Maine Coast Sea Vegetables

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Sources & Resources

Botanical Names

For those of you of a botanical bent, following are the scientific names of the sea veggies we harvest and sell:

Dulse - Palmaria palmata
Laver - Porphyra umbilicalis
Sushi Nori - Porphyra yezoensis
Irish Moss - Chondrus crispus

Alaria - Alaria esculenta
Bladderwrack - Fucus vesiculosus
Kelp, whole leaf - Saccharina latissima (formerly known as Laminaria longicruris)
Rockweed - Ascophyllum nodosum

Hijiki - Hizikia fusiformis
Arame - Eisenia bicyclis
Kombu (Asian) - Laminaria japonica
Wakame - Undaria pinnifitada

Sea Lettuce - Ulva lactuca

Where and how do you harvest?

Most of our sea vegetables grow and are sustainably hand harvested locally from Downeast Maine across the Bay of Fundy to Nova Scotia. These areas of the Gulf of Maine are exceptionally clean and are considerable distances from the major rivers and population sources that might pose a threat to water purity. Experienced harvesters in small boats or on rocky beaches mindfully hand-gather the sea vegetables from their beds at low tide. They then carefully transport the sea veggies to drying facilities where they are either sun-dried or low temperature air-dried. They are graded for quality and then stored to await final packaging. The harvest is monitored for possible herbicide, pesticide, heavy metal, and bacteriological contamination. We also follow the National Organic Program (NOP) Standards for harvesting and handling. Please see The Harvest for more information on harvesting.

How can wild sea vegetables be "organic?"

It's true that compared to land plants, we have little control over the growing conditions of our wild marine plants. But we do have choices about how, when, where, and how much we harvest as well as how the plants are transported, dried, stored and packaged. The NOP (National Organic Program) Standards address all these areas and help ensure sustainability. These standards give clear and uniform direction to all responsible parties for harvesting and handling these precious plants on their way to your table. Definitely worth the trouble!

Harvesting: ensures that the seaweed is harvested at sustainable levels, in particular that the bed or area being harvested remains healthy and productive (very much in our own best interest, of course!). Beds are inspected annually. Further, the handling and transporting equipment and procedures are such that they do not introduce contaminants to the product. See The Harvest for a map and slide show.

Processing: ensures that the drying and packing processes maintain the integrity and purity of the sea veggies (e.g., documenting lot numbers).

Testing: ensures product purity. We test regularly for microbiological presence, heavy metals, chemical contaminants (pesticides, etc.) and hydrocarbons (oil, gasoline, etc.). Because of the relatively pristine condition of the coastal waters in this region, contamination has never been a problem. However we do constantly monitor the product and keep a close watch on the health and well being of the coastal waters from which our seaweeds are harvested. Our products are certified by OCIA (Organic Crop Improvement Association International, Inc.). Note: Rockweed powder and Icelandic Kelp Blend are certified by Quality Assurance International and the local Icelandic agency, TUN. Rockweed Granules are certified by Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA).

What about pollution?

Each year it seems there are more reasons for concern about the health of our oceans, and each year we receive more inquiries about the purity of our seaweed products. Fortunately, the northeastern end of the Gulf of Maine is still relatively unindustrialized and unpolluted. Nevertheless we continue to monitor possible chemical, heavy metal and microbiological contaminants in our seaweeds, and we encourage other sea vegetable suppliers, particularly Asian ones, to do the same. Beginning in 2011 after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, we have also been monitoring radioactivity in our products.

Chemicals: Each year we have samples of our seaweeds tested by Katahdin Analytical Services in Scarborough, Maine, a certified and NELAP-accredited lab, for a range of chemical pollutants. These include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons—petroleum products), 21 different insecticides, and 10 different herbicides. No unusual traces of any compound covered by these test procedures have been detected in our seaweeds

Heavy Metals: Each harvest season we have samples of our seaweeds tested for the following heavy metals: lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. We would like to report "no traces," but that is an unrealistic expectation as these metals occur worldwide both naturally (leached from bedrock) and released by human activity. Although the test levels vary somewhat from year to year, the averages are low measured against the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) Tolerable Intake Levels. Nor are there upward trends in the test results over many years.

When assessing the presence of heavy metals in seaweed bear in mind two factors. First, these FAO/WHO limits assume daily consumption and few people actually eat large amounts of seaweed daily. And second, it's not known to what extent these metals are bioavailable, if at all, during digestion (bioavailability is a measure of how much of a substance is taken up by our bodies from what we eat and drink). Any heavy metals present in seaweed may be strongly bonded with indigestible polysaccharides that pass through the body intact. Some studies indicate that seaweed may even help eliminate heavy metals already stored in the body!

Microbiological: We have regular microbiological testing done on samples of our products to make sure there are no harmful microorganisms in the seaweed or entering during the drying, storing, or packaging processes. All tests to date for coliforms, E. coli, yeast and mold have shown no unusual microbial activity.

Radioactivity: Beginning in the spring of 2011 after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima, Japan, we had samples of nearly all of our products analyzed for radioactivity at an environmental radioactivity lab at the University of Maine. We tested samples from throughout the 2011 harvest, as well as pre-Fukushima samples for comparison. Since 2012, we’ve had samples of seaweeds of various types and from a range of habitats tested annually. To date results have shown only background radioactivity, with no evidence of nuclear fallout. For more information on radioactivity testing, see the Testing and Purity page.

What about sustainability?

The most fundamental operating principle of this company is based on our understanding that these gifts from the sea come with the responsibility to maintain sustainable practices in harvesting, processing and merchandising...leaving more than we harvest, producing more than we consume, and giving back more than we take. All our sea vegetable harvesting in the Gulf of Maine is done using the simplest and most ancient technology: by hand. We monitor the Kelp and Alaria beds we harvest to insure that no more than a healthy amount of mature fronds (usually less than 50%) is taken. The Dulse and Laver beds are self-regulating; below a certain density it is not worth the harvester's time to work in an area, and the custom (which we encourage) is to move rapidly through the harvesting areas leaving adequate stock for regeneration. As we move into new harvests such as Sea Lettuce and Bladderwrack, we will apply these same techniques and principles.

Tell me about the packaging

Information about our retail bags packaging can be found on our packaging page.

Maine Coast Sea Vegetables • Hancock, Maine •
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