National Business Briefs

Alaska’s fledgling commercial seaweed industry grows

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska’s fledgling commercial seaweed industry is growing, with producers excited about this year’s harvest.

There were no commercial seaweed farmers in Alaska five years ago, though there have long been subsistence seaweed harvests along Alaska coasts. Now, there are 16 aquatic farming operations permitted to culture species of seaweed in the state, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, the aquatic farming coordinator for the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Ten of those operations have permits to grow seaweed plus oysters and other shellfish, while six have seaweed-only permits, she said.

According to the World Aquaculture Society, seaweed is a $6 billion business worldwide. Most seaweed is harvested in Korea, Japan and China, dried and used for seasoning.

Blue Evolution, a California-based company at the fore of the developing Alaska’s industry, has worked with researchers at the University of Alaska Southeast on ways to farm kelp commercially rather than harvest wild kelp beds, reports the Anchorage Daily News.

Lexa Meyers, who co-owns Kodiak Kelp Co., said the technique involves collecting wild kelp plants and breeding them to produce tiny floating “seeds” that attach themselves to “grow lines” of string farmers suspend in the ocean in late November.

Blue Evolution sells seed stock to some Alaska farmers and buys back the mature kelp. It is processed and sold as a blanched and frozen product, with food service at corporations, colleges and other cafeterias as the main clientele so far.

Meyers and her husband sell to Blue Evolution.

Lia Heifetz co-owns Barnacle Foods, a Juneau company that makes kelp salsas, pickles and other products and has used wild harvested bull kelp. The company has expanded enough to buy commercially farmed kelp from a growing operation near Ketchikan.

“(Our business) gave him the confidence to scale his harvest up,” Heifetz said. “No one has a desire to grow kelp and have nowhere to sell it. We’re at a scale now it made sense for him to make the jump and be confident we can buy it.”

Barnacle plans to buy about 25,000 pounds of kelp.

Meyers said development of a market will be important for the industry to grow, along with community acceptance.

Meyers believes a growing seaweed industry could be a boon to fishing families. The seaweed harvest cycle occurs when other big fisheries are at a lull. Seaweed is harvested in late April and early May.

Expert predicts more Wisconsin frac sand mines may close

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The impending bankruptcy of a major frac sand mining company is a sign of the financial woes that could cripple more Wisconsin-based mines due to a nationwide oversupply of sand, according to an industry expert.

Emerge Energy Services entered into a debt restructuring deal with its lenders last month, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. The company owns Superior Silica Sands, which has frac sand mines in Chippewa and Barron counties.

CEO Rick Shearer said it’s premature to comment on the deal and that restructuring negotiations are ongoing.

The company could file for bankruptcy if a settlement isn’t struck out of court.

Up to 75% of Wisconsin mines that supply oil and gas producers might have to close due to the oversupply of sand, said Samir Nangia, energy consulting director at analytics firm IHS Markit.

Nangia said frac sand companies have built up more than a dozen mines closer to oilfields in Texas and Oklahoma within the last two years. Oil drillers are able to get local sand for less than the cost of shipping it from Wisconsin.

Texas mines alone are producing more than 100 million tons of sand per year, which is close to the estimated demands of oil and natural gas producers throughout the country.

“I don’t think we’re going to get a big enough demand number that simply absorbs all this excess supply this time,” Nangia said. “I think what we need is an actual reduction in supply and that means the painful bankruptcy process that you’re seeing, which has already started actually, but this is definitely one of the larger companies.”