Ocean of Opportunity

Two local women aim to resurrect Scituate’s mossing industry

By Judy Enright   Photography by Jack Foley

Most people look out at the ocean and see only the surface of the water. That was not the case for Kathleen McEachern of Scituate and Susie Gillis of Marshfield—they saw an opportunity to resurrect a local industry. The two friends recently joined forces to launch the New England Rock Moss Company, reviving the mossing tradition that died out on the South Shore more than 20 years ago.

Mossing began in the region back in the 1850s, when fisherman Daniel Ward, an Irish immigrant, created a business in Scituate. Ward spotted seaweed under his boat one day and recognized it as carrageen, Irish moss, which was harvested and had many uses in his native Ireland. Back in Ireland, the moss was used as a cold remedy and as a thickening agent for cooking. Ward ended up abandoning fishing to develop the mossing trade that flourished for more than 150 years.

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Rock moss, also known as red algae, is a variety of seaweed found along the East Coast. McEachern, a mother of 18-month-old twin boys, Cort and Quint, pushes off in a skiff several times a week at low tide, throws a special rake into the water and drags it across shoreline rocks to gather the moss or seaweed. Her husband, Bobby, is often at the helm. He and his father, Peter, were second and third generation mossers.

The moss is loaded into a fish tote on the skiff. Once ashore, the moss is spread out on screens, rinsed and dried for five to seven days before it is ground or packaged.

“We try to go out once or twice a week,” says McEachern, “but we’re already seeing a need to increase that.”

Last winter, Gillis became intrigued with the history of the mossing industry, after taking her nieces, Lily and Ella, to the Maritime and Irish Mossing Museum in Scituate. She was fascinated to learn about the various types of seaweed that grow along the coast and began researching the beneficial properties of seaweed. As luck would have it, she and McEachern happened to connect at a birthday gathering last summer.

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“The timing was perfect,” says McEachern. “I needed someone as crazy as me to start a business with.”

The two likeminded women began meeting regularly to discuss everything about their new business, from harvesting all the way down to the label designs and packaging. The rock moss is sold in a dried form and packaged using eco-friendly rice paper bags, labels and stickers.

Their goal is to spread health and healing through the medicinal qualities of Irish moss and other local seaweeds.

“Rock moss has 92 of the 102 trace minerals your body needs,” says McEachern. “It’s a superfood.” Two tablespoons of rock moss has four calories but no trans or saturated fats or cholesterol, and only 0.1g of sugars.

McEachern and Gillis use the moss in cooking, as a thickening agent in smoothies and also as a topical skin remedy. They are currently working with local fish markets to develop rock moss recipes and hope eventually to expand into selling other types of seaweed.

For more information, visit NErockmoss.com.

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