Is sugar kelp the new kale? Long Island oyster farmers hope so

MORICHES BAY, Long Island (WABC) -- Paul McCormick is a farmer who knows a good opportunity when he sees it. Only here on Moriches Bay, opportunity isn't knocking -- It's floating. Customers just don't know it yet.

McCormick owns Great Gun Shellfish, an oyster farm in a shallow estuary where his 300,000 oysters are helping to filter about 30 million gallons of water right now.

It's good for the environment, but now, it's getting even more of a "lift" thanks to a superfood grown through a collaborative study at Stony Brook University.

It's sugar kelp, and there's about 1,000 pounds of it on two separate lines.

"I've watched this amazing plant grow from mere millimeters to 5 or 6 feet in length in just a few months," McCormick said. "It's just been a fascinating thing to observe."

And equally as fascinating is its potential.

"It takes up nitrogen, just like any plant," Stony Brook researcher Michael Doall said. "And nitrogen is one of the biggest problems facing our bays on Long Island."

Econimically, sugar kelp is a nutrient-rich companion crop that could help Long Island's oyster farmers diversify.

"It's going to provide revenue at a very, very difficult time of year," McCormick said.

The researchers say they grew kelp at three separate oyster farms, including in the Long Island Sound off Mount Sinai and in the Great South Bay off Captree Island, but Moriches Bay is where it grew the most.

The big question now is the profitability, which is phase two of the study.

They'll be marketing kelp to some of the areas top chefs and trying to determine if people will eat it in some of Long Island's best restaurants.

Keep in mind, when it's cooked, it turns bright green.

"I don't think kelp is the new kale," McCormick said. "I think kelp is actually a lot tastier than kale."

Also, unlike kale, sugar kelp can be used in cosmetics, bio plastics and even bio fuel. But for now, consider it a sort of "pearl" with a true potential as vast as the sea.

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