The waters off of southeastern Connecticut are growing what many see as a health food delicacy.
More fishermen are now growing kelp which flourishes in salt water and can survive hazardous weather conditions.
J.P. Vellotti, the general manager of East Coast Kelp Farms out of Norwalk, and Jay and Suzie Douglas who own Mechanic Street Marina, are now growing the seaweed off of Groton and Stonington.
Douglas has gotten guidance from Branford fisherman Bren Smith, who started the non-profit GreenWave to help kelp fishermen get started.
He turned to growing kelp after losing much of his shellfish crop to Superstorm Sandy.
Smith also runs a processing plant in New Haven where the brown seaweed is turned into the green kelp seen in many New York City restaurants and beyond. News 8 visited the plant last summer.
He and Vellotti have kelp farms next to eachother off of Groton.
“There’s a lot of wild kelp in southeastern Connecticut so we figure if there’s a lot of wild kelp there you could have a lot of farm kelp,” Vellotti told News8 over the phone. “The waters would be very good.”
Connecticut Sea Grant is helping fisherman like Vellotti navigate the permitting process. Sea Grant has been funding research for kelp farming for 30 years.
“We help address any questions that some of the agencies have,” said Sea Grant marine aquaculture specialist Anoushka Concepcion.
“There’s just so much going on that they kind of help give you a little bit better clear path,” said Vellotti.
Sea Grant helps both fishermen as well as regulators who are trying to establish guidelines for this emerging industry.
“Regulators are not so sure how to regulate the product to make sure it’s safe for human consumption,” said Concepcion. “They just want to make sure no one gets sick from this new crop.”
Jay and Suzie Douglas are farming kelp off of Stonington in Fisher’s Island Sound. They decided they wanted to fish for new opportunity during their marina’s slow season.
“There’s not as many revenue streams over the winter,” said Jay Douglas. “We’re really looking to try and make some money and we’re already on the water so it kind of made sense for us.”
He is farming three of the ten acres they lease right now.
“It’s a healthy food source,” said Douglas. “The act of growing it anywhere actually cleans the water it’s growing in.”
If all goes well after this first harvest they plan to expand