Ocean Approved, which farms, processes and sells kelp and kelp products, recently closed on a $500,000 capital raise in partnership with Coastal Enterprises Inc. (CEI), Maine Venture Fund, the Island Institute and two angel investors. The capital will be used to upgrade and vastly increase Ocean Approved’s processing capacity, which has not been able to keep up with supply or demand. With increased processing capacity, years of research and development studying the optimal way to farm kelp in Maine, and an open source approach to kelp farming, the expanded processing capacity will spur sales and allow Ocean Approved to enter into buying contracts with kelp farmers around the state.
“We have built our business model on an all-boats-rise philosophy. We want to expand our business but we also want to encourage others to begin farming kelp. More volume will help support the infrastructure to grow the industry.”— Paul Dobbins, one of the owners of Ocean Approved
One of Ocean Approved’s strategies is to decrease the barriers to entry for potential kelp farmers. Lisa Moore is a budding entrepreneur who has taken advantage of Ocean Approved’s open source approach. A sternman during the lobstering season, Lisa has been harvesting wild kelp and selling it to Ocean Approved for the past four years. “Up until now, we could only bring kelp to Ocean Approved every other day because they couldn’t process everything. Now, we’ll able to bring them everything we harvest.” Moore is applying for a permit from Maine’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR) to farm kelp.
“The time is right for me to start farming, I’ve read through Ocean Approved’s manual and I know the steps involved. Without that manual and the information it provides, such as the model plans you have to submit with your DMR application, I would never be doing this. Ocean Approved has made getting started very easy.” — Lisa Moore
“Kelp farming occurs in the off-season for most lobstermen, from about November to April,” notes Dick Clime, a project Developer for CEI’s Fisheries Program who, in partnership with Island Institute, has created a curriculum for lobstermen interested in aquaculture. “Fishermen know the water, they have boats, and they are business minded,” said Clime. “Those qualities make them the perfect fit to start kelp farming, and with Ocean Approved’s manual and our educational resources, the barriers to entry are low.”
Kelp farming can provide Maine’s lobstermen with a diverse revenue stream, so they are not relying exclusively on lobstering. Historically, fishermen have fished a variety of species so they were not dependent on one species for their livelihood. With the wintertime shrimp fishery closed, the scallop fishery limited and ground fishing closed to all but the largest operations due to the cost of federal permits, the only income many fishermen have today is from lobstering, an industry notorious for price fluctuations and unpredictable costs.
Ocean Approved will process all its kelp at the Curran Company in Saco, Maine. Kelp is a $5 billion-a-year industry internationally, virtually all of it harvested and dried in Asia. In addition to providing a viable economic alternative to lobster fishermen, kelp has significant positive environmental impacts, including reduction of ocean acidification and inshore eutrophication, which is occurring at accelerating levels in the Gulf of Maine.