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Early funding support critical for seaweed sector growth

Updated: Apr 5


Group of six people standing in a row
ASSA board members discuss the future of seaweed in Canberra, from left Catriona MacLeod (Institute of Marine and Antarctic Science), James Stewart (Future Feed representing Alex Baker), Adam Main (CH4 Global), Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Murray Watt, Jo Kelly (Australian Seaweed Institute) and Lindsay Hermes (ASSA). Photo: ASSA

Nurturing a new industry and beneficial environmental outcomes from seaweed requires a long-term political and private sector commitment.


A recent ‘Science Meets Parliament’ event proved an ideal opportunity for members of Australia’s seaweed community to highlight the potential of this emerging industry, seeking support to nurture its growth beyond the next 12 months.


Farming the red seaweed Asparagopsis remains the key focus of political interest, to support Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. Asparagopsis taxiformis and Asparagopsis armata when used as a stockfeed supplement can reduce methane emissions burped from livestock.


Talking seaweed and science


However, the farming of other species was also flagged, along with the diversity of uses for seaweeds and the value of protecting and restoring kelp forests that are being threatened by climate and ecosystem changes.


The new peak body in the seaweed sector, the Australian Sustainable Seaweed Alliance (ASSA), took the opportunity of Science Meets Parliament to speak with federal politicians in Canberra and to bring its whole team together for the first time.


In the past six months ASSA has established a national seaweed hatchery network, recruiting world-class Australian and international scientists for hubs in South Australia and Queensland.


The South Australian hub in Adelaide is a partnership with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), while the Queensland hub in Townsville is a partnership with James Cook University (JCU). Leading research staff from both the SARDI and JCU teams are providing additional support to the ASSA team.


Federal funding of $8.1 million provided through the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation over three years has helped to establish these hubs, as well as a professional executive team for ASSA, led by CEO Lindsay Hermes.


Lindsay says with seven scientists on the ASSA team, the annual Science Meets Parliament event was an ideal opportunity to showcase the talent being recruited to help build the seaweed sector. “In conjunction with the event, our board of directors also met separately with ministers and their officers to advocate for the industry,” he says.


Team ASSA meeting in Canberra, from left, Cathy Osmond, Jens Knauer, Thanh Hoang Hai, Aline Martins, Karyn McCabe, Jo Lane, Catriona McLeod, Jo Kelly, Adam Main, James Stewart, Lindsay Hermes, Michael Li and Allyson Nardelli. Photo: ASSA

Returns on seaweed sector funding


“There are a range of projects we’ll be delivering in coming months, along with the hatchery network, but essentially all of that will come to a standstill in March next year when the funding ends,” explains Lindsay.


“We’re keen to work with government to see how we can continue the momentum. Early support will enable this high-tech, high-growth, highly sustainable industry to stand on its own two feet over the longer term.


"We need to work hard together in these early years to get the industry off the ground, which will allow us to share the work from the hatchery hubs to build the industry.

"We're talking 9000 jobs and $1.5 billion of value to the national economy by 2040."

“We're talking 9000 jobs and $1.5 billion of value to the national economy by 2040, based on the modelling we have from our industry blueprint. So, some further initial support from government has the potential to generate significant returns.”


Lindsay says discussions to date have been positive and are ongoing.


Expanding industry base


ASSA members include some large corporate players in the seaweed space, notably CH4 Global and Sea Forest, who are pioneering Asparagopsis production internationally. Other members include the Tassal Group, Harvest Road and Pacific Bio, for whom seaweed farming is part of a larger business; for example, Tassal is one of Australia’s largest fish and prawn producers.


While the larger players, and Asparagopsis, are currently driving investment, Lindsay highlights the role of both large and small growers and product makers in a diverse and successful industry.


In addition to Aspargopsis, there are major opportunities for green and brown seaweeds such as Sea Lettuce (Ulva species) and Golden Kelp (Ecklonia radiata), which several ASSA members are already focused on.


ASSA members are interested in growing a range of seaweeds including, from left, Asparagopsis, Sea Lettuce and Golden Kelp. (Photos, from left: Sea Forest, Pacific Bio, Catherine Norwood)

 

“Australian Seaweed is not just about methane abatement, as critical as that is," says Lindsay.


"It’s also about addressing wider climate change impacts, increasing biodiversity and improving food security more broadly, as well as supporting recycling and the circular economy, creating cutting-edge new materials such as bio-based plastics or high-value inputs into pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals.


"We have the space, we improve the ocean, and the sky is the limit when it comes to supporting the economy of the future,” he adds.


ASSA's role, as it expands its membership base and becomes independent of early government support, will be to help new players enter the industry, back in the bigger early movers, and ultimately support the entire sector through all stages of business development to make the most of diverse opportunities that seaweed offers to create jobs and grow the economy.


From farming to forests


Others promoting the seaweed message at the Science Meets Parliament event included representatives from Deakin University’s marine research team, Dr Prue Francis, and Stefan Andrews from the Great Southern Reef Foundation.


They highlighted the value of kelp forests as part of the Great Southern Reef and productive marine ecosystems, seeking support to tackle threats to kelp forests including the expansion of sea urchin populations that are overgrazing kelps, leaving the sea floor barren in many areas.


Underwater image of sea urchins on a bare rocky surface.
Sea Urchins in Port Phillip Bay, which have overgrazed seaweeds, creating barren areas. Photo: Catherine Norwood

 


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