seaweed

‘Seaweed Food Safety’ report examines federal, state regulations

seaweed growing on a line, being pulled out of the waterThe National Sea Grant Law Center has announced the release of a new seaweed food safety publication produced in partnership with New York Sea Grant and Connecticut Sea Grant as part of the National Seaweed Hub.

“Seaweed Food Safety: Comparing Compliance with Preventive Controls for Human Food with Seafood HACCP” was developed to help the emerging seaweed industry understand the prevailing regulatory requirements surrounding the production of seaweeds as foods. There are currently two regulations that are being used to regulate seaweeds at either the federal or state level, the Food Safety and Modernization Act’s Preventive Controls for Human Foods regulation, which includes current Good Manufacturing Practices, and the Seafood HACCP regulation. This guide will help readers understand the similarities and differences between the two regulations to be more informed and determine how their operations will be regulated federally.

The guide was drafted by a core team including Dr. Michael Ciaramella of New York Sea Grant, Anoushka Concepcion of Connecticut Sea Grant, and Catherine Janasie and Stephanie Otts of the National Sea Grant Law Center. Members of the National Seaweed Hub’s Regulations Work Group and the Seaweed Food Safety Training Workgroup (coordinated by New York Sea Grant), which include agencies, academics, industry, and non-profits, assisted with revisions and edits.

This report is a product of the National Seaweed Hub’s Regulations Work Group. It is one of 4 responsive resources developed to address an immediate need identified by the national seaweed aquaculture stakeholders.

Interview with Anoushka Concepcion: Barriers to Seaweed Expansion

Anoushka Concepcion was interviewed by Chaya Gaberria on April 26, 2023. Interview edited by Carla Schubiger.

I would encourage everyone, specifically women and POC, to establish support systems early in their careers.” – Anoushka

 

Anoushka holding a long piece of seaweed on a boatPlease introduce yourself (briefly; name, position, what are you working on)?

My name is Anoushka Concepcion, and I am an Associate Extension Educator in Marine Aquaculture with Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn’s Cooperative Extension. I am working with various aquaculture industry sectors to address barriers preventing the expansion of the domestic seaweed aquaculture industry in Connecticut and beyond.

1. How did you get your first job in the field of aquaculture? And what was the position?

My first job in aquaculture was working for Shrimp Improvement Systems in the Florida Keys. I met a recruiter at one of the Aquaculture America meetings as an undergraduate. My main job was cultivating microalgae (diatoms) for the larval shrimp. During the off-season, I worked in the other departments, including maturation, larval culture, and brood stock husbandry. It was a great way to learn all the components of a nursery operation.

2. What advice would you give someone starting in the field of aquaculture (maybe a student)?

Learn as much as you can about the different types of aquaculture and jobs associated with supporting the industry, such as roles in regulatory, engineering, seafood supply, and markets. It is important to have a good understanding of what goes into making aquaculture commercially viable. Apply for various internships and attend conferences and other events. Most importantly, talk to different folks and those that support the industry. Ask them what their challenges are. You will learn a lot more about how the industry works.

3. What advice would you give your younger self?

Broaden the scope and types of folks you work with, don’t limit yourself to a specific discipline or industry, and apply all the knowledge you have learned throughout college. For example, I couldn’t find a job in aquaculture after graduate school, however, I utilized my knowledge in biology and chemistry to find a job in the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, I was able to pay my bills and save money, while I looked for a job in aquaculture.

4. What is something that most people don’t know about the aquaculture industry or your role in the industry?

What most people don’t know is how regulated the aquaculture industry is. From permitting to food safety, there are a lot of moving parts (and people) to get the product from the farm to the plate. I have a better understanding of how important regulatory roles are in making the industry economically viable. From mitigating negative environmental impacts to ensuring seafood is produced safely, regulators have a big role in sustaining the success of the industry. It’s not always perfect, which is where someone like me can help to find ways for all the sectors to work together. In addition to doing applied research, I facilitate conversations between industry and regulators to find common goals and then work with them to implement plans to reach those goals.

5. If you could be any aqua species, what would you be and why?

I would be a black sea bass. They are very interactive, almost like puppies! For my Masters’ thesis, I evaluated varying levels of protein in feed on the growth of black sea bass juveniles. The fish would follow me around the tank, spitting water in my face, asking to be fed. They were very entertaining to work with.

Anoushka cutting rope on a boat in the Ocean

6. In your opinion, what is the most fascinating part of the aquaculture industry? Why?

I am always fascinated by the many types of organisms we grow. Our industry is very diverse and creates a space for many kinds of producers. We also value responsible production, which is so important when discussing aquaculture with general audiences.

7. What is a trend that you have seen come and go? Or where do you envision the aquaculture industry in 10 years?

Aquaponics has been of great interest for many years; however, in CT we have seen many aquaponics efforts come and go due to the lack of funding to maintain the operations. Unfortunately, many of these operations were not independently viable and relied on subsidies, which was not sustainable.

8. Favorite seafood dish? Would you like to share your favorite recipe?

I love eating raw oysters on the half-shell. Nothing fancy, just fresh out of the water.

