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Red seaweed. (Photo: Stock File)

Seaweed farming could generate EUR 10 million per year

  (REPUBLIC OF IRELAND, 11/19/2014)

Seaweed farming offers Ireland the opportunity to become a producer of one of the EU's fastest growing food categories that by 2020 could boost Irish seafood sales by an additional EUR 10 million per year, according to a report unveiled by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM).

Findings from a study specially commissioned by BIM for a conference held by this agency in Limerick show Ireland could target 2,000 metric tonnes (harvest weight) per year of seaweed farmed for human consumption. And Irish producers could compete to develop a niche in the USD 6 billion worldwide farmed seaweed industry currently dominated by China and Japan, the global heavyweights in the 8 million tonne farmed sea vegetable and 25 million tonne seaweed industry.

The demand for European farmed seaweed increasing by approximately 7-10 per cent per annum, could lead to 100 new jobs being created on seaweed farms predominantly along Ireland's west/south-west coastline while downstream processing of the new seaweed crops would also lead to a further 80 to 100 jobs in the region.

Commenting in advance of the report's publication, conference keynote speaker Amarjit Sahota said:

"The European market for sea vegetables estimated at about EUR 24 million at a wholesale value is considered to have high prospects for Irish producers for two primary reasons. First, Ireland is already established as an important seaweed producer; it is therefore well equipped to raise production levels of sea vegetables. Second, the European market is suffering from undersupply with production falling short of demand. Imports comprised about 75 per cent of total sales volumes in 2013."

Sahota urged Irish seaweed farmers targeting the European market to look at other seaweed processors as partners rather than competitors. "This is because undersupply leads major processors to import from other European countries and / or outside Europe. Many processors would welcome a new source of sea vegetables, as it would enable them to increase supply and raise sales."

The report says Ireland should continue to farm 'the brown seaweed species (Alaria esculenta and Laminaria saccharina), of the type already being grown at sites in West Cork's Roaring Water Bay and at Dingle Bay, and it should also target higher value red seaweed, which is used as nori in sushi (Porphyra umbilicalis).

Donal Maguire, the Agency's Director of Aquaculture Development Services, said: "About 472 tonnes of sea vegetables were sold in 2013 in the EU. It would have taken almost 5,000 tonnes of harvest weight seaweed to generate this finished product. About a quarter of the market is supplied by European producers, mainly based in France and Spain but in BIM we foresee Ireland being able to take on a growing role to help fill the undersupply problem by EU seaweed farmers.”

BIM hosted the seaweed conference on Tuesday in response to "increasing levels of interest in both seed hatchery development and on-growing", noted Maguire. "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."  


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