I first heard about the goodness of umami in 2010. My friend and oncology nutritionist at BC Cancer Agency asked me to submit a research grant proposal for a study on glutamate to help heal patients from radiotherapy side effects. She advised me that glutamate …
Seaweeds and sea otters have a symbiotic relationship as evidenced by the rafts of sea otters (Enhydrus lutra), numbering in the hundreds, bobbing amongst the kelp beds just north of Tofino in Kyuquot Sound, Vancouver Island. These furry creatures are closely intertwined with the life …
In 2017, I retired from a twenty-six-year career as Dr. Isabella Uzaraga, a palliative care physician. I told my colleagues that I had given twenty-six years to medicine and I wanted to give back to the planet. At the time, my husband had already retired for two years, and I also wanted to spend more time with him before, well, I died; that was the goal for many who worked in the field of palliative care. Little did I know that my goals would go through a roller coaster of change because of a pandemic and illness, but eventually come out in rediscovery.
The journey starts…
In 2018, I started my journey at Camosun College Environmental Electronic and Computer Engineering Tech program. There, as the oldest student, I seemed an enigma to the twenty something year old students, mostly male, who were all jockeying for coveted jobs in the field. I made it clear to them that I was not competing for their jobs and only wanted to prove to myself that I still had the capacity to learn. However, I developed some perfectionist traits that got me A plus marks yet prevented me from completing the program. Perhaps I still felt traumatized from my struggles as a medical school student and wanted to be a “better” student this time around. By the end of second term, I transferred out of the program and into the Computer Network Electronics Technician program; however, there was a one-year waitlist. Fine, I was retired and could focus on self-learning about climate crisis; I began a blog called Seaweedcabin.com that focused on climate crisis issues and discussed microcosm solutions from our cabin on Gabriola Island. I bade my Camosun colleagues goodbye and told them I would see them in their graduation year…then, the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down.
Time to regroup
However traumatic the pandemic affected my autonomy I did find the time useful to regroup from an academic/career goal back to why I retired in the first place; I had forgotten how much I wanted to purely live a green life with an individual environmental action plan. Therefore, instead of focusing on what I did not complete, I made space to appreciate what I had already done: I adopted a plant-based diet, I bought an electric car, I put thermal windows into the cabin, I planted a victory garden, I stopped flying in airplanes, I recycled more, and most all, I stopped consuming goods. For example, when I worked, I used to spend $3000 per month on clothes, gas and eating out. Whereas, in retirement, I barely spent one tenth of that. Furthermore, we bought a house that was more energy efficient, had solar potential, and had a huge vegetable garden. Although, I could not imagine myself as a technician, I could visualize myself as a gardener and environmental activist.
Allowing time to heal
Most of all, I allowed myself time to figure out what I wanted to do, a luxury I could not afford when I had student loans leveraging my education and first career. I also allowed myself time to heal from not only my own medical problems, my parents’ medical and aging problems, but from the global problems roiling around me. Therefore, I stopped looking at negative sensationalized daily news and subscribed to more positive news resources such as Futurecrunch.com, Sierraclub.com, Vancouver Island electric vehicle, and some solar networks. Furthermore, I created art because art tries to make sense of our tumultuous world, putting control back into my hands. Likewise, each day I give thanks for the beautiful hikes, sunshine or small things such as a plate of dumplings placed before me; I am mindful that they are still all here for me to enjoy.
Mind you, we are still in a pandemic and will be for some time. I see this time as a gift, an opportunity to try new things and re-evaluate. Most of all, I need not focus on what I have or have not done, but instead just appreciate the processes I choose in rediscovering myself, Issy.
Although Canada is surrounded by naturally growing seaweed, Canadians consume only a small proportion of the harvested wild or cultivated seaweeds. Yet, in 2016, Canada imported over $11 million dollars of seaweed products mainly from Japan, Korea and China (Gov. of Canada, 2018). This shows …
A walk in a kelp forest is the opposite to what you see in a Westcoast rainforest. Recently, himself and I walked through a local forested vale, but could not see the tops of the trees as we looked up to the canopy. However, when you see a bobbing kelp forest from the shore, unless you snorkel or dive, you cannot see what lies below. Also, seasonally, the kelp forest changes just like a terrestrial forest.
A walk in a kelp forest in the Winter
In the winter, when I gaze from shore out to our local kelp beds, I may see mats of dead kelp, but I seldom see any live blades bobbing on the surface.The kelp blades are not visible because winter storms have pruned them back (1), similar to terrestrial trees in the winter losing their foliage. From January to March, light penetrates to the depths of the ocean and offer growth to other algae and organisms. Winds change and upwell nutrients from the depths (2). By Spring, the wave action lessens, and the kelps grow. Similarly, the same happens on the rainforest floor in the Spring with the growth of wild flowers and shrubbery. Seaweed “shrubs” such as leafy red algae and crusty coralline algae both eek out existences where the kelps do not yet dominate. Their growth is rapid until the kelp forest canopy takes over usually by mid summer (2).
