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Seaweed Harvesting Guidelines

From Pacific Feast: A Cooks Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine by Jennifer Hahn


1. Don’t compromise First Nations’ resources used for cultural and spiritual renewal, as well as for food


2. Obtain a seaweed Harvesting License - if required.

(Available at sport fishing stores.) Check for updates at: California Department of Fish and Game Marine Resources Division.


3. Get a copy of your state or provincial regulations.

Know “how much,” “where,” and “how to” harvest each species. Daily limits, equipment, and techniques differ up and down the coast. In California you can pick 10 pounds (wet weight) each day with license.


4. Cut blades outside the “growing region,” and leave part of the blade to photosynthesize.

For example, Washington law recommends cutting bull whip kelp (Neceocystis) 24 inches above the bulb and cutting shortstemmed kelps (Alaria) 1 foot above the bare stipe to ensure that the species grows after you depart. For species that are 12 inches or less in height when full-grown such as sea lettuce (Ulva), nori (Porphyra) and bladderwrack (Fucus), harvest so you leave the holdfast.


5. Use a knife or scissors to cut blades; don’t tear them.

Using rakes or forks is illegal since they tear up habitat and holdfasts.


6. Spread your harvesting across the bed.

Cut seaweed here and there over as large an area as possible. Clear-cutting patches impacts marine habitats and creatures - from fish to otters to other kelp species - that depend on kelp for shelter or food.


7. Leave holdfasts attached to the sea floor.

In most areas it is illegal to remove holdfasts. They serve as condos for undersea creatures.


8. Keep waste to a minimum.

Collect just what you can properly identify and process efficiently. Carry a field guide with you and check for identification. Seaweed spoils easily if warmed or exposed to fresh water. Keep in the shade or carry a cooler in your trunk with frozen ice packs. Use a different bag for each species for easier sorting later. Once home, you have hours to days (depending on the species) to cook, pickle, freeze,

or dry you veggies.


9. Know which public and private tidelands and oceans are off limits

to seaweed harvesting. It is prohibited to harvest seaweeds from ecological reserves, marine reserves or refuges, provincial parts, national/federal parks and some state parks.


10. Walk with awareness over intertidal lands. You can crush a lot of life trying to get access to your prized veggies. At low tide, seaweed is a blanket that hides crabs, snails, sea stars, anemones, and more.


11. Support small fish and animals - don’t cut kelp with herring spawn.

Rinse cut seaweeds in the ocean to dislodge tiny animals such as snails, crabs, and other small crustaceans. Herring-spawn-on-kelp is a seasonal event during which herring leave massive amounts of eggs on kelp blades. It is illegal in most states to harvest this without a special permit.


12. Consume safely by harvesting at clean sites. Seaweed can get contaminated by toxic chemicals, viruses, or bacteria. Avoid sewage outfall areas, hazardous waste sites, logging facilities, manufacturing areas, industrial sites, and areas closed to shellfishing for fecal contamination. Seaweeds are not affected by PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning) or domoic acid. Ideally, harvest on open, wild coasts or in clean, circulating waters. Seaweeds are a magnet for radioactive isotopes and arsenic as well as heavy metals such as mercury, lead, and cadmium.

A gathering of seaweed foragers learning about the history and culture of seaweed in Northern California.


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