18th October

‘Cinderella’ seaweed industry needs coordinated approach

Ireland’s seaweed sector will go on failing to realise its true potential in terms of revenue generation and employment opportunities unless those in it learn to unite and adopt well-co-ordinated strategies when dealing with state regulatory and support agencies.

This is the blunt assessment of Ross Campbell, a director of CyberColloids Ltd – the county Cork-based global service provider to end users and producers of hydrocolloids − and the new chairman of the Irish Seaweed Industry Organisation (ISIO). The ISIO was set up over a decade ago and represents the interests of those working with seaweeds in Ireland.

Commenting to Inshore Ireland soon after taking the ISIO hot seat, Campbell views his proposed two-year term as “a major but welcome challenge.”

 High on his agenda is to improve the image of seaweed in the public mind, and to reveal some of the business opportunities it can present to entrepreneurs − particularly in overseas markets.

“Those of us who work in what really is a tiny sector know that we are operating in a very crowded and fiercely competitive marketplace worldwide. The Irish sector is already facing growing competition from places like Brittany and Canada, so we need to learn where our place is and how to project our position as an Irish product base,” he explains.

Campbell’s reign as ISIO chairman comes at a critical time for the sector – often regarded as “the Cinderella” of the marine and practically invisible to the general public.

Optimistic predictions

Despite regular and sometimes overly optimistic predictions that a seaweed-based industry was on the brink of a major breakthrough, it has steadfastly failed to make any impact beyond some of the coastal communities where it has been gathered off the foreshore for generations.

This paralysis has led ISIO members to question the organisation’s role as a representative organisation, and it has come in for trenchant criticism of late for failing to promote their interests in the past decade.

Root and branch reform

A commissioned report circulated to ISIO members in December by Declan Clarke of the Marine Development Office at NUI-Galway’s Martin-Ryan-Marine-Science-Institute, which examines the ‘structure and function’ of the ISIO, reinforced the widely-held belief that a ‘root-and-branch’ reform of the organisation was essential if the sector was to progress. 

The Clarke report set to discover what exactly ISIO members expected from their representative organisation.

Financed by ISIO members, Taighde Mara Teo, BIM, the Marine Institute and the MRI, the Clarke report signposts a new direction for the organisation – one that is most likely to involve the ISIO affiliating formally to a stronger lobby group such as the Irish Farmers’ Association.

It cautions however that ‘should an approach be made to affiliate with IFA, the ISIO must have in place a formalised and effective Committee structure  that is mandated by members to negotiate and subsequently monitor delivery of exact terms and conditions of affiliation’.

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