Photo credit: Riley Woodford, ADF&G

Harvests of detached kelp that line beaches of Lower Cook Inlet are getting a closer look by state managers and issues will come before the Fish Board in December.

Harvests have occurred since the 1970s but who needs permits, for how much and for what purposes is not clearly defined. Currently, a special permit is needed for commercial takes.

“A commissioner’s permit is needed for detached kelp harvests. It describes where and when it will occur and how much will be taken. It needs to be documented thoroughly to make sure they are not taking the wrong species, or not taking from below the high tide line.  They can take whatever amount is on the permit.”

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Glenn Hollowell is area manager for finfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game in Homer.

The Anchor Point Greenhouse, for example, takes 6,000 to 7,000 pounds from beaches per year each September and over four decades has created a booming business for its potting soil blend.

In the past, the detached seaweed has been considered dead. More recently, it’s been discovered that many continue to release live spores.

Hollowell says that may mean it’s important to those populations, and all that beached kelp might serve other purposes.

“Whether this is for reproductive reasons, or kelp on beaches provide shelter and food for a variety of wild animals,  as well as a carbon source. So it does feed a lot of other ecological needs. And we’re just not certain that the wholesale removal of this stuff in large quantities might not have a negative impact on the ecosystem in general. So we’re approaching this very cautiously right now.”

Fish and Game is working with researchers at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks to learn what happens when kelp is removed from areas and how harvests affect rejuvenation. The outcome of those projects, Hollowell says, will likely shape future regulations.

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The Fish Board will take up two detached and live kelp proposals at its December meeting in Seward.

“Proposal 21, which is regarding the commercial harvest, and proposal 241 concerns personal use harvest of aquatic plants in the Cook Inlet area outside of subsistence areas.”

The public can comment through November 25.