A walk in a kelp forest in the Fall
By fall wind directions change and when the upwelling of nutrients stops (2), the kelp stops growing, weaken and the winter storms shred the thinned blades (2). Their holdfasts also let go, and the surges roll them about (2). Hence, dead kelp float in mats on the surface, wash ashore or more often decay and replenish the ocean floor with nutrients (2). Evenetually, sunlight can again penetrate to lower levels allowing other algae and organisms to grow into the new Spring season. Perennial (Macrocystis) and annual kelp (Nereocystis) release spores that form male and female parts (gametophytes). Eggs and sperm from these parts fertilize one another and form sporophytes. Interestingly, the female gametophyte produces a gin smelling pheromone, lamoxirene, to attract sperm (3). Finally, the sporophytes anchor to the bottom with their holdfasts, and then eventually grow a stipe and blade (2).
Mechanical harvesting of kelp
Kelp grow either at the holdfast or at the blade attachment to the bladder. If the stipe is cut, the kelp will die. Sustainable harvesters should follow the rule: for every stipe cut (20-25%), leave four kelp plants to live (75-80% of the wild stock). Otherwise, only the blade should be cut leaving at least 1/3 attached to the bladder. About 32 countries harvest wild stock kelp, including Canada (4). Mechanized harvesting techniques that damage the holdfast, such as trawling and vacuum suction, and stipe, such as scoubidou and paddlewheel cutter, require regulation to allow recovery of the wild stocks (5). These techniques not only damage the kelp but also destroy the protective habitat that the kelp forests provide for other living organisms (6).
Ultimately, when left undisturbed, the holdfast of some kelp can survive 10 years for some species and continually regrow into a full kelp each Spring (2)(4). As with the changing of seasons for a terrestrial forest, kelp forests likewise go through their natural life cycles. Therefore, the next time you gaze or swim over a kelp bed, consider the multitude of ecosystems that lie beneath. It’s more than what meets the eye.
- Fulton-Bennet, K. “Kelp Bed in March”. Seasons in the Sea. 2013. Retrieved on 2018/06/06 from http://seasonsinthesea.com/mar/kelp.shtml
- “Kelp Forests”. Project Oceanography. University of Southern Florida. Spring 2002. Retrieved on 2018/06/13 from https://www.marine.usf.edu/pjocean/packets/sp02/sp02u1p4.pdf
- Druehl, L. Clarkston, B., (2016). Pacific Seaweeds. 2nd ed. Madeira Park, BC, Canada: Harbour Publishing, p.21-22.
- Michéal Mac Monagail, Lynn Cornish, Liam Morrison, Rita Araújo & Alan T. Critchley (2017) “Sustainable harvesting of wild seaweed resources”, European Journal of Phycology, 52:4, 371-390,DOI: 1080/09670262.2017.1365273
- “Seaweed Industry in Europe”. Netalgae.eu. 2012. Retreived on 2018/06/10 from http://www.netalgae.eu/uploadedfiles/Filieres_12p_UK.pdf
- Kraan, S. “Recent cultivation and applications of marine macroalgae”. Ocean Harvest Technology Ltd., Nov. 2, 2010. Retrieved on 2018/06/10
B.C. indigenous seaweed recipes explores the consumption of seaweed for millenia by coastal inhabitants, and discusses the Kelp Highway Theory that predicts that indigenous people traversed Beringia, the Bering Strait land bridge, from Asia to North and South America through kelp forests (Braje, 2017). Essentially, 14,500 years ago, plentiful kelp forests tempered coastal waves for travel by small boats as well as provided a bounty of nutrients for marine life. Unlike previous theories of passage by foot, the people migrated by boat down the west coast and eventually settled in Monte Verde, Chile, some 58 km inland from the sea (Braje, 2017). Despite the inland discovery, archaeological digs of human faecal specimens found ten species of seaweed (Pryopia, kelp, Sargassum to name a few), confirming the theory.
B.C. Indigenous Seaweed Recipes with Herring Roe
On the Pacific Coast, the most consumed seaweeds by B.C. indigenous people are red laver (Pryopia), kelp (Macrocystis, Alaria, Laminaria, Nereocystis, and Costaria), rockweed (Fucus), and sea lettuce (Ulva) (FAO Corporate Document Repository. 2017). Furthermore, many of the kelps, eel and surf grasses are gathered after the herring spawn, harvesting both the seaweeds and the spawn laid upon them. Also, at feasts, the Kwakwaka’wakw boil reconstituted macrokelp herring spawn in cedar boxes and serve them out with special spoons (FAO Corporate Document Repository, 2017). In fact, often in B.C, herring roe laden seaweeds ship immediately to Japanese markets without any available for local consumption, other than that gathered by Indigenous People for their own. I first saw kelp with herring roe in Kauai and Japan labeled as komochi kombu. It can fetch CA$23 per 200 g.
