Sara and I volunteered on the harvest crew at the Craig kelp farm today. The kelp farm is set up like a football field. The “side lines” are engineered lines anchored to the bottom and held at the surface by large buoys. The “10 yard lines” attach at either end to the sidelines and are the lines where the kelp grows.
It takes a village to harvest a kelp farm. There were two commercial fishing boats hauling the grow out lines aboard. A skiff tended the lines for each commercial boat, untying the grow out “10 yard” lines on each end from the anchored “side lines” so they could be hauled aboard. If only it was so easy. Most of the lines had some sort of tangle with the lines next to it, and the boys in the skiff had their work cut out for them, tossing a grapple hook to bring the line to the surface, then pulling themselves along the heavy, kelp-laden line to figure out what was tangled where. A fifth skiff worked independently of the harvesting boats, collecting anchors and buoys from the grow out lines so they were ready to be pulled aboard. Four crew were jammed on this boat, and all were young and full of youth and flexibility and strength. A tender vessel – a small commercial seine boat with a crew of three- arrived mid-day to take what we’d harvested back to town.
On board our harvest vessel, the skipper (Melissa) pulled the line with a hydraulic crab pot hauler over the gillnet roller at the stern, across the hold to a block tied about 7 feet high at the mast, then through a line stripper to the crab block. A crew member with a long sharp heavy knife (Alan) whacked the ribbon kelp at the holdfast off the grow out line and into brailer bags in the hold. Another crew member (me) coiled line as it came off the pot hauler. Sara served as a gopher, gathering stray kelp that didn’t fall into the hold and helping tangles over the gillnet reel. The skipper was also in charge of clearing the line stripper, which regularly clogged and had to be dismantled and the tangle of holdfasts and seed twine cut away. This left lots of time for Alan, a constituent from Haines, to talk with Sara about the goings on at the legislature.
We started harvesting about 7 am, and by midday, we’d filled all 8 braler bags. As the lines came over heavy with kelp, I could only think – this farmer is onto something. All this food produced from native kelp seed planted the fall before, which grew with just the sun for photosynthesis and nutrients from the ocean. No additional fertilizer needed as with land farming, nor disturbing of the marine environment other than the anchors sitting on the bottom. In fact it was creating it’s own habitat of neat crustaceans and invertebrates we saw come aboard among the kelp which certainly were food sources for little fish in the food chain. All this food grown in one little spot of the ocean – no wandering around the sea searching for it. And it tasted good. Real good. Right off the line. I keep thinking of this farmer like I do Bill Gates. He saw the future and made it happen.
We untied the commercial boat from where it was tied off along one of the “side-lines”, and motored over to the tender. There, the tender crew pulled the brailer bags out of the hold and dumped the kelp from the bags into fish totes onboard their vessel to take to the processor in town.