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I went out on a recent morning to catch the minus 1.7 tide. Time was against me. I had to drop off my daughter and get to the spot just as the tide ebbed. I ended up choosing the closest place, rather than the best. It was an epic fail.
Searching unsuccessfully for seaweeds 041217 AE 1 For the Capital City Weekly I went out on a recent morning to catch the minus 1.7 tide. Time was against me. I had to drop off my daughter and get to the spot just as the tide ebbed. I ended up choosing the closest place, rather than the best. It was an epic fail.

Dried green, red and brown seaweed. Photo courtesy of Corinne Conlon.


Rockweed is abundant on many Southeast Alaskan beaches. Photo by Corinne Conlon.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Story last updated at 4/11/2017 - 5:50 pm

Searching unsuccessfully for seaweeds

I went out on a recent morning to catch the minus 1.7 tide. Time was against me. I had to drop off my daughter and get to the spot just as the tide ebbed. I ended up choosing the closest place, rather than the best. It was an epic fail. But, just like the saying, “A bad day on the golf course is better than a good day at work,” not finding what you want when foraging still means you spent time outside, which is always better than a morning spent indoors.

I found rockweed or popweed, Fucus distichus, as I headed to the lower beach. I’m sure that at one time or another, you’ve crunched them as you walked toward the water and maybe nibbled on them as well. Jennifer Hahn has a great recipe using them in the book “Pacific Feast,” in which she bakes them on a low setting with cheese powder for a treat that’s not quite cheese puffs, but close enough. Dolly Garza, in “Common Edible Seaweeds in the Gulf of Alaska,” talks about putting them in hot water, which turns a neon green.

As I made my way farther down the beach in the mid—intertidal zone, I had hoped to see tastier seaweeds. One of these types is dark laver, which includes both Porphyra papenfussil and Porphyra tasa. This is a thicker, 2-cell seaweed with varied shapes. Rockweed laver, Porphyra fucicola, can grow both above this mid-range and farther down. This has a black, almost metallic look and an almost circular shape. You can spot it growing on rocks or around Fucus.

Because I hadn’t found these plants, I doubted that I’d find seaweeds at the lower – mid-intertidal zone. This is the area where you begin to see black seaweed, Polyphyra abbottiae. Often seasoned and dried, it has a long, green blade with ruffles around its outer margin. You can find it exposed on rocks and barnacles when the tide recedes.

Ribbon kelp, Alaria marginata, or wakame, is also found at this level. This kelp has horizontal ruffles along its main rib. Under the elongated blade are small wing-shaped extensions that are its reproductive parts and are useful identifiers.

Some of the sea lettuces are found here as well, like green string lettuce, Ulva linza, and sea lettuce, Ulva lactuca. These are both bright green and 2-cells thick. You’ll find them in protected or semi-protected areas.

Farther down in the low intertidal to subtidal zone is sugar kelp, Saccharina latissimi, with its thinner, crispy, golden edges. This has almost a golden-brown color. It regrows in the spring, but within a few months it can be eaten to the nub if there is a large sea urchin population.

I realized that as I walked the shoreline, I had picked an area of wind and strong currents. They aren’t unavailable in spots like that, but seaweed proliferates in leeward spots. A combination of a cobbled beach and protected area is best for collection.

Be careful as you harvest and note that areas near Juneau and Ketchikan are not considered subsistence because of their urban population. You can click the links on either city to see the prohibited area: http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=fishingSubsistenceByArea.nonSubsistenceUse

Seaweeds are best harvested from April to June. There’s time enough to have some foraging fails and still be successful in the end. 

• Corinne Conlon is a freelance writer based out of Juneau. She can be reached at dirtgirlgardening@gmail.com.