Wednesday, February 20, 2013

UNH sugar kelp production

The fish pens in the Piscataqua River that normally hold steelhead trout are now teeming with another form of life — sugar kelp. This native species is being grown on lines this winter for eventual harvest in late spring when they reach 2-3 m in length. NHSG/UNHCE marine aquaculture specialist Michael Chambers says he expects to grow almost 50 kelp plants per meter of line, leading to a potential harvest weight of 1800 kg total — that’s almost 4,000 lbs of seaweed. 

Above: Aquaculture technician Jess Cranney holds a blade of sugar kelp near the pier at the UNH Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex in New Castle, N.H.

While they grow, the kelp will help extract excess nutrients like ammonia, nitrite and nitrate in the river. And for a waterway like the Piscataqua already impaired by too many nutrients, any bit of help is welcome. But the kelp’s final destination will be select markets for human consumption: once harvested, the kelp will be sent to Ocean Approved for processing and distribution as kelp slaw and kelp noodles. 

But how exactly do you grow kelp on lines? 

Sugar kelp “gametophytes” — the reproductive tissue in the kelp blade that releases spores into the environment — were collected from naturally occurring kelp growing on the fish pens under the pier. Once collected, the gametophytes were brought to Ocean Approved in Portland, Maine, where they were spawned in captivity. The kelp spores settled onto spools of twine and grown in tanks for two months. These spools were recently brought back to N.H. with the help of Sarah Redmond, marine extension associate from Maine Sea Grant and Paul Dobbins, co-owner of Ocean Approved.

Above: Sarah Redmond and Paul Dobbins demonstrate techniques for setting the seeded kelp twine onto a submerged grow-out line.

The spore lines were wrapped around a weighted rope and deployed into the empty fish pens. 

Above: Kelp spore line is wrapped around a Polyester line with weights.

Chambers says there is potential for local oyster farmers to grow kelp or other seaweeds on their sites in Great Bay, both as a way to increase revenue and decrease nutrient levels.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Exploring challenges and opportunities of the lobster pricing structure

Last summer, the price of lobsters fell to almost record lows — as low as $2.99/lb. in some markets. Although low lobster prices meant good news for consumers hosting lobster bakes near the beach, it caused some financial hardships for lobstermen who weren’t receiving much money for their efforts. Seacoast lobstermen are concerned that this price drop is becoming a yearly trend that could eventually push many of them out of the business.

The N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension Sustainable Marine Fisheries Program hosted a Fisheries Roundtable on Feb. 11 from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Urban Forestry Center in Portsmouth, N.H. to discuss this chronic collapse of lobster pricing structure. About a dozen local lobstermen, dealers, and NHSG/UNHCE specialists attended the meeting. The goals of the roundtable were twofold: to improve the understanding of the mechanisms behind the annual collapse in prices and to generate ideas for possible alternative strategies that might help address the problem.

Attendees discussed their thoughts about the causes of the low prices. Many felt that the large numbers of lobsters — particularly in Downeast Maine and Canada where there is a glut of them — and lobster quality were important factors driving the cost down.

With warming ocean temperatures earlier in the spring, lobsters shed their shells a month or two earlier than usual, before the time when tourists would be visiting and eat these “shedders.” Many of the processors are overloaded at that time of year (the height of fishing season in Canada) and so cannot help process all the shedders that are brought in. For those lobsters that can be processed, the prices are often slashed to move them out the door faster.

“Low prices help to move lobsters, but go too low and you do brand damage,” said Brett Taylor, a lobster dealer from Taylor Lobster in Kittery, Maine. “Then if you want to increase the price, people think it’s too expensive when it goes back up to normal prices.” 

Seafood dealers pay more money for hardshell lobsters than for softshells or lobsters with older shells that appear “beat up” because consumers generally prefer the hardshells. However, softshells are more readily available and cheaper in the Seacoast region than hardshells — and by most accounts, the meat is sweeter than that of hardshell lobsters, too. Perhaps what is needed is a better marketing campaign to help get the word out about these often-overlooked lobsters, some attendees suggested.

Some lobstermen noted the selling lobsters directly off their boats could help increase their prices, as some consumers enjoy going down to the docks and interacting directly with the lobstermen. However, selling directly off the boat could damage the relationship between lobstermen and their seafood dealers.

One lobsterman noted that many of the younger generations aren’t interested in cooking and preparing live lobsters in their homes anymore — they prefer lobster that is ready to use. A value-added product, such as the lobster ravioli manufactured by the Portsmouth Lobster Company, could tap into those consumer markets.

Gabby Bradt, NHSG/UNHCE commercial fisheries specialist, noted that if lobsters were banded with the N.H. Fresh and Local brand, it might help increase demand locally. Many attendees noted that local restaurants often buy their lobster from Canada, but perhaps they could be convinced to use N.H. lobsters on their menus instead.

Roundtable attendees agreed that future steps likely involve collaboration with the Seacoast groundfishermen to come up with solutions to better market the fish species and lobsters that are still available.   This collaboration would merge lobstermen and groundfishermen into a coordinated marketing campaign – 2013 N.H. Fresh and Local Seafood -  that was discussed at a NH Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension meeting last week.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A new campaign to help local fishermen

This year will usher in a lot of big changes for New England fishermen, as they are facing deep cuts in groundfish quotas and must find innovative ways to make ends meet. With the help of N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension staffers, Seacoast locals are putting together a campaign to find solutions to keep fishermen going amidst the challenges that loom for the coming years. The first in a series of meetings was held at the Portsmouth Public Library on Feb. 6, 2013 to address what can be done.

“The time is now to pull together the voices in the fishing community for a broader campaign,” said Erik Chapman, commercial fisheries specialist for N.H. Sea Grant/UNH Cooperative Extension who led the meeting. “We need to develop trust and synergy between us in all these efforts.”

The goal of the meeting was for these individuals to meet and discuss their ability to contribute to such a campaign. The campaign’s steering committee will likely comprise more than a dozen individuals ranging from fishermen, chefs, seafood distributors, non-profit groups and UNHCE/NHSG specialists.

The marketing campaign — its name is forthcoming — hopes to educate the public about the availability and sustainability of locally caught fish. Cod and other groundfish will be available but in very limited quantities as they are being managed for improved sustainability in their stocks. In the meantime, other species will be more prominent including hake, pollock, redfish, softshell lobsters and dogfish. The attendees acknowledged that public perception is a big hurdle, as they simply haven’t been exposed to these species on most restaurant menus.   

The goal of the campaign will be to foster a connection between fishermen and consumers and to offer members of the Seacoast community the opportunity to participate in a movement that will help preserve our fishing heritage and conserve our marine resources (visit for more information on our fishermen and where you can buy local seafood)

There was a lot of energy in the room and it was clear that everyone is dedicated to working together to find solutions for the year ahead.

Stay tuned!