New Brunswick

New Brunswick company hopes to make sea vegetables the next big thing

For the past three years, Steve Backman has been growing two species of algae, sweet kelp and sea lettuce, using an underwater garden at the end of Passamaquoddy Bay.

Magellan Aqua Farms growing kelp and sea lettuce in Passamaquoddy Bay

Chef Christian Aerni of the Rossmount Inn in St. Andrews, N.B., is incorporating sea vegetables grown by Magellan Aqua Farms into his menu. (Michel Nogue/Radio Canada)

A seafood company in St. Stephen, N.B., is banking on people turning to the sea for some of their daily vegetables.

The owner of Magellan Aqua Farms, Steve Backman, is considered a pioneer in seaweed farming.

For the past three years, he has been growing two species of algae, sweet kelp and sea lettuce, using an underwater garden at the end of Passamaquoddy Bay. He has been working with Thierry Chopin, a marine biology professor at the University of New Brunswick.

An underwater shot of the garden. (Radio-Canada)

Underwater, algae and scallops grow side by side. Backman said the kelp and lettuce absorb nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide produced by shellfish.

In return, they produce oxygen, which scallops need to grow.

"It's nice to integrate the culture so that extractor species improve the environment," said Backman.

"We want to do our best to not only leave no environmental footprint, but actually improve the environmental footprint while we're here."

Steve Backman (right) of Magellan Aqua Farms and marine biology professor Thierry Chopin have been working together to grow the algae species in Passamaquoddy Bay. (Radio-Canada)

Now, the company is trying to increase production to see how much capacity they have on site, while trying to figure out how to market their products to consumers.

"What we want to do is be able to grow it and as we're growing and increasing our production we're exploring different ways to market kelp," said Backman.

"And we've found lots of opportunities in kelp production and consumption."

Chef Christian Aerni says he thinks the popularity of algae will grow if chefs can get creative and find ways to make it appetizing to people. (Radio-Canada)

The chef at the Rossmount Inn in St. Andrews, N.B., is a believer.

Christian Aerni said he expects the popularity of sea vegetables to grow. Aerini said he thinks chefs just need to get creative.

"If you tell someone that you're going to live five years longer if you eat this on a regular basis, it will be very common," he said.

"And then, if you can present it in a very palatable way, then you've really made it I think."

The sea lettuce and kelp have now become part of the repertoire in Aerni's kitchen.

Chopin said he thinks it's time for these sea vegetables to be recognized as the "superfoods" that they are.

"It's been 10, 15 years we hear that seaweed is the next superfood," he said.

"But we are tired of the next, the next. We want it to be now."

With files from Michel Nogue