Kelp may be the family’s best help to save their West Sayville oyster business
An oyster hatchery in West Sayville is banking on kelp to clean up the Great South Bay and is seeing the plant as a way to increase revenue streams.
The family behind Hart Lobsters are used to persevering in the face of challenges. The company, founded in 1988 by Billy Hart, initially sold wholesale lobsters. But that business model was crushed in 1999 when Long Island lobsters died en masse from disease, Hart said. To keep the family business afloat, he turned to oysters and launched his oyster hatchery soon after.
Today her daughter, Lizzie Savage, continues the family tradition of spearheading new aquaculture opportunities in the face of shortages. For the second year, she is growing kelp with help from the Moore Foundation, a nonprofit that supports kelp growth on Long Island.
Research has shown that kelp benefits ocean waters by removing nitrogen and carbon dioxide. Sugar kelp is a low maintenance marine plant that grows about an inch per day. The nutritious plant has a variety of uses, including as a sweetener, as a fertilizer, and as a food.
It was an easy yes for the family to the nonprofit, and Hart Lobsters just completed his second year of growing kelp seed strings, which are being deployed in the bay outside of Hart Lobsters for observe its growth before harvest.
Kelp growth is mostly in its experimental phase, but this was the first year Savage had cultivated kelp for both research and profit.
While she was drawn to growing kelp to support her family’s business, Savage said she also felt a personal responsibility to help protect Long Island’s environment.
“Once we lose water, we lose everything,” she said. “I take it very personally.… It all points to the water of the bay.”
Savage brought kelp into the family business and said Hart Lobsters received a commercial nursery license to grow sugar kelp.
She said she changed her shellfish aquaculture license in September with the Department of Environmental Conservation to add sugar kelp.
A law allowing the cultivation of kelp in Gardiners and Peconic berries was passed this year, but cash cultivation remains largely intact in the state. In order for kelp to benefit the environment, it must be harvested, otherwise it will disintegrate in the ocean and again release the nitrogen and carbon it has absorbed, Savage said.
“We see our role as kind of a catalyst for the kelp industry in New York City,” said Justin Moore of the Moore Foundation, which works with a handful of farmers to study the conditions for kelp growing and hopes to establish a kelp cash crop network. becomes more important in New York.
Savage said Hart Lobsters, who kept his name despite no longer in the lobster business, experienced a drastic decline in his oyster hatchery in his final season. Typically, the company will reach 3 million oyster seeds per year and aim for 5 million in a good year, but the most recent season only produced 800,000, or less than 20% of their goal, Savage said. That dramatic drop could prove to be the death knell for the company if those numbers don’t improve, she said.
Savage’s hope is that kelp, which can be grown during the oyster off-season, will improve water health due to its ability to remove nitrogen from the water and provide the family business with a second source of income.
“We’re on an island, so whatever we put in the ground or in the water, it goes in the water,” she said. “Nothing is going away. And we are bringing more and more people to the island, just the overdevelopment that is happening everywhere. These nitrogen reduction systems are not keeping pace.”
KELP’S HELPING HAND
The Moore Foundation, founded by Wendy and Justin Moore, created Lazy Point Farms to help farmers grow and grow sugar kelp in the fight against climate change. Fertilizers and sumps push nitrogen into the Great South Bay. The Moore Foundation helps hatcheries get the equipment they need to grow sugar kelp.