18th October

Acadian Seaplants enters Ireland's seaweed sector

When it was confirmed in May that Údarás na Gaeltachta had sold its shares in the seaweed processing company Arramara Teoranta to Acadian Seaplants Limited of Canada, the news was greeted with concern by some harvesters fearing that their generations-old livelihood of hand-harvesting would be sidelined in favour of mechanisation.

Acadian seawweed

In an exclusive interview, Inshore Ireland talked to Acadian Seaplants President Jean-Paul Deveau who says he looks forward to working with harvesters and Arramara’s employees, suppliers and customers to sustainably grow and develop the company and the industry to their full potential.

“The purchase of Arramara Teo by Acadian Seaplants will safeguard the future of the company, provide significant demand for seaweed supply from harvesters and provide additional employment in the Gaeltacht,” Mr Deveau believes.

Apart from Canada, does Acadian have operations elsewhere?

We are a multi-national company from Nova Scotia, Canada. We have five processing facilities along Canada’s Atlantic shore plus a 4,500m2 R&D Centre all located in rural, coastal communities. Internationally, we have locally-staffed operations in eight countries and sales in over 80 countries.

What attracted Acadian to Ireland and to Arramara Teoranta in particular?

For over thirty years, we have been very careful to do the right things in the right order, to develop scientific knowledge and market awareness for products derived from seaweed.

When Údarás na Gaeltachta was asked by a former minister to look for a strategic partnership to grow Arramara and Ireland’s seaweed industry, we saw the potential. Our experience and success in working with the same seaweed species enables the transfer of our knowledge and investment to help Arramara and Ireland expedite their positions as world leaders in quality products for global and domestic markets.

What are Acadian’s investment plans for Ireland?

Acadian Seaplants has proven, in our facilities located in rural communities, a strong record of investment, improvement and social responsibility. We have a multi-year schedule of investment that is commercially confidential.

Shortly after the partnership was ratified, however, we announced an initial €2m investment in capital expenditures, and investments are ongoing. They include factory improvements - to diversify value-added quality products and introduce leading-edge technologies such as global video-conferencing.

We are also conducting scientific assessments of the seaweed resource to assure ecosystem sustainability. We have held meetings to prepare for a social responsibility initiative designed to excite, engage and mobilise young people so they may stay and work in their local communities.

In which seaweed species is Acadian interested?

Arramara Teo is interested in processing Feamainn Buí (Ascophyllum nodosum) and Fucus. These species grow in abundance in those areas from which harvesters will continue to supply Arramara. These two species are found in the intertidal zone between high and low water marks.

Isn’t Arramara Teo licensed to harvest 25,000 tonnes?

Arramara Teo has never held a licence to harvest seaweed and has always relied on over 300 harvesters living in coastal communities across counties Mayo, Galway and north Clare to supply the factory. Arramara procured and processed varying quantities over the years, to a maximum of 37,000 tonnes annually. Current volumes do not reflect Arramara’s potential.

We will help Arramara get back to prior levels and maximise the factory’s capacity. Údarás has asked us to stabilise and improve quality and throughput so that employees, harvesters, hauliers and other stakeholders can receive maximum economic benefit from Arramara’s operation.

We know that with our science, experience and success, we can help build not only a technically-advanced seaweed manufacturing centre of excellence in Cill Chiaráin, but can add value and market acceptance to maximise prosperity in the West and fortify Ireland’s global leadership in seaweed applications.

What harvesting methods will Acadian use?

The harvest method widely used sees harvesters on the shore at low tide with hand sickles cutting the Feamainn Buí from the rocks. The harvester then ties the seaweed in climíní, or forks it onto a wagon to be hauled.

In North America, harvesters work from small boats, and using a small, hand-held cutter rake on long poles, they trim the upper portion of the floating seaweed and lift it into their boats. Each harvester then lands their catch for haulage and sale to Acadian’s plants.

We’re proud of our resource management model in North America, which took years to evolve. We want to respect the provenance and heritage of the methodology in Ireland, and we are actively engaging with harvesters to better understand their current and future needs. With proven harvesting techniques, it may be possible to increase the total amount harvested.

Will Acadian introduce mechanical harvesting here?

Arramara will continue to buy seaweed from harvesters who harvest as they have always done – by-hand, on foot - at low tide using a sickle. A couple of harvesters have expressed interest in trying a different method of hand harvesting, like that used in North America, for areas with accessibility challenges.

We will work with harvesters to ensure the best harvesting technologies are used in the right geographies to maximise economic benefits while ensuring sustainability. We want to support and help harvesters by making scientific assessments available in the West.

Does Acadian plan to process the harvest locally, or will this be done outside Ireland? The purchase of Arramara was for the purpose of developing the processing of Ireland’s seaweed resource in the West of Ireland. As recognised experts in the processing of these seaweed species, it makes sense economically to process as close to the harvest as possible.

We’re committed to making the investments necessary in equipment, people and science to optimise the factory, to provide sustainable employment and to increase economic benefits to harvesters, hauliers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

Will employment grow at your plant in Ireland?

As efficiencies improve and we increase added value and market acceptance, our personnel requirements increase. This takes many forms. We need skills in manufacturing, research, engineering, administration and other areas of the business.

This presents opportunities for those in Arramara, and hopefully, for more people to join and contribute. As long as there is responsible, managed, sustainable access to the seaweed, Arramara and this industry will ensure an enduring legacy for families of the West.

Will Arramara harvest in areas where other harvesters are currently at work, or will the company have exclusive harvesting rights?

It has been our experience, both in committing our responsibilities in North America and in studying good and bad examples worldwide that to ensure accountability someone must be accountable for seaweed resource management.

Government must assure the protection of resources on behalf of the citizens and the State, and this requires each company commit specific, defined responsibilities. These must be written, licensed, adhered to and subject to withdrawal of a licence in the event of breach.

Each company must assure the seaweed is healthy and sustainable within its ecosystem. In order to impose such defined responsibilities, each company must be the exclusive licensee in a geographic area which ensures harvesters will be able to harvest in a planned and sustainable way.

These essential safeguards enable Ireland to protect the environment, people, heritage and the industry while directing sustainable, licensed users of the natural resource to maximise economic benefits for current and future generations. We believe there is plenty of Feamainn Buí for landowners’ personal use, for Arramara and for other responsible, licensed companies.

Where companies are licensed, the resource is properly and sustainably managed and returns are maximised and everybody benefits: harvesters, employees, researchers and other stakeholders.

Do you envisage territorial difficulties with such a situation?

The serious topic of folio rights regarding individual and State ownership of resource, we believe, is a matter of law and fact. Based on our confidence in the harvester community, and in the Government finding its way in applying law and fact to the question of who owns the seaweed, we are confident all parties can avoid territorial difficulties.

When there is lack of responsible management of the resource, we have seen other countries overharvest and ruin their harvesters’ livelihoods.

We are confident we will continue to be a responsible, accepted and contributing member of society here in the West of Ireland.

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