcast Higher Ground explored kelp farming along Long Island’s North Shore.

Not just a seaweed

  • Since the early 2000s, the revival of kelp farming has been recognized as a way to improve water quality and provide habitat for fish and marine life.   
  • Kelp removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the water, preventing toxic algal blooms and ocean acidification that starves the water of oxygen that marine life needs.
  • The planting season is typically during the winter months. That means hanging special fishing line covered in kelp seeds from mooring anchors. In the late summer and early fall, farmers harvest the kelp by pulling up the lines. 
  • Long Island is home to more than a dozen kelp farms. All are considered research sites. Today’s harvest was taken to a greenhouse for additional study.
  • Kelp farming can provide Long Island oyster farmers with a means to diversify crops and create additional revenue streams. It’s a relatively new crop, so scientists are mapping out the right conditions and offering recommendations to municipalities for how they can permit shallow waters for kelp farming. 
  • If a bayman has a modest oyster farm that's just one acre in size, and also grows kelp from January through May, scientists estimate that one acre could yield 70,000 pounds of kelp in a single year. And that represents the capture of hundreds of pounds of nitrogen — the equivalent of about 20 advanced septic systems.
A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.