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The project aims to provide essential research data on the cultivation of three popular seaweed species (Photo: BIM)

Ireland's Innovative Seaweed Research Project

  (REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, 8/23/2010)

Seaweeds harvested in Ireland traditionally played a role in food products and in fertiliser products, and they still do, but a new seaweed cultivation project which is a joint collaboration between BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara), the Irish Sea Fisheries Board and the Marine Institute, and is funded under the Sea Change Strategy and the Marine Research Sub-programme of the National Development Plan, 2007-2013, has already demonstrated how this dynamic natural resource can be produced more effectively.

Seaweed is extensively cultivated in Asia. On the left, seaweed farmers in the Philippines (Photo: D.F. Kaprunand) and, right, 'nori' cultivation in the Ariake Sea, Japan (Photo: Watanabe Manabu)

 
The research group, coordinated by BIM, is a diverse collection of academic and industrial partners including Queen's University Belfast (QUB) and the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) with close collaboration from Irish seaweed companies: Cartron Point Shellfish Ltd, Tower Aqua products Ltd., Dolphin Sea Vegetable Co., G and B Barge Operators Ltd, Roaring Water Bay Seaweed Cooperative Society Ltd and Cleggan Seaweed Company.
 
BIM's CEO Jason Whooley
BIM's CEO Jason Whooley outlines how this study will contribute to growth in the sector: “Innovation is key to ensuring that the full potential of the Irish seafood sector is fully realised. Seaweed is an extremely versatile naturally occurring raw material. This study aims to develop and disseminate cultivation techniques for a number of key species. We will be working closely with the companies involved and the wider industry to ensure that the cultivation sector expands to meet market demand”.
 
During the three year project, the group aims to grow three valuable species of seaweeds on a pilot or commercial scale in sea sites all around Ireland. The species being farmed include two red seaweeds 'dillisk' (Palmaria palmata), and (Porphyra sp.), or 'nori' in Japanese and a brown seaweed ‘kelp’, (Laminaria digitata). Cultivation of these seaweeds requires a laboratory or hatchery phase, followed by an on-growing phase at sea.
  
Two and a half years into the project; and the first results are starting to be produced. Laminaria digitata has been grown very successfully on longlines in Roaring Water Bay. The harvesting of these longlines in the near future makes this the first pilot-scale harvest of cultivated Laminara digitata on longlines in Europe. Typically dried and packaged Laminaria digitata can demand 10-16 euro/kg for bulk quantities. This price represents the higher end of the market for this product.
 
Laminaria digitata, brown seaweed 'kelp' (Photo: Stemonitis)
 
“The aim of the project is to develop and trial industry-scale hatchery and ongrowing methodologies for a number of seaweed species which have been identified as having commercial value, and to transfer that technology to create new business opportunities in seaweed aquaculture”, said Dr. Peter Heffernan, CEO of the Marine Institute, who are co-ordinating the Sea Change programme.
 
 Porphyra is a European 'nori'
Another exciting first for the research group is the successful growth of Palmaria. The team currently hold over a kilometre of seeded Palmaria string, making this the largest concerted effort for growing this species yet. This is also the first time that Palmaria has been grown using vertically deployed nets as opposed to deployed droppers. The total biomass produced on these nets will be calculated in the next two months. Currently wild sourced dried and packaged bulk Palmaria is being sold at 16-19 euro/kg.
 
Porphyra, which is a European 'nori', is extensively cultivated in Asia and is used for sushi rice wraps, being the most valuable seaweed food product. Highest quality nori can fetch up to 162 euro per 100g of toasted nori sheets. No native Irish species have ever been tested before in cultivation trials. These are the first trials of its kind in Ireland and the UK. However, more research is needed to establish this native Porphyra species for large-scale aquaculture
 
Red seaweed 'dillisk' (Palmaria palmata)
It is clear from the results so far, that seaweed offers huge potential for Irish aquaculture and its versatility lends itself to a diverse range of sectors from functional foods and pharmaceuticals and as well as horticulture and as a food source. There is clearly a future for Irish seaweed and it will be exciting to see if Ireland becomes as well known for its quality seaweed products as Japan.
 
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mr. Sean Connick, T.D. congratulated the group on their findings. “There is no doubt that Irish seaweed offers great potential and I am looking forward to the group's final report which will provide the necessary data to enable industry to grow a relatively small niche sector with a current estimated output of 10 million euro annually to an output of 20 million euro by 2013”, he commented.
 
About BIM
 
BIM is the Irish State agency with responsibility for developing the Irish Sea Fishing and Aquaculture industries. BIM was established under the Sea Fisheries Act 1952.
 
A primary objective of BIM policy is to expand the volume, quality and value of output from the seafish and aquaculture sectors. BIM’s approach is to focus on the opportunities for growth in these sectors while seeking to alleviate constraints that impede development.
 
BIM's clients comprise fishermen, fish farmers, processors and all those engaged in producing Irish seafood. BIM’s information service assists students, educators, the media, seafood consumers and the general public.
 
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Margaret E.L. Stacey
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