• Report

Stocktake and characterisation of Aotearoa New Zealand’s seaweed sector: Species characteristics and Te Tiriti o Waitangi considerations

This report provides an overview of seaweed species in Aotearoa that have commercial potential, as well as recognition of their cultural importance and the role of Māori in the emerging seaweed sector. (November 2021)

This report is part 2 of a broad sector review, and will inform the co-development of a Seaweed Sector Framework for Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Aotearoa has a wealth of diversity amongst the seaweeds growing along our coastlines. Māori have a special whakapapa relationship with native flora and fauna, including our seaweed species. Māori kaitiaki rights and interests in taonga seaweed species and associated mātauranga are important to acknowledge and respect.

Key points
  • Our species are generally undeveloped in regard to their commercial potential – there is an opportunity to produce and sell seaweed products that are different from those from other parts of the world.
  • To establish a thriving seaweed sector that is reflective of our values, research and commercialisation projects for seaweed need to be co-designed and collaborative, and meet the highest ethical standards of informed consent, access protocols and benefit sharing for Māori.
  • Current knowledge of domestic seaweed species is mostly focused on their ecology; information on fundamental biology and cultivation of species is sparse and scattered, making it difficult to access.
  • Practical experience in growing, processing and marketing seaweeds and seaweed products in Aotearoa is limited.
  • There are six groups of seaweed species that are presently of commercial interest:
    1. Karengo
    2. Asparagopsis
    3. Agarophytes
    4. Lamanarians
    5. Fucoids
    6. Green algae
  • Development of commercially viable farming systems is probably the most pressing hurdle to overcome – to reduce the cost of entry for innovators and first movers, overseas expertise should be leveraged (where appropriate), and knowledge generated through domestic research should be publicly accessible.
  • Aotearoa requires specific information on domestic species to target higher value markets – this may be challenging to establish for an emerging industry in terms of the investment and research required.
Species characteristics and opportunities

Karengo

A group of red seaweeds that are found intertidally, and are a taonga to Māori. They are a traditional food source, and are high in protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. They are related to species consumed elsewhere (eg nori), and techniques for their cultivation are therefore likely to be similar.

There is an opportunity to produce unique Aotearoa foods with health benefits from them.

Asparagopsis

Another group of red seaweeds. The main species that occurs here, Asparagopsis armata, has been cultivated in France and Ireland for use in cosmetic products. Interest in cultivation of Asparagopsis spp. has increased markedly in the last few years following discovery of their ability to reduce methane emissions from livestock when used as a feed supplement.

There is an opportunity for Aotearoa to produce Asparagopsis for this purpose, but further research is needed to develop large-scale cultivation techniques, ensure product stability and address animal and food safety concerns.

Agarophytes

Typically used for food and agar. There are established cultivation methods in Chile and Asia for some species that are also found here. We may be able to adapt overseas cultivation methods to suit other domestic species, but it may be difficult to compete with other agar-producing countries

Lamanarians

Lamanarian kelps are subtidal species that are used to produce a range of products including fertiliser and food both domestically and overseas. Bladder kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is being farmed in the Marlborough Sounds. Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), which is invasive in Aotearoa New Zealand and naturally seeds itself on to mussel lines, is cultivated elsewhere on suspended long line systems. Other laminarian species would also be well suited to long line cultivation.

Fucoids

Fucoid species have simple lifecycles. They are internationally sold as food and food ingredients. Though domestic species have not been farmed, there is widespread cultivation elsewhere of related species that would be a good starting point to base cultivation systems on.

Green algae

Typically grown for bioremediation in land-based systems overseas and can be used to produce products such as biostimulants and fertilisers. These techniques could be applied to species found in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Related reports
  • Species characteristics and Te Tiriti o Waitangi considerations

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