Ocean Wise adds B.C. kelp to its menu of sustainable seafood choices

Credit: Courtesy of Dakini Tidal Wilds

Giant kelp and bull kelp make the list as the province keeps boosting production of the seaweed

Kelp is a superfood, especially high in iodine, which improves thyroid function and metabolism. It has become popular in recent years among mainstream chefs and foodies, leading B.C. fisheries to boost production 43 per cent from 2014 to 2016, from 281 tonnes to 400 tonnes, according to Ocean Wise.

The Ocean Wise program, which helps consumers make sustainable seafood choices to protect the health of our oceans and avoid overfishing, has added two types of B.C. kelp to the list: giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). Farmed seaweed, largely produced in Asia, with only a small portion grown on Canada’s east coast, has been Ocean Wise–recommended for several years. One of its more recognizable products is the red seaweed nori (Pyropia spp.).

Both species of B.C. kelp form expansive beds, known as kelp forests, and can be found along almost the entire coast. Overall abundance is unknown because no stock evaluation has been conducted in more than a decade, but licence conditions limit harvest to targeting only 20 per cent of kelp plants in the bed and taking only a portion of the plant. The kelp is harvested by hand, using a cutting tool to trim the fronds and blades, which allows the plant to regrow.

Most of the kelp harvested is giant kelp for the herring spawn-on-kelp fishery, which involves either attaching kelp fronds to ropes and introducing them to herring that have been captured and contained in a pond, or depositing the fronds in wild spawning areas. The fish lay eggs on the fronds, and those in ponds are released unharmed, with the herring roe gathered together with the kelp and brined before being shipped almost exclusively to Japan.

Edible products, fertilizers and cosmetics are among the other uses for the kelp, which can be dried and then turned into a powder.