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Seaweed farming partnership between Sidney-based company and Island First Nations paying off

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In October, the Tsawout First Nation on the Saanich Peninsula issued a licence to Sidney-based Cascadia Seaweed allowing for a commercial seaweed farm on the nation’s traditional waters.

Standing on the James Island warf in Central Saanich, it’s hard to see. But out near James Island are some yellow buoys. About four meters below the surface of the water is a seven-hectare kelp farm, using 21 kilometres of line.

“We expect to produce around 30 tonnes of seaweed, which we will be harvesting at the end of March and early April,” said Mike Williamson, president and CEO of Cascadia Seaweed.

For the Tsawout First Nation, the partnership comes with many benefits.

“We rent the farm from them,” said Williamson. “There’s offers of employment – seasonal and full-time – for local employment, and when it’s time to harvest, there will be some sharing of the crop.”

It’s a partnership that Cascadia Seaweed, which is the largest cultivator of seaweed in North America, has made with six different First Nations on Vancouver Island.

“We were looking for diversification, economic opportunities for our shareholding nations,” said Larry Johnson, president of Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood and chair of the Maa-nulth Fisheries Committee.

Three years ago, with shellfish tenures already in place, the Nuu-chah-Nulth First Nation decided to partner-up and get into the kelp business.

“There are so many uses with kelp that the list would just go on and on,” said Johnson.

Those uses include a plant-based food for human consumption and feed additives for cows. And now, seaweed is being used to produce biodegradable plastics commonly used in compostable shopping bags.

“We believe we’re starting a sector,” said Johnson.

The business case is there, but these farms are also a benefit to the environment.

“We wanted to be able to put back into Mother Earth or Mother Nature some kelp that had been depleted from our area for many many years,” said Johnson.

“Because we’re having loss of kelp forests world wide, kelp farms can actually work as a temporary habitat for many fish and other organisms,” said Dr. Jennifer Clark, chief scientist at Cascadia Seaweed.

Kelp also acts as the ocean’s filter, absorbing harmful nitrogen and phosphates, while creating oxygen.

Cascadia Seaweed’s own brand of food hit store shelves on for the first time on Tuesday.  

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