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It is just after nine in the morning, and the seven employees from Lerøy Ocean Harvest have already harvested close to 15 tonnes of sweet tangle, and have a lot more to gather before the working day is over. They hired the boat they are using some time ago, and are working against the clock. They only have a window of two weeks to harvest all the kelp available.
“It’s important to get the kelp onto land in time. If it’s left in the sea for too long, it starts to dissolve when the water temperature increases and the algal bloom starts,” explains Sunniva Tangen Haldorsen, head of production for seedlings at Ocean Forest.
When the sunlight shines on the wet kelp, it shimmers like gold, and Managing Director of Lerøy Ocean Forest, Harald Sveier, claims that is what kelp is: gold from the sea. Since they first started producing kelp, they have been able to increase production every year. From a production volume of 177 tonnes last year, the company aims to produce a total of 300 tonnes this year.
“This makes us the largest kelp producer in Norway,” says Harald.
Norwegian kelp is a unique product. Not only is it a type of kelp not found in other parts of the world, but the clear, cold waters in Norway are perfect for cultivating high-quality kelp. The majority of the harvested kelp is used as animal feed, while a small volume is set aside for human consumption. In Asia, different types of kelp make up a normal part of the daily diet, and 32 million tonnes of kelp are produced every year worldwide. Despite the fact that kelp is often referred to as a super food full of health benefits, few people in the western world eat this vegetable.
“We have to start learning to eat kelp in the west,” says Harald.
With one of the world’s longest coastlines, Norway also has a vast potential when it comes to kelp growing.
Kelp is one of the most sustainable plants to cultivate. All it needs to grow is sufficient sunlight and the nutrient salts, nitrogen and phosphorus, which are naturally found in the sea.
“This year, we have also replaced much of the plastic thin ropes we use with ropes made from degradable cotton,” confirms Sunniva.
Harald shows us a small piece of the degradable cotton rope in his hand.
“This is thicker than the plastic rope and does have some negative aspects, but environmental protection is key,” he says.
The small piece of rope Harald shows us is from the most recent release. As the rope has not been that long in the sea, it has not dissolved yet.
The past autumn and winter have been difficult, with a lot of wind, fog and currents, making it difficult to release all the kelp into the sea. As a result, the majority of the sweet tangle was released to the sea in October, and in one location, the company was not able to release seedlings until December.
“The kelp we started growing in December has not grown to its full potential,” Harald explains.
He shows us kelp with varying lengths, the longest measuring around a half metre. By comparison, the kelp that has reached optimal growth is so dense that you cannot see the thick rope and it can measure from one to two metres in length.
“If the kelp seedlings are left on land longer than necessary, growth is hindered because they practically grow out of their trays. At the same time, they also lose valuable growth time in the sea, because the kelp grows faster in the sea than in the hatchery,” explains Sunniva.
Harald also explains that they learn new lessons every year and can make improvements in the following year to be more successful. And this is important, because they have ambitious plans to multiply production several times in the years to come!