GOULDSBORO — Sarah Redmond has come a long way from her teen years concocting Irish moss pudding and dubbing around with other seaweeds in her family’s kitchen. The Springtide Seaweed LLC co-owner never wavered from her interest and belief in marine plants’ potential as a valuable food source in the United States and beyond. That firm conviction has led Redmond to win a $649,651 federal grant to design systems to commercially grow large volumes of nori, dulse and other premium saltwater algae in coastal Maine, the U.S. and beyond.
At Springtide Seaweed LLC in South Gouldsboro, where Redmond and her business partner Trey Angera operate at the former E.H. Snow Cannery, Redmond was waiting out Tuesday’s bad weather to start harvesting her first crop of dulse grown at a 35-acre site west of Stave Island in Frenchman Bay. The ruby-red seaweed was produced from the company’s own wild seed stock and cultured into spores in its own nursery at the Bunkers Cove facility. Last year, the microscopic spores were added to large, closed PVC tubes containing cold, fresh seawater pumped in from Bunkers Cove. The spores, which settle on and attach to cotton string, continued to grow and gradually were exposed to natural light before being attached to longlines last fall for further grow-out at the ocean site.
Dulse grows in the cold North Atlantic and Northwest Pacific oceans and is largely harvested from the wild. The red seaweed is prepared like kale as a raw salad and incorporated fresh or as flakes and powder into soup and stews. It also can be dehydrated into jerky. The seaweed is in much in demand in Japan, China and other Asian countries where aquaculture technology is lacking to farm the high-value sea algae. That’s why Springtide Seaweed is focused on dulse as well as nori (alaria) cultivation. Nori is the dark green seaweed wrapping around sushi rolls. Springtide aims to develop different strains of dulse and nori and design methods to grow them in greater volume organically in the sea. The company sees the two seaweeds as potentially lucrative crops for coastal Mainers to grow full time or to diversify their revenue stream from other marine-based occupations.
Over four to five years, Redmond’s own track record producing dulse seedstock and cultivating it organically in the ocean proved decisive in her winning the $649,651 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Announced last week, Redmond’s grant provides the funding to Springtide Seaweed to refine its nursery technology and methods for efficient seed production of dulse and nori and develop cultivation systems for aquaculture enterprises in Maine, the U.S. and globally.
“If you can produce the seed, you can farm it,” Redmond declared Monday. “I really want to seize this opportunity. I just think we have so much opportunity to produce high-quality seafood.”
Redmond’s grant application was supported by SEAMaine, a Maine industry-led initiative of commercial fishing, aquaculture and seafood enterprises, funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. SeaMaine sees the South Gouldsboro seaweed farmer’s research and commercial enterprise as having broader implications for Maine’s seafood industry. Springtides’ current nursery/processing facility could serve as a prototype for sustainably cultivating not just seaweed, but potentially sea urchins, scallops and other marine creatures that also are much in demand and fetch premium prices.
U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) backed the SeaMaine initiative and Redmond’s federal grant application.
“Small businesses are the backbone of Maine’s economy and helping them to reach their full potential strengthens Maine’s economy and creates new employment opportunities, particularly in our rural communities,” the senators said in a joint statement April 14. “We welcome this investment from the USDA, which will allow Springtide Seaweed to develop new seaweed crops, increasing sustainability and efficiency in the industry, diversifying the aquaculture industry, and supporting jobs in coastal communities.”
King and Collins see great potential in the U.S. seaweed industry but note the industry’s growth has been largely limited to low-value brown kelp crops. They see Springtide’s operation on land and at sea as potential models for commercial aquaculture globally.
“New turnkey systems, adaptable to red and brown seaweed cultivation, will increase sustainability in the industry, reduce gear and crop failure, and enable high-value red seaweeds to be easily integrated into existing aquaculture industries, including shellfish, finfish and seaweed farms worldwide,” King and Collins said.
Originally from the Kennebec County town of Litchfield, which is over 100 miles from South Gouldsboro, Redmond started gardening at a young age and became fascinated in coastal Maine’s wealth of marine plants. She pursued that interest seriously earning a Bachelor of Science degree in aquaculture from the University of Maine in Orono in 2003. She furthered her studies, obtaining a master’s degree in marine botany from the University of Connecticut in 2013. All the while, she shared her love of growing knowledge about marine plants including seaweed with the public in many different capacities. Working as a marine extension associate in UMaine’s Maine Sea Grant program, she co-founded the annual Maine Seaweed Festival first held in South Portland. As a graduate student, she developed aquaculture curriculum to introduce Maine’s fishing industry to different forms of aquaculture including seaweed cultivation in 2013. She also worked for the UMaine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin. There, she got her start collecting and propagating wild seaweed stock.
In an agreement with Sorrento fisherman James West, Redmond began cultivating various kelp species at West’s dormant 35-acre cod farm lease site off Preble Island in Frenchman Bay in 2009. Through word of mouth, Redmond eventually learned of the former seafood cannery in South Gouldsboro where the cavernous building’s then owner Leonard Bishko was intent on keeping the facility for commercial marine activity. Springtide Seaweed fit the bill. Initially leasing the property, Redmond went on to expand her ocean seaweed operation, securing a 10-year lease on a 35-acre site off Stave Island. She and her business partner formally acquired the Bunkers Cove facility in 2020. They produce about 100,000 pounds of sugar and skinny kelp annually.
“We have this opportunity to explore and create new methods to integrate into the working waterfront,” Redmond summed up. “It is our opportunity to evolve. We are seeing all of our fisheries change and decline. If we know how to sell sea urchins or scallops, it’s a perfect opportunity to produce them.”