2018-08-09 / News

Federal bill advances kelp farming

Championed by a Rhode Island Democrat, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan bill to encourage kelp farming across the nation.

“Kelp is good for human health and good for our environment and oceans,” U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said.

This bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct research, create pilot programs and support commercial applications for these crops. An approved amendment sponsored by Whitehouse also directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to study whether kelp and seagrass are capable of removing excess carbon dioxide from seawater.

The measure, which was included in the Senate’s agriculture appropriations bill, must now be reconciled with the House version before going to the president.

According to Whitehouse’s office, kelp and seagrass are a nutritious source of food for humans that also can be used as feedstock. These plants provide ancillary benefits to the coastal ecosystems in which they’re grown by absorbing carbon that would otherwise contribute to ocean acidification.

Not every resident along Narragansett Bay, however, supports this emerging industry. Following an assent in 2016 for the state’s first dedicated kelp farm in Point Judith, a similar application was granted to a Dutch Harbor fisherman. While local opponents, mainly residents of Westwind Drive, conceded the benefits of kelp, they were concerned about the growing number of aquafarms. The backyards of these West Ferry homes overlook hundreds of oyster cages, transforming one of the Ocean State’s most scenic views into a commercial site, they said.

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