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Kelp Wanted



Call it the kale of the sea: seaweed and kelp, the abundantly available, super nutritious marine vegetable. Supermarket retailer, Whole Foods, named seaweed part of its predicted healthy food trends list for 2019, and it’s no wonder: it’s packed with vitamins A, C, K, B-12 and minerals including calcium, iron, zinc and iodine. Not only are seaweeds vital to marine ecosystems (refuge, feeding and spawning for marine mammals as well as trapping sediment), they can also be sustainably harvested right here in the Pacific Northwest and enjoyed at home.


Turkish Towel seaweed, one of the red algae found on the Pacific Coast. Photo: Jerry Kirkhardt, Wikimedia Commons

Seaweed is broken into three marine algae categories: red, green and brown (the latter includes kelp). One of the best ways to learn how to collect and enjoy Pacific Northwest seaweed is to follow the experts’ leads. Take a field trip and immerse yourself in the Salish Sea shoreline.

May 18: Chris and Kim Chisholm offer hands-on discovery through their Wolf College conservation workshop Edible Seaweeds and Shellfish of the Salish Sea, held from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Whidbey Island during a remarkable minus-three-foot tide ($95 per adult, $90 per additional adult). Chris Chisholm notes the class foci breaks out like this, 40% seaweed, 40% shellfish and 20% shoreline plants. After a day of identification and harvest, the class moves into preserving, preparing and cooking wild edibles on site. To register, call 425-248-0253 and view the full itinerary here

June 16-19: Earthwalk Northwest presents Seaweeds and Coastal Foraging, a four-day intensive workshop in the San Juan Islands ($445). Details here.

June 23, 10 a.m.- 2 p.m.: Earthwalk Northwest offers a Cooking with Seaweeds class focused about identification, harvest methods, and preparation of the most beneficial local seaweeds ($95). Details here.

Also, in Rockaway, Oregon:
May 17-20: expert and author John Kallas facilitates a Native Shores Wild Foods Rendezvous focused on “wild harvested sea vegetables, shellfish and coastal edible wild plants in everyday life, recreational foraging, re-connecting with nature, self-reliance and survival” ($360). Details here.

 Oregon-based guide John Kallas showing sea lettuce. Photo: Leslie Seaton, Wikimedia Commons

If you harvest, know the rules
First, have a Washington state shellfish license anytime you plan to harvest seaweed. There are a few license options at wdfw.wa.gov. The basic Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife rules on seaweed collection are fairly broad. City and county parks may have their own closures, plus you’ll want to avoid outflow areas and potentially polluted areas or heavy shipping lanes. Private waterfronts with owner permissions and natural resource lands are allowed, just make sure the areas are free of marine toxins (more information below).

Generally speaking, all species of seaweed can be harvested year round. The where and how become the bigger questions. State parks are extremely limited on seaweed harvests, but right now, you’re in luck! From April 16 to May 15, 2019, Fort Flagler, Fort Ebey and Fort Worden State Parks are open to seaweed harvests during posted park hours. For kelp specifically, bull kelp must be cut a minimum of 24 inches above the bulb and short-stemmed kelps must be cut a minimum of 12 inches above the anchor point. The anchor point must be left in place at all times. Only a knife or similar instrument may be used to harvest. Tearing the plant and using tined instruments such as rakes or forks is prohibited. Each harvester must use his/her own container (no combing!) and must use a scale to weigh for limits. Weights must be wet only, no dehydrated or partly dehydrated weights are allowed. It’s also illegal to harvest any seaweed if herring eggs are attached. More info here: https://wdfw.wa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/01998/2018-19_shellfish.pdf 


Sargassum (hijiki) is found all over the world, including the Salish Sea. It’s a type of brown algae. Photo: Philippe Bourjon, Wikimedia Commons

With a 10-pound-per-day wet harvest limit, even a one-day haul can go a long way in a personal kitchen. All clean seaweed is technically edible and most seaweeds can be enjoyed raw, but some seaweeds offer superior texture, flavor and nutritional benefits over others. Be careful not to overindulge. Too much iodine in select types of seaweed, for example, can affect thyroid function, so it’s important not to exceed dietary guidelines. To illustrate, a tablespoon of seaweed added to a bowl of miso soup can provide a full daily allowance of iodine. 

 Sugar Wrack Kombu (sugar kelp) at Golden Gardens. Photo: Brewbooks, Wikimedia Commons

The Washington State Department of Natural Resources offers an easy-to-understand seaweed harvest brochure here or at https://www.dnr.wa.gov/seaweed. Check for the water quality and marine toxicity of public beach shellfish and seaweed harvesting areas through the Washington State Department of Health here

In addition to the immersive classes mentioned above, one can read up on the region’s edible shorelines:

  • Field Guide to Seaweeds of the Pacific Northwest, Bridgette Clarkston
  • Pacific Seaweeds: A Guide to Common Seaweeds of the Pacific Coast—Updated and Expanded Edition, Louis Druehl and Bridgette Clarkston

Enjoy spring on the shoreline, and perhaps never look at seaweed the same way again!