Washington Struggles to Turn Kelp into Cash Crop

Seagriculture EU 2024
Bull kelp Puget Sound

Bull kelp in Puget Sound. Photo: Sara Hamilton/OSU

Sandy Doughton writes in the Seattle Times that the efforts to restore Puget Sound’s bull kelp are motivated by the algae’s profound importance to marine ecosystems. But there’s also a Gold Rush mentality around kelp and other seaweeds these days.

A guide to the seaweed industry

Globally, seaweed farming is already a $6 billion industry, and one analysis says it could exceed $80 billion by 2026. But the history of seaweed farming in Washington shows it’s not easy to turn algae into money. Huge markets have been forecasted for Washington that never materialized — such as for potash, or potassium salts, and candied citron (branded “seatron”) derived from kelp.

Biologist Tom Mumford was hired by Washington’s Department of Natural Resources in the mid-1970s to foster seaweed aquaculture. He helped the Lummi Nation cultivate seaweed as a source of carrageenan, a food-thickening agent. But they couldn’t compete with growers in the tropics.

One company proposed two large farms near Anacortes to produce nori for sushi but backed off after public outcry.

Proponents haven’t given up, though. Washington Sea Grant and others received funding in 2019 to develop a training program for potential seaweed growers.

Blue Dot Sea Farms is a partner in a two-year project, in collaboration with Washington Sea Grant, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They provide information and training on seaweed farming to the public, with a particular focus on veterans in a program entitled “Seaweed Lines of Change: Laying the Groundwork to Advance the Practice of Sustainable Seaweed Farming in the Pacific Northwest.”

The company is also participating in the National Sea Grant Seaweed Hub. This project involves a consortium of seaweed growers, processors and food scientists who are meeting over the next 2-3 years to develop a national strategy for the development of profitable marine agronomy based on cultivating seaweeds for food and other high value products.

Finding markets has been tough, says Blue Dot co-owner Joth Davis, a longtime oyster grower. But they recently developed their first product: a savory kelp puff they call “seachirrones.”

All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint articles in their entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact david@algaeplanet.com. Algae Planet accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

Seagriculture USA 2024
Contact Phil Ganz



  • June 19, 2024: Scottish Sea Farms has joined a seaweed growing venture in a project that combines salmon and kelp farming on Loch Spelve in the Sound of Mull. The intention of the year-long pilot is to enrich and replenish the marine environment while minimizing any impact from farming activities. READ MORE...
  • June 17, 2024: The ALEHOOP project, funded by the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking, has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of sustainable plant-based protein extraction. The project has developed pilot-scale biorefineries that recover low-cost dietary proteins from algae and plant-based biomass. READ MORE...
  • June 14, 2024: Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed microscopic robots, known as microrobots, capable of swimming through the lungs to deliver cancer-fighting medication directly to metastatic tumors. This approach has shown promise in mice, where it inhibited the growth and spread of tumors that had metastasized to the lungs, thereby boosting survival rates compared to control treatments. READ MORE...
  • June 12, 2024: The PROTEUS consortium of 11 international partners, funded by the Circular Bio-Based Europe Joint Undertaking, intends to establish the first industrial-scale biorefinery for brown seaweeds. This facility will enhance sustainable production of bio-based ingredients from Laminaria hyperborea, an untapped European renewable resource, meeting global demand in food, feed, personal care, and industrial sectors. READ MORE...

Algae Europe 2024

A Beginner’s Guide