Branford fisherman goes green by growing kelp

BRANFORD AND FAIR HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — They often call fishermen farmers of the sea and you can’t get much closer to that than what Bren Smith is now doing.

After Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy hit, Smith lost 90 percent of the oysters, muscles, and scallops he harvests off Branford’s Thimble Islands.

“So that’s when I realized I had to change the way I was growing and the species I was growing,” said Smith who owns Thimble Island Ocean Farm.

He decided to try his hand at growing kelp.

“Quite honestly it’s easier to grow plants than animals,” said Smith.

So far so good. It’s helped him sustain his livelihood and the waters where it’s grown.

“Our kelp soaks up five times more carbon than land based plants,” said Smith.

He’s opened a plant in the Fair Haven section of New Haven where the kelp is processed.

“We start it as this tiny little seed on the ropes and then within a couple months it grows into these beautiful blades,” explained Smith who held up the kelp which is brownish color.

After rinsing it, he blanches the kelp in boiling water and it transforms.

“Look at that green color huh,” said Smith as he watched the change.

He lives in the New Haven neighborhood and is hoping the processing plant helps the local economy grow.

At the plant the kelp is cut into strips. He’d like to see it find its way onto more dinner plates.

“There’s the spaghetti of the future,” Smith said with a laugh as he held up a strip of kelp.

He’d like to see it treated more like a vegetable than a seafood.

“Our idea is to desushify it,” said Smith.

He now has orders for half a million pounds. It’s a lot more than he grows which is why he is helping others start ocean farming through his non-profit GreenWave. Nick Pastore of Oxford just got his first 15 acres. He works with Smith.

“I love it,” said Pastore. “I grew up on the water so it’s like combining two of my passions.”

Perhaps the wave of the future. The sugar kelp has certainly been a sweet change for Smith.

“I never would have guessed as a commercial fisherman I would be growing plants,” said Smith who knows diversifying means survival.

Once the kelp is bagged, vacuum sealed, and frozen it can last up to five years in the freezer.

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