From whale to lobster to seaweed, we humans are continuing to move down the food chain to survive. Is seaweed our last chance?
Unless you’re a chef or a marine scientist, it’s unlikely that you think about seaweed.
There are nearly 12,000 known seaweed species in the world and over 250 seaweed species in Maine, where Susan Hand Shetterly focuses her book, “Seaweed Chronicles: A World at the Water’s Edge”.
Shetterly, who lives in rural Maine, tells the story of seaweed and seaweed harvesting through people: clam diggers, scientists, lobstermen, and others who want to protect their future on the Gulf of Maine.
The Gulf of Maine extends from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia. Since 2006, the gulf has warmed at 7 times the global average. As ocean temperatures rise, the lobster population continues to move north to cooler waters.
While the lobstermen of Midcoast Maine benefit from this shift, some in Maine are preparing for a future without lobster. Science is concerned with “how?” Business is concerned with “how much?” And others are concerned with how much more we can take from the sea.
In 1950, worldwide seaweed production was evenly distributed between cultivation and wild collection. In 2019, cultivation accounted for 97 percent of seaweed production in the world.
This cultivation or seaweed farming may be of interest to Maine lobstermen (women who haul lobster in Maine prefer to be called “lobstermen”). Aquaculture kelp is a winter crop. After lobstermen take out their lobster traps in the fall, they can return in the spring to harvest the kelp and put in their lobster traps at the same time.
It’s one thing to read about habitats and preserving one species. Shetterly goes a step further to describe what those connections mean to the human species, especially to those who live and work on the coast of Maine.
Seaweed is food and shelter for some of the sea’s inhabitants. Seaweed is also a way to earn a living which means food and shelter for some of Maine’s inhabitants.
Just as the periwinkle hardened its shell to defend against the green crab, humans must adapt once again. Today, Maine is known for blueberries and lobster. It is likely that kelp is next.
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