On Thanksgiving morning Jon and I woke up in Oceanside, Oregon and wandered down to the wide, rock-strewn beach. Waves were gently breaking against the sand and a surfer and a sea lion bobbed up and down a few yards off shore.
The weather was calm, but the beach gave us a hint of the strong storm system that had blown through a few days before. Smashed shells and tumbled logs littered the sand. At the edge of the high tide mark we found a gigantic pile of kelp. The long, whip-like sea plants were twisted around each other like a nest of snakes.
Huge kelp forests grow under the waters off the Pacific shoreline. The forests provide oxygen, shelter, and food for seabirds, otters, fish, sea lions, seals, and other ocean creatures. Kelp, of course, is also an excellent fertilizer for plants, especially vegetables. I was tempted to gather some of the kelp and bring it home with me, but I had no way to get it off the beach and I wasn’t sure what the harvest rules were. So we swung a few pieces around like bull whips, gave Domino a chance to throughly investigate the pile, and then left it alone.
This morning I looked up the rules regarding harvesting kelp in Oregon, and I found the language bureaucratic and confusing. Individuals may harvest up to 2000 pounds of kelp for personal use from submerged lands and 10 pounds per day from intertidal areas. I interpreted this to mean that you can pick up 10 pounds a day from the beach and you can take out a boat and harvest up to two tons, all without a permit.
With what seems to be an ample source of nutrient-rich, organic material available just a short drive from my door, I’d like to investigate using fresh kelp in the garden and making my own fertilizer. But I hesitate, because I do not know what the impact of removing the kelp from the beaches and near offshore waters has on the complex ecosystem that lives within the kelp forests. Finding the kelp pile also made me think for the first time about the source of the kelp in the fertilizer products I buy and about the sustainability and regulations surrounding the commercial harvest. My curiosity is sufficiently piqued that I’m going to do a little poking around to see what I can find out.