Ireland targets €10m seaweed farming industry over next five years

[UK] Ireland is targeting a €5- 10 million seaweed farming industry in the next five years, Donal Maguire, director of aquaculture development services with Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), told Undercurrent News.

As BIM prepares to hold a conference on farmed seaweed (Nov. 18 and 19, in Limerick), Maguire revealed hopes for a 2,000 metric ton per year industry, producing seaweed for human consumption.

This could consist of brown seaweed species (Alaria esculenta and Laminaria saccharina), of the type already being grown at sites in Roaring Water Bay and Dingle Bay, as well as higher value red seaweed, which is used as nori in sushi (Porphyra umbilicalis).

“So far in Ireland we’ve developed the techniques needed to produce seeding strings in hatcheries, for the two brown species we farm,” said Maguire.

“We’re looking to reach this stage for the red species too, and of course to expand the industry in general.”

BIM hopes a 2,000t industry could employ 85- 100 people at the farming level, and a similar number downstream in processing.

Seaweed is a billion-dollar industry worldwide, with China and Japan key players. In 2003, an FAO paper put the global industry at $6 billion, using as much as 8m tons.

“This is an industry that we think will be big in the EU before long, especially as the need to farm up and down the trophic levels becomes greater,” said Maguire.

“As we improve our techniques, we’ll be able to farm seaweed for use in the feed of abalone and finfish. We’re starting on the high-valued products, but a developed industry should involve this multi-trophic farming.”

BIM is holding a conference on seaweed now as it has seen increasing levels of interest in both seed hatchery development and on-growing. This has come from existing mussel farmers who would like to expand into something which compliments their existing business, as well as entirely new ventures.

“We hope the conference can bring people from seaweed businesses around the world together, to share technology and look at what the EU, our home market, can absorb.”

“It seems to be a very good prospect, at price levels which make seaweed viable economically,” he said.

Talks at the Limerick event will cover the European marketplace, nutrition, handling and processing, hatchery and grow-out techniques, and Irish funding support for projects.

Among the speakers are Michael Murphy and Kate Burns, representing existing Irish seaweed farms Dingle Bay Seaweeds and Ocean Veg Ireland respectively, as well as Yoichi Sato, of Riken Food Co. in Japan.


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