9. What is your favorite aqua and/or non-aqua past-time?

I enjoy exploring the outdoors with my children.

10. If applicable: Being a female/entrepreneur/POC in aquaculture what are the challenges/successes you like to share?

As an immigrant woman of color in the United States and aquaculture, I’ve had to navigate between cultural expectations and finding my own path. When I got started in aquaculture, no one looked like me, and I had a difficult time “fitting in”. Unlike my colleagues, I grew up in NYC and not in a coastal community, so I didn’t have the same experiences as they did. As a result, it was difficult relating to them. The academic field is very competitive, and as a result I have not been taken seriously. Others have tried to intimidate me. Despite these experiences, I am fortunate to have great personal and professional support systems, with mentors who consistently encourage, yet challenge me, to always perform to the best of my abilities. I would encourage everyone, specifically women and POC, to establish support systems early in their careers.

11. Anything people would be surprised to know about you?

I am obsessed with Star Trek and am currently geeking out to this season of Picard. I also love a great Drag Show – the talent is awe-inspiring, and the costumes and music are so joyful.

Problem Solvers in the Aquaculture Industry

woman in a boat holding a rope
Anoushka Concepcion featured in the cover of the latest issue of Aquaculture North America.

In attempt to meet the increased demand for seaweed, aquaculture producers are working to expand the North American seaweed farming industry. However, efforts to strengthen the industry have highlighted the need to address emerging challenges. “Processing capabilities, long term nursery production, and competition with imports” are among the most prevalent concerns says Anoushka Concepcion, an Extension educator with Connecticut Sea Grant. Concepcion is leading the National Seaweed Hub, a collaborative effort of 11 Sea Grant programs in the United States addressing the needs of the seaweed industry.

Check out the Aquaculture North America issue to learn more about how educators, researchers, farmers, and engineers are collaborating to create a sustainable kelp industry. The issue is available at s.uconn.edu/aquaculture-mag

 

Deploying Sugar Kelp Seed String

The collapse of the lobster fishery in the late 1990s forced many lobstering families to find alternative ways to make a living on the water. While many transitioned into shellfish aquaculture, one lobsterman was interested in adding a new crop into his business: sugar kelp. DJ King (King Lobsters) cultivates shellfish and sugar kelp on his underwater leases. Anoushka Concepcion and Connecticut Sea Grant staff have been working with Mr. King, and others, to find successful ways to expand kelp farming in Long Island Sound. In this video, Mr. King briefly explains why he made the transition into kelp farming, what he most enjoys about farming kelp and some of the challenges he faces. 

‘Born Out of Crises’ Issue Looks at Responses to Pandemic, Disasters

Spring-Summer 2021 Wrack Lines issueThe Spring-Summer 2021 issue of Wrack Lines examines actions that grew from different crises, from the pandemic to sea level rise to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The issue leads off with an article by Robert Klee, former commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, reflecting on the valuable lessons we can take from the pandemic to improve the environment and our communities. Other articles describe how Connecticut’s seafood growers, harvesters and sellers weathered the pandemic, and how their counterparts in Southeast Asia fared.

Two more articles examine the slower-moving crises of sea level rise in coastal and inland communities in Connecticut and North Carolina and the role of managed retreat or buyouts.  The final piece showcases the research of Connecticut Sea Grant Director Sylvain De Guise on dolphins experiencing long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The entire issue can be found here.

Articles in this issue:

Editor’s column

“Rebuilding a hopeful future after a year of loss”

“Tested by the pandemic, seafood businesses now poised to emerge stronger”

“Small-scale fisheries in Southeast Asia see harsh impacts of COVID-19”

“A tale of two coastal states as the world gets wetter”

“CTSG’s De Guise helped lead research into long-term effects of Deepwater Horizon oil spill on dolphins”

This issue continues the “Talk to Us” feature soliciting reader comments, many of which will be shared on the CTSG website. Share your feedback and questions with Wrack Lines Editor Judy Benson at: judy.benson@uconn.edu. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

CTSG Post 

Take a Fun, Educational Beach Walk and Share Your Finds

scallop shells on a Connecticut beachBeachcombing along the Connecticut coast can be a fun and healthy educational activity for families eager to get out outdoors while the COVID-19 virus keeps children home from school.
 
Among the many publications available from its website, Connecticut Sea Grant is calling attention to Living Treasures: The Plants and Animals of Long Island Sound, and a series of three pamphlets about seaweeds, shells and beach plants that families can use for easy beach activities. Families are urged to send photos from their outings that will be posted on the Connecticut Sea Grant website.
 

Survey could help efforts to get more seafood eaten in CT

people eating seafood outside at picnic tables
Photo: Judy Benson

If you’re an average Connecticut resident, you probably didn’t eat seafood more than once in the last week.

But you might, if you knew more about how to prepare different types of fish, shellfish and seaweed, and where to buy local seafood. You’d also be inclined to have seafood more often if you knew more about its safety.

