Commission Hears Proposal For Kelp Farm Off Herring River

By: William F. Galvin

Seaweed products are becoming more popular. WILLIAM F. GALVIN PHOTO


HARWICH — The conservation commission responded positively to a preliminary pitch to locate two pilot kelp growing arrays in Nantucket Sound off Herring River.

The pitch was made by West Harwich resident Mark Kelleher, who is seeking to use two locations off Herring River to string two 250-foot lines, one in an area about a half mile outside the mouth of Herring River and another just north of Kill Pond Buoy, about a mile-and-a-half offshore.

Kelp has long been a nutritional food source in Asia and is growing in popularity worldwide. The sea vegetable is indigenous to New England waters, related to brown algae and contains a wealth of minerals, amino acids and vitamins. It is also used in pharmaceutical products.

Kelleher told the commission there is a large kelp array located at Horseshoe Shoal, operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. A pilot kelp growing project was also approved for Jamie Bassett in Chatham last June. Kelleher said there are several kelp growing projects underway in Connecticut and Rhodes Island, producing fresh food and pharmaceutical supplements. There are also active farms in Maine, he added.

The activity has economic potential and will not cause much interference with recreational boating or fishing, he said, because of kelp grows over the winter. Lines would be put out in November and the kelp would be harvested in May. Lines and moorings would be removed for the summer months.

Kelleher said the kelp arrays requires a minimum of 20 feet of depth at low tide, and the areas he is seeking to use have depths of between 24 and 39 feet. Using locations off the Herring River takes advantage of nutrients coming from the river, he explained.

The gear includes two mooring blocks to secure the line and a couple of buoys and weights attached to the line to submerge it at least seven feet below the surface. Kelp grows quickly and can grow 10 to 12 feet below the line, he said.

Conservation Administrator Amy Usowski called the proposal a very interesting project that won't conflict with heavy boating traffic. But she urged Kelleher to contact Harbormaster John Rendon, saying he might have concerns about navigational issues. There will also be Army Corps of Engineering permits required, she added. Conservation Commission Chairman Brad Chase pointed out the array will be in commonwealth waters and would require state permits. Chase asked what the town's jurisdiction is. The activity is in a wetland resource area where anchors are being placed, Usowski said, adding that under the town's wetland protection bylaw the commission has navigational jurisdiction. She said the town's waterways committee, which serves on an advisory capacity to the commission, will be consulted.

Commission members wanted to know how the project benefits the town. Usowski said the town would have to issue a site permit, similar to a shellfish grant lease, and would assess a fee. Kelleher also said it could mean economic development and jobs.

Commission member Carolyn O'Leary asked about the area necessary for a full-blown grant operation. Kelleher said he'd need 2.5 acres per array. He said he would work with Rendon and Natural Resources Director Heinz Proft to address any issues they might have.

Chase called the project “fascinating.” He asked if Kelleher had looked at turbidity conditions that might impact photosynthesis and growth of the kelp. Kelleher said one of the reasons he wants to use two locations is in case there is a problem at one location, at least there might be growth data from the second location.

Noting the time of year of the growing season, Chase commented, “Resource impacts are temporary and positive.”

Usowski said after the meeting she would set up a meeting with Kelleher, Rendon and Proft to discuss any issues they might have, so Kelleher can address them before the beginning the permitting process. Kelleher said he'd like to have the necessary permits in place by next fall so he can begin the pilot program.