California Entrepreneurs Fight Regulators to Grow Seaweed

California Entrepreneurs Fight Regulators to Grow Seaweed

On the East Coast, seaweed has quickly become something of an environmental silver bullet. Fast-growing start-ups tout its carbon sequestration capabilities and laud its potential as an alternative food source. But on the West Coast, entrepreneurs like John Finger and Daniel Marquez, can hardly get the state of California's permission to grow it. With few exceptions, California has not issued any leases to grow seaweed or shellfish in over 25 years.

"They treat permitting a new shellfish farm like a nuclear power plant," Finger, CEO of Hog Island Oyster Co., told the San Francisco Chronicle. Marquez, CEO of PharmerSea, echoed him, "Can you move it along a little bit?

New York Sea Grant: Kelp Could be Silver Bullet in Fighting Climate Change in Our Oceans, April 18, 2021.

Why This Matters

As atmospheric carbon levels continue to increase, experts say reducing emissions alone will not be enough to halt global warming. In other words, strategies like carbon sequestration will become key in the fight against temperature rise. With powerful absorption properties, seaweed is an invaluable tool in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Recent studies from Harvard indicate it may even capture many times the amount of carbon than terrestrial forests.

Still, the development of seaweed farms in California is subject to the cumbersome permitting process imposed by the state. In order to gain approval, applicants are likely required to fund a state ecological review that can cost between $25,000 and $500,000. For entrepreneurs like Finger, this has made kelp growth projects dead on arrival. Others, like Marquez pushed ahead, waiting six years before the state finally permitted his 25-acre project off the coast of Santa Barbara.

Now This: Can Seaweed Farming Reverse Climate Change?, May 3, 2021.

A Surprise Benefits

Still, the surprise benefits of seaweed make its cultivation essential. Beyond carbon sequestration, new research suggests that it can reduce methane emissions from cows by 80% in just five months when added to their standard feed in small quantities.

Breanna Roque, a leading researcher on the study, emphasized the promise of these results to the Guardian, saying, "There is more work to be done, but we are very encouraged by these results. We now have a clear answer to the question of whether seaweed supplements can sustainably reduce livestock methane emissions and its long-term effectiveness.

Natural Climate Solutions: Blue carbon - our oceans are a natural climate solution, October 7, 2020.

Sentient Media: Food System Emissions - How Can We Reduce Our Carbon Footprint?, June 18, 2021.