Those are some of the key findings of the Connecticut Seafood Survey, a 2½-year project to better understand current eating habits and how best to make of all types of seafood – but especially the shellfish, seaweed and fish from local waters – a more frequent part of state residents’ diets. Half the residents surveyed said they eat seafood just once a week – which is out of sync with the Food & Drug Administration’s recommendations. The FDA says adults should eat two or more servings per week to get all the nutritional benefits their bodies need.

Read more….

Article and photo by Judy Benson

Connecticut’s New Marine Crop

By: Anoushka Concepcion, Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension

kelp
Photo credit: Nancy Balcom

Connecticut has an extensive agricultural industry that extends far beyond land. Hidden under its coast, lies more than 70,000 acres where one of the best protein sources is produced – shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops). The shellfish aquaculture industry is over 150 years old and expanding in numbers of producers, and additional products. But shellfish are not the only crops that grow underwater. Seaweed, or sea vegetables, is a highly valued commodity at $8-10 billion in the global market. Seaweeds are consumed for their nutritional benefits and are a staple in Asian diets. Their components are in a wide range of products including fertilizers, animal feeds, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and biofuels. Seaweeds also provide ecosystem services; they can be used to clean up waterways by extracting excess nutrients from urban runoff.

Although the majority of production occurs in Asia, interest in seaweed production is increasing in the United States. For many years, seaweed has been harvested from the wild. However, the cultivation (or aquaculture) of domestic seaweed is increasing. Current producers of seaweed include shellfish producers and displaced lobstermen looking to diversify products and income. There is also an interest from municipalities who are looking at seaweed for ecosystem services. Currently in Connecticut, there are two types of seaweed cultivated and approved for food: the sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima and Gracilaria tikvahiae. The kelp grows in the winter season while the Gracilaria grows in the summer. There are four commercial farms growing sugar kelp. These farms are small-scale and mostly grow shellfish.

Connecticut Sea Grant has been involved in seaweed aquaculture for almost 30 years, funding extensive foundational and applied research of Dr. Charles Yarish in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. More recently, Sea Grant and UConn Extension have been helping transfer aspects of the research to industry and market, along with Yarish and other collaborators. Sea Grant has been addressing several bottlenecks hindering further expansion of this new industry. The major bottleneck is lack of federal guidelines on the public health aspect of domestic seaweed production and processing. Since the majority of seaweed domestically produced is from wild-harvest, it has been unregulated. There are guidelines ensuring seafood, meat, dairy, and other agricultural commodities are safe for human consumption. However, we don’t have similar guidelines for cultivated seaweed. This presents a problem for state regulatory agencies that are trying to ensure the seaweed grown in Connecticut is safe. Sea Grant and UConn Extension partnered with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture to develop guidelines that allow locally produced seaweed to be grown and sold in the state. This guide contains handling, storage, and processing guidelines for both species of seaweed grown in Connecticut.

Seaweed can grow quickly and in large volumes, requiring harvesting be done all at once. Since seaweed has a short shelf life – it starts to degrade within hours, it must be used right away or processed into a form that will last. Local chefs desire raw kelp since it is fresh and unprocessed, but it has a very short shelf life. Kelp has also been processed into noodles and sold to a limited number of restaurants and retailers in the region. In 2013, Sea Grant assisted the Bureau of Aquaculture in approving the first commercial seaweed grower to sell fresh kelp and kelp noodles as food. This involved providing development funds testing the safety of both forms of kelp and seafood safety knowledge to determine appropriate handling, storage, and processing guidelines. The seaweed grower has now expanded to a large-scale commercial kelp processing facility in New Haven, Sea Greens Farms; that can accommodate seaweed produced by other growers in the region. Although guidelines have been developed for raw and kelp noodles, they have not been developed for dehydrated or dried seaweed. Sea Grant is working with a local food manufacturer to conduct drying experiments to determine if there are any potential hazards associated with dehydrating seaweed. Although experiments are ongoing, preliminary results indicate that as long as the seaweed is stored and handled properly, it should be safe to eat.

Additional experiments are being conducted to determine if the summer seaweed, Gracilaria, is suitable for human consumption when cultivated in Connecticut’s coastal waterways. Gracilaria can remove heavy metals and other chemicals from the water, making it a great candidate for nutrient bioextraction to clean up waterways. However, there is no data showing that it is safe for human consumption.   Currently, only Gracilaria cultivated in indoor tanks can be sold as food, since growing conditions can be controlled ensuring product safety. Experiments analyzing Gracilaria grown in Connecticut waters are underway to determine its feasibility as a food product. Additional barriers under investigation include expanding markets for local product and the successful transition of kelp seed-string production from research labs to commercial-scale. Although the production of seed-string has begun to shift into the hands of commercial seaweed operations, it is not fully independent and at the same level as the shellfish aquaculture industry. An extensive seafood marketing survey this summer will assess awareness and consumption of Connecticut seafood and seaweed among residents.

Although the potential for seaweed aquaculture in Connecticut is huge, there are constraints to rapid expansion. The domestic seaweed aquaculture industry is still in its infancy and it is yet to be determined if it will become more than a niche commodity. Overcoming these constraints will take time, as with any new product. However, this new crop may contribute to sustaining and creating new jobs as well as providing additional ecosystem services for Connecticut’s coastline.