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Dr Lindsey White on the potential of Undaria seaweed. (Photo: aut.ac.nz)

Seaweed harvest could give aquaculture a boost

Click on the flag for more information about New Zealand NEW ZEALAND
Monday, January 16, 2012, 01:50 (GMT + 9)

Auckland University of Technology (AUT University) researchers are touting the highly invasive and unwanted Undaria pinnatifida as aquaculture’s next big thing.

In partnership with Wakatu Corporation, AUT is researching the commercial and neutraceutical applications of Undaria. Seaweed biologist Dr Lindsey White and colleagues are also exploring new market opportunities for New Zealand’s aquaculture industry.

“There are only a few places in the world where Undaria is grown”, said White, “as a popular food source in Japan, Korea and China, there’s already a NZD 400 million (USD 318.2 million) market for Undaria.” 

Undaria was introduced to NZ in the 1980’s and spread rapidly. It is classified as one of the top 100 global invasive species.

Until late 2010, government restrictions precluded Undaria from being harvested or farmed in NZ due to concerns about its spread and its ecological impact on native species.

“There is potentially tens of thousands of tonnes of Undaria currently going to waste in New Zealand annually, most of it found growing on the lines of commercial mussel farms”, White commented.

NZ’s growing Asian population is pushing up demand for seaweed.

“Asian consumers traditionally buy it fresh but currently this isn’t possible as all Undaria here is imported frozen or dry-packed. There is also a potentially growing market in both New Zealand and in Asia because of concerns about the radioactive fallout and the impact on Undaria farms in Japan”, White continued.

At AUT’s new sensory research lab, sensory scientist Dr Nazimah Hamid and analytical chemist Dr John Robertson are supervising four postgraduate students undertaking characterisation of protein, carbohydrates and lipids in Undaria. They are also comparing the flavour profiles and sensory characteristics of the processed variety to commercial Japanese and Korean samples.

“Our work on Undaria is unique because seaweed can now be turned into a valuable food commodity like wakame, which is highly sought after in Japanese and Korean cuisines,” explained Hamid.

Harvesting Undaria would also prove beneficial to the national economy, he noted.

Seven separate Undaria research projects are now underway at AUT, exploring factors ranging from the differences in nutritional chemistry between the NZ and Asian varieties to Undaria’s potential anti-cancer properties.

Currently, the green-lipped mussel is the country’s largest shellfish industry item, with over NZD 200 million (USD 159.1 million) per year in exports; however, White believes that innovative research is crucial to sharpen the competitive edge of New Zealand’s aquaculture sector on an international scale.

By Natalia Real


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