7 Oct 2022

Growth framework developed for New Zealand's seaweed industry

10:21 am on 7 October 2022
Wakame is a murky brown colour when in the sea, but turns a bright green when blanched.

At the moment, companies are either collecting seaweed from the shore or using bycatch from mussel farms. (file photo) Photo: RNZ / Tom Furley

A roadmap has been developed for how New Zealand could grow its seaweed industry.

There is already an emerging seaweed sector in New Zealand but it is very small compared to international markets.

Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge has funded co-development of the Seaweed Sector framework to encourage a flourishing, intergenerational sector - one that does good business while upholding the mana of the moana and communities around Aotearoa.

Researchers from Cawthron Institute and EnviroStrat helped develop the framework, which outlines a vision of what the sector could look like in the future and sets out a pathway for getting there.

It highlights barriers to growth such as investment, regulation, and a lack of knowledge and suggested the industry look at research and development for creating seaweed hatcheries.

At the moment, companies are either collecting seaweed from the shore or using bycatch from mussel farms.

EnviroStrat chief executive Nigel Bradley said in 2019, the global value of seaweed aquaculture was US$14 billion (NZ$24.3b) and it had been growing by about 7 percent annually since then - so there was plenty of opportunity for growth.

"The growth potential is huge but it's important to note that we will never be able to compete with in particular asian producers because a lot of the species they grow are for their own markets," Bradley said.

"What we've had to do is take a step back and think what is the potential here and we are already seeing companies like Agrisea and Waikaitu creating products for the agriculture and horticulture sector through fertilisers and feed supplements," he said.

"As a country we have a unique opportunity to influence the sector before it has fully developed; this enables us to identify and prioritise opportunities to achieve the vision that rimurimu/seaweed contributes significantly to New Zealand's economy and supports thriving ecosystems, communities and culture."

One of project's main recommendations has already been met with the launch of a new 'sector voice', the Aotearoa New Zealand Seaweed Association (ANZSA).

ANZSA chair Clare Bradley said interest in seaweed aquaculture was growing around the world as an opportunity for positive environmental and social outcomes.

"In many cases, this interest is being backed by significant international investment. To ensure we grow a sector with enduring benefits for Aotearoa New Zealand, we need a similar level of investment in quality research and value chains that deliver healthy ecosystems and high value products.

"We must also acknowledge a te ao Māori perspective. Respecting the whakapapa, mātauranga and the relationships mana whenua and mana moana have with rimurimu (seaweed) to understand the value of this taonga for future generations."

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