Engineering A Low-Cost Kelp Aquaculture System for Community-Scale Seaweed Farming at Nearshore Exposed Sites via User-Focused Design Process

Academic Article


  • For over 50 years, government fishery agencies have recognized the need to transition excess fishing capacity in coastal waters to aquaculture. For the most part, investment strategies to move wild capture and harvest efforts into aquaculture have failed since the technology and capital expense for entry, such as large fish pens, was not conducive for acceptance. In contrast, low trophic level aquaculture of shellfish and seaweeds is suitable as an addition to the livelihoods of seasonal fishing communities and to those displaced by fishery closures, especially if vessels and gear can be designed around existing fishing infrastructures, thus allowing fishers to maintain engagement with their primary fishery, while augmenting income via aquaculture. In this study, an inexpensive, lightweight, and highly mobile gear for kelp seaweed farming was developed and tested over a 3-year period in southern Maine, USA. The system was different from existing kelp farming operations used in nearshore waters that use low-scope mooring lines, and heavy, deadweight anchors. Instead, a highly mobile, easy to deploy system using lightweight gear was designed for exposed conditions. The entire system fit into fish tote boxes and was loadable onto a standard pickup truck. The seaweed system had small but efficient horizontal drag embedment anchors connected to a chain catenary and pretensioned with simple subsurface flotation. The system was able to be deployed and removed in less than 4 h by a crew of three using a 10 m vessel and produced a harvest of 12.7 kg/m over an 8-month fall-winter growth period. The target group for this seaweed research and development effort were coastal fishing communities who move seasonally into non-fishing occupations in service industries, such as construction, retail, etc. An economic assessment suggests farmers would realize an 8% return on investment after3 years and $13.50/h greater income as compared to a non-farming off season job at minimum wage. This low-cost seaweed farming system for fall-winter operations fits well into a “livelihood” strategy for fishing families who must work multiple jobs in the offseason when their main fishery is unavailable.
  • Authors

  • St-Gelais, Adam T
  • Fredriksson, David
  • Dewhurst, Tobias
  • Miller-Hope, Zachary S
  • Costa-Pierce, Barry Antonio
  • Johndrow, Kathryn
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)


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