18th December

Seaweed - Ireland's newest farming activity

Seaweed farming offers Ireland the opportunity to become a producer of one of the EU's fastest growing food categories that by 2020 could boost Irish seafood sales by an additional €10 million per year.

This was a key message delivered to close on 200 delegates attending the BIM hosted conference Farmed Irish Seaweed: An Ocean Wonder Food? as the Agency's first report on Irish seaweed farming was unveiled.

8.3aquaculture seaweed

About one quarter of EU seaweed suipply is produced in France and Spain

Findings from The European Market for Sea Vegetables - a study specially commissioned for the conference - show Ireland targeting 2,000 metric tonnes (harvest weight) per annum of seaweed, farmed for human consumption.

Ireland is competing to develop a niche in the US$6bn worldwide farmed seaweed industry currently dominated by global heavyweights, China and Japan.

Demand for European farmed seaweed, which is increasing by 7-10% per annum, could lead to 100 new jobs being created on seaweed farms predominantly along Ireland's west/ south-west coastline, according to BIM. And it belives downstream processing of new seaweed crops would also create a further 80 to 100 jobs in the region.

Keynote speaker Amarjit Sahota says the European market for sea vegetables is worth an estimated €24 million at wholesale value and sees Ireland having "high prospects" for two primary reasons.

"First, Ireland is already established as an important seaweed producer; it is therefore well equipped to raise production levels of sea vegetables. Second, the European market is suffering from undersupply with production falling short of demand. Imports comprised about 75 percent of total sales volumes in 2013."

Sahota urged Irish seaweed farmers targeting the European market to look at other seaweed processors as partners rather than competitors on the basis that undersupply leads major processors to import from other European countries and / or outside Europe.

"Many processors would welcome a new source of sea vegetables, as it would enable them to increase supply and raise sale, he argued.

The report advises that while Ireland should continue to farm the brown seaweed species (Alaria esculenta and Laminaria saccharina), of the type already being grown at sites in West Cork's Roaring Water Bay and at Dingle Bay, it should also target higher value red seaweed, which is used as nori in sushi (Porphyra umbilicalis).

Global consumption of sea vegetables is rising as consumers become more aware of their health and nutritional benefits. Sea vegetables are an important source of protein and vitamins, specifically vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B6, and B12.

Seaweeds are also known to have strong beneficial properties for gut health, are anti-carcinogenic and promote better hormone balance in women. New research indicates that seaweed may have a powerful role to play in controlling fat deposition and weight management.

Donal Maguire, the Agency's Director of Aquaculture Development Services outlined that roughly 472 tonnes of sea vegetables were sold in 2013 in the EU.

"It would have taken almost 5,000 tonnes of harvest weight seaweed to generate this finished product About a quarter of the market is supplied by European producers, mainly based in France and Spain.

But BIM foresees Ireland helping to fill the undersupply problem.

"There are openings for Irish producers in all product segments. Although nori is the largest in terms of volumes, most prospects are considered with dulse. Dulse is the second largest product segment, with sales volume at 70 tonnes (initial harvest weight of 700 tonnes) in 2013."

Ireland is the second largest producer of dulse, exporting about 5 tonnes per annum (52 harvest weight). The segment is also the least dependent on imports, which comprise 10 percent of sales.

Wakame and kombu are also prospective, however their markets are relatively smaller 64 tonnes, product weight (initial harvest weight 660 tonnes) and 50 tonnes, product weight (initial harvest weight 508 tonnes) respectively; imports comprise 60 percent and 50 percent of total sales volumes respectively.

Ireland is not a major producer of these sea vegetables. The nori market is the largest, with 288 tonnes (initial harvest weight 2950 tonnes) sold in 2013.

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