What Does Sustainable Seaweed Harvest Look Like?

Seaweed Harvest Mendocino Coast

My post on nori harvest two years ago was vague because I was hesitant to encourage more people to get out there and possibly damage the environment.

As individuals we have responsibilities not to over-harvest, but like many issues the large-scale commercial operations and loss of habitat are the real culprits. If that is the case, why should we care? I think we cultivate an attitude of respect that reverberates throughout our lives and to all we contact.

What can we do to both protect the marine ecosystems and provide nutritious edible seaweed for our families?

Listen to wildcrafters who are committed to ethical harvest standards:

  • How much to harvest in one area,
  • The importance of pollution-free waters because some seaweeds accumulate metals and become contaminated by sewage, agricultural, industrial, and  radioactive wastes.
  • Protect the plant’s viability by cutting rather than pulling or raking.
  • Cutting distance from the anchor point to allow for regeneration.

Respect the state and local regulations. In Washington state, for example:

  • a license is required,
  • 10 lbs wet-weight limit,
  • specifications for harvest techniques for kelp, bull kelp, and nori


Ryan Drum, a wildcrafter and biochemist from Waldron Island has a healthy perspective. Learn from a master herbalist On June 15th on Orcas Island. http://www.ryandrum.com/index.htm#workshops

Commercial Harvesting of Wild Seaweed

Sustainable seaweed harvest has been in the news a lot lately from Scientific American to the Huffington Post. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/help-for-kelp-seaweed-slashers-see-harvesting-cuts-coming/

Industrial processing converts seaweed into the raw materials carrageen and alginate, basic components that act as gels and glue in everything from ice cream to paints and cosmetics. Global consumption is roughly 21 million metric tons a year.

More than 95 % of global seaweed production is from farmed operations. But before the last remaining wild stands are dragged and vacuumed, the Marine Stewardship Council, an international organization recognized for eco-labeling will set standards by January 2015. Europe countries bordering the north Atlantic are also establishing their own criteria.

Upcoming brief blog posts will include more seaweed fun facts. Steven Foster, an herbalist concerned with ethical wildcrafting recently posted this: Fair-wild Standard


Seaweed Fun Facts: Nori (Porphyra)

Nori cell walls lack cellulose, but are protein-rich—humans are able to digest it, unlike most kelp.

This seaweed is only 1-cell thick! That’s why it is pliable and perfect for making sushi rolls. Gently tug on the raw plant.

Harvest at low tide in April and May. Always use scissors or sharp knife to harvest. Leave the holdfast so the nori will regrow and produce reproductive structures.

A great travel and backpack food because it is so nutrient-dense: high in protein, Vitamin A, B-6 and C, along with many minerals.

Japanese have been cultivating it for 300 years. Nori does not naturally dry into flat sheets! Traditional techniques are similar to paper-making.

Toasting nori makes it taste better and improves the texture: Hold store-bought sheets over a kitchen burner until edges start to curl and the sheet feels stiff.

Wildcrafted Nori: Harvest, dry, store until ready, then lightly toss with olive oil, place on sheet pan and bake for a few minutes until crisp and shiny.

Natural history: Technically a red algae, although the color varies widely.

Life Cycle: Porphyra undergoes 3 life forms to complete the reproductive cycle.

Intertidal Zone Habitat: Mid to high intertidal zone.Intertidal Zone2 Note the black band.