Credit: Leigh Tait NIWA

Posted on 01 November 2021

Seafood Magazine: Seaweed could be a game changer

Shared with permission from Seafood New Zealand Magazine - October 2021:

A prosperous rimurimu/seaweed sector has massive potential to improve the health and well-being of Aotearoa New Zealand, new research shows. Our seas have more than 950 species of rimurimu/seaweed, around a third of which are endemic. Despite high – and increasing – global demand for seaweed for food, nutraceuticals, supplements, beauty products, livestock feed, soil biostimulants and more, our seaweed sector is small and fragmented.

A  report by the Sustainable Seas Challenge analyses the global seaweed market, the gaps and barriers for Aotearoa New Zealand in developing its seaweed sector, and actions to address these. It shows the country could reap economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits – both nationally and locally.

“The impact of this sector on New Zealand’s economy and society, if we develop it right, could be a game changer for our country”, says Serean Adams, Aquaculture Group Manager at Cawthron Institute and project leader of Sustainable Seas Challenge’s Building a seaweed sector project.

“The potential for New Zealand as a whole and for local communities is massive.”

A thriving seaweed sector will provide value to Aotearoa and local jobs. Developing the sector using a ‘blue economy’ approach would lead to innovative products and services that also improve the health of the moana and mitigate climate change.

Right now, New Zealand’s seaweed sector is in its infancy. There are pockets of product innovation happening at small scale, but the sector is constrained by regulation and supply. As a result, there is an under-developed local seaweed supply-chain. 

“We need to remove barriers holding the sector back,” says Adams. “A big part of that is having a regulatory framework that is more responsive, collaborative and enabling. We also need to identify what unique characteristics our native species have and develop these native species into high value products and services.”

The researchers found signs that a seaweed sector regulatory framework has been evolving in response to emerging drivers and information. However, the process for those who have tried commercially-orientated seaweed research and farming trials has been lengthy, costly, and frustrating hindering progress and investment.

Co-development is crucial to successfully develop this new blue economy sector. Sustainable Seas is working with iwi, stakeholders, industry, researchers, and government agencies that currently, or plan to, operate in the sector – either as farmers or as users of seaweed products – and consider the wider community, to co-develop a seaweed sector framework grounded in blue economy and ecosystem-based management principles.

“For Aotearoa to have a thriving, sustainable seaweed aquaculture sector, we need to take a collective systems approach,” says Andy Elliot, from Wakatū Incorporation, one of the report authors and project co-development partner.

“This includes strong leadership and engagement to influence fit-for-purpose regulations, and developing high value species, bioactives and ecosystem services. This can be achieved through science, processing and market connection, recognition and respect for those who hold mātauranga, and valuing our resources unique to us as communities and regions through relationships, provenance and brand; and codesign and partnership from Government and aligned investors. This report sets out the challenge for this industry to achieve all this and become an exemplar primary sector — a seaweed sector we can all be proud of in twenty years’ time.”

Industry bodies are also involved. “A blue economy-based seaweed aquaculture sector will provide value to Aotearoa, generate local jobs, and help us move to a low emissions economy,” says Dave Taylor from Aquaculture New Zealand.

“This report provides a solid foundation for a new sector focused on high value, low volume seaweed products that will be sought after globally. This focus fits with the values of our world-leading sustainable aquaculture sector. With their support and aligned research, we are well placed to develop innovative seaweed aquaculture methods and products that improve our health and the health of our environment.”

This report is part one of a comprehensive seaweed sector review. Upcoming reports will review the research and development of Aotearoa New Zealand’s key seaweed species and groups, Te Tiriti o Waitangi/Treaty of Waitangi considerations, and environmental effects associated with regenerative seaweed aquaculture. The findings and recommendations from all the reports will inform the co-development of the seaweed sector framework.

Download the report

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Building a seaweed sector
Credit: Leigh Tait/NIWA
Building a seaweed sector

Developing a seaweed sector framework for Aotearoa New Zealand.