Paul Dobbins ’87 sees urgency in seaweed. Dobbins is co-owner and operator of Ocean Approved, a Maine company that grows and processes kelp for food.
A former IDEXX executive, he cites the fact that the need for food in our lifetime will increase by 5.5 billion tons. Food production will need to jump 70 percent by 2050. The United States imports 95 percent of its seafood, including almost all of its seaweed. Pressures on “terrestrial farming” are mounting.
“What attracted me to aquaculture was that we could solve some of the world’s production issues in a way that was very efficient and, if done right, is actually restorative to the environment,” Dobbins said.
Ocean Approved is doing it right, he says.
Its farm is in the northeast corner of Maine’s Casco Bay, a patch of ocean marked by mooring balls. Below the surface is a one-hectare plot that grows 100,000 pounds of kelp a year, which the company harvests and turns into food products used by colleges (including Colby) and universities, hospitals, and restaurant chains. “The great part of doing this,” said Dobbins, “is that we’re not using any arable land, fresh water, or pesticides.”
The nursery technology, developed in cooperation with the University of Connecticut, allows for harvest of kelp spores, which attach themselves to string. After 30 days, the kelp seedlings are strung on submerged tubes in the ocean. After nine weeks, they’re ready to harvest. “From a millimeter to fourteen feet long in ninety days,” Dobbins said.
The research, funded by the U.S. Department of Commerce, has been made available to the public as Ocean Approved, and Dobbins, want to increase the number of kelp farmers so the company can concentrate on processing. “The vision is that folks will be farming this up and down the coast,” he said.