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The three-year project, funded at an anticipated $750,000, aims to use flat, mesh panels – a new technique – to farm red seaweed. The researchers will focus on two seaweeds: Gracilaria pacifica, which produces a food thickener called agar; and a patented strain of Palmaria mollis (Pacific dulse) that tastes like bacon when it’s smoked and deep-fried. They will sandwich plantlets between the mesh, allowing their fronds to poke out. After that, they’ll place the panels in oval-shaped raceway tanks on land and hang other panels from a pier in Newport, Ore. Then they’ll study how well the sea vegetables grow.
They hope that their new farming method would replace labor-intensive hatchery operations with automated inoculation of clonal strains of the seaweed. They also hope that it would allow the seaweed to be grown at biomass densities much higher than with aerated tumbler tanks or rope systems. Currently, on most open-ocean farms, red seaweeds are cultivated by tying plantlets to rope, while aerated tumbler tanks are used in land-based farms. In a raceway, a rotating paddle agitates the water, moving it in an oval circuit.
The head researcher on the project is Gregory Rorrer, an expert in algal biotechnology in the School of Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering at OSU. The co-leader is Chris Langdon, an expert in marine aquaculture in OSU’s Fisheries and Wildlife Department. Langdon developed the strain of Palmaria mollis that will be used.
Oregon Sea Grant will administer the funds for the project. Shelby Walker, its director, is the lead on the project, although she won’t be conducting the research. The grant is one of 22 from NOAA totaling $11 million that were announced on Oct. 17 to further develop the nation’s marine aquaculture industry. In 2017, NOAA awarded OSU researchers two aquaculture grants totaling $779,000 to make oysters safer to eat and help hatcheries feed certain marine fish more efficiently. Langdon was the lead researcher on one of those grants.