B.C. Indigenous Seaweed Recipes with Red Laver
B.C. indigenous seaweed recipes include many species of Prypopia. The Kwakwaka’wakw and Haida Gwaii traditionally prepare cakes of red laver (Pryopia) by decomposing the seaweed for 4-5 days, then pressing it into wooden frames to dry in the sun (Turner, 2011). The cakes are then layered in cedar boxes alternating with chiton juice (human chewed chiton mixed with saliva) and young bows of red-cedar (FAO Corporate Document Repository. 2017 ). They then weight down contents of the boxes with rocks. A month later, they add and weigh down more red laver for a total of four times before storing for the winter (Turner, 2011). Thereafter, at feasts, the fermented red laver is chopped, chewed and boiled for a long time and served with dried salmon, salmon roe, halibut heads, clams, fat of deer, bear or seal, and eulachon oil (Turner, 2011). Interestingly, prior to the advent of Asian cultivation practices, Coast Salish and Nuu-chah-nulth sold red laver to Chinese and Japanese people in Victoria as a source of income (FAO Corporate Document Repository, 2017).
Furthermore, Turner (2011) describes some modern processing techniques such as freezing the seaweed in a freezer until the weather is dry enough for it to be properly dried outdoors; chopping the seaweed in a food processor or with a meat grinder; and my favourite, drying the seaweed in a pillowcase in the clothes dryer.
Seaweed Trade and Kinship ties
B.C. indigenous groups often traded seaweed to promote kinship ties; the Gigta’at Nation of the Northcoast of B.C. traded dried pryopia with the Haisla of Kitimat and Nisga’a of Nass Valley for eulachon products (Turner, 2016). Some traded seaweeds for their nutritional content such as iodine; for example, the Carrier and Chilcotin Athapaskan peoples of the interior of B.C, traded with Bella Coola or Nuxalk people on the Pacific coast for goitre medicine (Turner, 2011). Moreover, exchanges continue to occur formally in feasts such as potlatch, informally to strengthen the kinship ties and clan relationships; and also among children to teach generosity, caring for elders and concern for their community (Turner, 2016).
Sustainable Harvesting and Stewardship
As with most indigenous beliefs about stewardship for the land and sea, B.C. Indigenous Peoples harvest seaweeds sustainably in the winter to early spring to allow growth over the summer (Turner, 2011). Indigenous groups wait for winter storms to clean the kelps and eel grasses before the herring come to spawn (Turner, 2016). Eelgrass meadows are vital to fish stocks and carbon sequestration. Furthermore, research suggests that sustainable harvesting by First Nations might increase eelgrass productivity over the long term (Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Fisheries, 2010). Only a third of the rhizomes can be harvested in any area (in Spring) to allow plants to grow back by the end of the season (Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Fisheries, 2010).
In summary, since the Kelp Highway Theory 14,500 years ago to present day, seaweeds and sea grasses continue to play a vital role for Indigenous People of B.C. Furthermore, through centuries of stewardship and sustainable harvesting practices, their reliance on the nutritional benefits of seaweed and the habitats they provide for marine creatures especially herring, will hopefully provide lessons learned for us all.
Salmon Head Soup with rockweed
Fresh rockweed adds a saltiness and light mild flavour to this Bouillabaisse like soup.
1 large salmon head gills removed
1 large onion chopped
3 carrots chopped
4 or more garlic cloves chopped
2 carrots chopped
1 celery stalk chopped
1 large fennel bulb or plant sliced and diced, reserve fronds
1 large onion chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh rockweed (Fucus) chopped
1 large tomato chopped
2 tsp. chili flakes
few threads of saffron
1 tbsp lemon scented olive oil
1 stem thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Cover one large salmon head (gills removed) with water. Add one large onion, and 3 carrots chopped Bring to boil and simmer for 2-3 hours. Strain broth and cool. Remove salmon meat and fat from bones.
Chop garlic cloves, 2 large onions, carrots, celery, one large fennel bulb and sauté in large pan until just barely soft. Add reserved broth and simmer until fennel is el dente. Soften saffron threads in some broth then add to the broth. Add tomatoes, reserved flaked salmon, rockweed, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer 2 minutes, drizzle on olive oil and serve, garnished with rockweed and fennel feathers.
Braje, T. et al. Finding the first Americans. Science 03 Nov 2017: Vol. 358, Issue 6363, pp. 592-594 DOI: 10.1126/science.aao5473
Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples. FAO Corporate Document Repository. 2017/10/06. pages 2-8.
Ts’aay’imts Eelgrass: “Candy of the Sea”. Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council Fisheries. 2010.
Turner, N. “We give them seaweed”: Social economic exchange and resilience in Northwestern North America. Indian J. Trad. Knowledge. Vol 15(1). Jan. 2016. pp5-15.
Turner, N. The ethnobotany of edible seaweed (Porphyra abbottae and related species; Rhodophyta: Bangiales) and its use by First Nations on the Pacific Coast of Canada. Canadian Journal of Botany. February 2011. DOI: 10.1139/b03-029
Oysters have a symbiotic relationship with seaweeds. Some shellfish industries utilize this knowledge by cultivating the two in the same ecosystem. Furthermore, the market for shellfish grows every year with consumers wanting clean, high quality oysters that are sustainably grown; therefore, it is worth looking …