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Oyster farmers commercially harvesting seaweed in Tomales Bay

Oyster farmers harvesting seaweed in Tomales Bay 02:08

TOMALES BAY (KPIX) -- An oyster farm in the North Bay is looking to commercially harvest a different product now, seaweed.

As countless bags of oysters and mussels get pulled in and soak in water that's pumped into nearby tanks, and then pushed back out into Tomales Bay, large amounts of seaweed are washed away.

"All the seaweed are photosynthesizers pulling carbon dioxide," said Gary Fleener of Hog Island Oyster Company.

That abundant algae in our waters, essentially makes our air cleaner.

"When we bring them in and turn them into food or compost that in some ways sequesters that carbon for a longer-term," said Fleener.

Fleener earned his Ph.D. in ecology but has been working at Hog Island Oyster Company, figuring out ways to make better use of seaweed that quickly multiplies, and covers oyster beds, when they're brought in by boat.

Come June they'll be able to commercially harvest it for the first time

"Our hope is to be able to turn those into valuable food resources," said Fleener.

Right now, all that seaweed stuck on gear, gets power washed away, and goes to waste.

With growing demand for seaweed as a food source, fertilizer, and other possibilities, Fleener and his team are about to get the green light from Fish and Wildlife.

"We put in a condition there that harvests would not occur during herring season but we don't anticipate that being a problem because algae grows on a different schedule, and so the harvest would be around the summertime," said Sara Briley, an environmental scientist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The harvested seaweed could end up in local restaurants, or dried to eat like Nori, that's mostly produced in Asia.

Soon, you could have a distinct seaweed to chew on from Tomales Bay.

"I think it'll be a wonderful day if we get to the place where we're playing with the concept of terroir to seaweed in California but I think we may be a little ways off from that," said Fleener.

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