Africola chef harvests seaweed illegally to keep native ingredient on menu

[Australia] A high-profile Adelaide chef is illegally harvesting native seaweed for his restaurant, because he says the permit application fees are too expensive.

Duncan Welgemoed uses macroalgae in several of his dishes at his acclaimed restaurant Africola.

“I think seaweed in South Australia is an incredibly wasted resource,” Mr Welgemoed said.

“Some are beautiful just eaten raw, others tend to take a lot of cooking.

“You can dehydrate them, you can use them as powders, you can toast them so they’re crispy, so they’re very versatile as an ingredient.”

PHOTO: Mr Welgemoed said South Australia’s seaweed is a wasted resource. (Landline: Kerry Staight )

The chef collects different species that wash up at the beach, particularly in the south-east of the state.

He is meant to have a permit, but he says the $4,622 application fee under the Fisheries Management Act is cost prohibitive.

“If I had to then pay for that application the … ingredient would just be something that I couldn’t afford to put on the menu,” he said.

“And if I didn’t put it on the menu then there’s almost no education to the customer of the diversity of the different seaweeds.”

The state has one of the most diverse populations of macroalgae in the world, with more than 1,200 identified species.

Around 60 per cent are unique to South Australian waters.

Mr Welgemoed says he is not the only chef willing to run the risk of being fined, rather than fork out thousands to access these native ocean flavours.

“The chefs I know that actually use the seaweed don’t go and rip up 20 tonnes, chuck it on a truck and serve it to make loads of profit,” he said.

“It is always very, very small amounts.

“The way we actually use the ingredients, we should be allowed or there should be an affordable permit.”

Mr Welgemoed uses different dishes to show off the diversity of South Australia’s seaweed.

The only commercial operation in South Australia with a permit to harvest macroalgae is Australian Kelp Products in the state’s south-east.

The company collects two types of native seaweed from the beach near Beachport and turns most of it into liquid fertiliser and stock feed.

Last year it processed around 80 tonnes.

The permit it has is the same one Mr Welgemoed should have applied for.

The only commercial operation in South Australia with a permit is Australian Kelp Products. Landline: Kerry Staight

Botanist Michelle Waycott, who advises the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources on sustainability issues, says the regulations need reviewing.

“Algae are something we haven’t thought about harvesting before, so we don’t actually have a policy other than a generic policy which is we can’t disturb native plants,” said Professor Waycott, who also runs the state’s herbarium.

“Some of the regulations aren’t what we would call fit for purpose to what we’re trying to do.”

“We’re caught in that trap of something that might be small scale and relatively benign being classified with something that’s large scale and potentially harmful.”

In a statement the Department of Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), which assesses permit applications, said the legislation in place helps ensure sustainable fisheries for future generations.

“PIRSA would encourage anyone interested in harvesting aquatic resources for trade and/or business purposes to contact the Fisheries and Aquaculture division of PIRSA for specific advice on their circumstances,” it said.


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