Consider the fact du jour, on October 30, 2011, the day the world’s population breached 7 billion:
Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth, yet yield two percent of our total food. 2 percent? That’s puny, and that’s not because oceans are unproductive. It’s because they’re untapped. We humanoids don’t use what the ocean offers us — and I’m not talking about obscure fish or shellfish species.
The roughly 80 million metric tons of fish landed each year by the world’s commercial fisheries derive from over 10,000 million metric tons of phytoplankton. In other words, phytoplankton —aka seaweed aka kelp — represents the overwhelming majority of the ocean’s food.
With demographers predicting 9.1 billion people by 2050, with limited fresh water and arable land, marine plants — yes, that’s seaweeds — must become the primary crop for food, feed and other applications.
This is an argument that I first heard from John Forster, a well-respected aquaculture scientist and consultant based in Port Angeles, Washington. Forster, a Brit, who worked for years in the farmed salmon industry, makes his case in a fascinating post “Towards a Marine Agronomy.” As those of you who read the “About Us” section might recall, this short talk with Forster was one of the reasons this site was created — to continue to investigate new food sources.
As Forster points out in his essay “Towards a Marine Agronomy,” the only countries that farm seaweed at any significant scale are in Asia; the Chinese, the world leaders, produce about 10 million tons of seaweed each year. But according to Forster, the potential for growth is astronomical.
Consider fact du jour #2:
Laminaria, a seaweed species, can average nearly 20 metric tons of per hectare per year, according to data from Chinese aquaculturists.
Pulling from this data, Forster offers that “only one percent of the Earth’s ocean surface would be needed to grow and amount of seaweed equal to all the food plants currently farmed on land.”
The idea of marine agronomy isn’t new — kelp is widely believed to be the world’s fastest growing plants — but it’s an idea that has gained little traction in the United States. One of the few examples is Ocean Approved, a small Maine-company that is believed to be America’s only commercial kelp farm. Three years ago, two guys started cultivating kelp in Casco Bay and began marketing it as an exotic vegetable. They’re the first we’ve found that are pitching the idea of kelp noodles, kelp salad, kelp slaw.