Mystic man seeks approvals to run sugar kelp farm in Fishers Island Sound

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Mystic — A local man is seeking approval from state and local agencies to run a sugar kelp farm in Fishers Island Sound about one mile southeast of Enders Island.

Thomas Cooke of LionMind Ventures LLC is seeking a permit from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to install up to 10 long lines, each 500 feet long and anchored at each end and in the middle. The kelp seeds are embedded in the ropes when they are put out in the water and then harvested six months later after the plants have grown to 12 feet or more. Cooke said the work will begin in late October and end in May, which means it will not occur during the busy recreational boating season in Fishers Island Sound. He also will need approval from the Stonington Shellfish Commission and the Mystic Harbor Management Commission.

“I’m not in anyone’s backyard. I’m a nautical mile off Enders Island,” he said.

Cooke said that if he can obtain his approvals over the next few months, he would like to get his gear in the water this fall. He plans to start out by farming just a small portion of the area.

Cooke, who now lives on Masons Island and is an attorney, director for a professional choral group and the former Simsbury town administrator, spent his summers growing up in Branford and calls Long Island Sound the most important place in his life.

“This is an exciting new adventure for me,” he said.

He said he learned about kelp farming a few years ago, when he heard a program on the popular TED Talks series about a New Haven-based organization called Greenwave and its executive director, Bren Smith, who farms kelp in the Sound.

“It’s really good for the Sound,” Cooke said about kelp farming. “It removes nitrogen and carbon dioxide and leaves a much healthier body of water.”

While kelp farming is new here, he said it is a $10 billion industry worldwide, with most being grown in Asia. Locally, he will join two other operations, including one run by Jay and Suzie Douglas, the owners of the Mechanic Street Marina in Pawcatuck, which began growing kelp off Bluff Point in Groton this year.

The uses for nutrient-filled kelp include food — growers like to call it sea greens and not seaweed — cosmetics and fertilizers, just to name a few. Cooke said Greenwave works with kelp farmers to provide seed, find buyers and provide technical advice.

“Everyone says it’s the new kale but I think it tastes better,” he said.


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