16th October

Netalgae project ends but leaves foundation for sustainable European seaweed industry...

Máirtín Walsh, BIM

The Netalgae project held its final project conference in San Sebastien Spain in November, having completed the assembly of a European seaweed industry database, trade directory and website. It has also put forward ‘best practise’ guidelines for the management and regulation of Europe’s seaweed industries.

The conference covered access to raw materials; aquaculture; best practices for harvesting; and the potential for new, value-added products from seaweed, and was well attended by European delegates from small and large businesses.  Ireland was represented companies including Arramara Teo; Ocean Harvest Technology; Cybercolloids as well as the Irish Seaweed Research Group at NUI Galway.

Age-old practices

The Netalgae project revealed just how remarkably similar the European seaweed industry is in its history and in the way it has developed over the years.

‘Kelp burning’, to produce iodine, was a notable feature in coastal communities in Norway, Scotland, Ireland and Brittany until the early 20th century. The harvesting and processing methods, infrastructure and regulation were also broadly similar throughout, and the decline of the practice occurred simultaneously.
Despite differences in species collected, harvesting of seaweeds like Chondrus, Gelidium and Laminaria to produce food processing has also been broadly similar in Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal for the best part of a century.

Currently, the European macro-algae industry harvests and processes over 300,000 tonnes of raw material annually with Norway and France accounting for approximately 220,000 tonnes or over 70%.  Europe must now support the development of the seaweed industry — not on a national or regional basis as has been the case — but at a European level.

Major economic potential
The European resource offers enormous potential to develop high-value seaweed products. European industries however all face similar challenges of lack of recognition and cohesive strategy to place this valuable resource at the heart of EU natural resource development policy.

Diverse and often contradictory attitudes to marine resource development prevail across Europe, and the interpretation of environmental regulations varies enormously across Member States.

Seaweed should now be viewed in a similar way to fisheries and agricultural resources; however it would be unrealistic to try to seek to have intervention in the sector at the same scale.  

Nevertheless, increased efforts must be made to include effective Europe-wide regulatory structures, cohesive development policy and EU funding initiatives.       

Challenges ahead
Europe now faces major challenges to the long-term sustainability of its seaweed industries, the most pressing issues that must be dealt with are: long-term raw material access; developing innovation capabilities and maintaining an appropriate labour force. Efficient, sustainable mechanical harvesting appears to be absolutely necessary for long-term survival and development of the European industry.

An innovation development strategy is also required at EU level. Funding must also be made available to ameliorate the high cost of R&D and bio-discovery. Such costs however cannot be borne exclusively by private sector operators. Targeted funding — based on realistic development potential — must be made available.

Innovation support also must be extended to harvesting, aquaculture, processing, bio-discovery, product development and application development.

A crucial and often overlooked factor in the long-term sustainability of the European seaweed industry is the human component. Education; training; recruitment; skills development; succession planning and creating the next generation of seaweed harvesters, growers, scientists and entrepreneurs will all be vital to the future of the industry.



Spread the News

Accelerator programme for Ireland's aquaculture industry
Four-wheel remote aquaculture classroom
Shellfish producers slam level of sewage discharge
Sea trout collapse: a complicated issue