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Seaweed investment, production gathers pace

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Red seaweed growing underwater on ropes
Asparagopis farming has led investment and activity in Australia's emerging seaweed aquaculture sector. Photo: Sea Forest

Efforts to address climate change and improve water quality are driving seaweed aquaculture in Australia, reports the sector's peak body, the Australian Sustainable Seaweed Alliance (ASSA).

Its annual report, released this month, highlights the key activities and challenges for its corporate members who represent the largest players in this emerging sector. The value of seaweed production in Australia is projected to reach a value of $100 million within five years and create 1200 direct jobs.

Corporate members are Auskelp Pty Ltd, Australian Seaweed Institute, CH4 Australia, Fremantle Seaweed, Future Feed, Harvest Road, Pacific Bio, Sea Forest, Tassal and the University of Tasmania.

ASSA says there has been significant private sector financial investment to support seaweed production in Australia during the past year, as well as funding for infrastructure and projects, although the results of research will take some time to flow through to industry development.

Asparagopis farming to produce methane-reducing supplements for livestock has led both investment and the expansion of production activity. Green seaweeds used to improve water quality have led production volumes.

ASSA highlights the need for action to address regulatory hurdles that have stymied developments for some of its members. It says further R&D funding is also needed to unlock the potential of this billion-dollar industry over the coming decade.

Internationally, the important role of seaweeds in protecting marine environments and mitigating the effects of climate change is receiving growing recognition around the world and not just from seaweed enthusiasts.

At the United Nations Ocean Conference in Portugal earlier this year, the UN’s Special Envoy for the Oceans Peter Thomson declared that seaweed would be integral to future discussions on climate. It will be on the agenda at the November 2022 UN Conference on Climate Change (COP27) in Egypt, where oceans and food systems will both have a greater place in climate and policy discussions than they have before.

While seaweed is a contributor to both systems, it is the potential for positive environmental impacts that is driving ASSA and its corporate members as they work to establish a new seaweed aquaculture industry.

In the past year, several ASSA members have made significant steps in their efforts to grow and commercialise seaweed production and its environmental services. Others remain poised for action, awaiting the outcome of extended planning and approval processes.

Government funding

Interest and support from the Federal Government is also ramping up. Australia’s new Labor Government committed $8 million to the development of a sustainable seaweed sector in its Powering Australia Plan.

ASSA Chair Jo Kelly says this investment will deliver critical path activities to unlock the potential of this billion-dollar industry over the coming decade. Funding will support initiatives such as establishing a national hatchery network as an essential capability to accelerate cultivation around the country.

“This kind of support for the industry, at a federal level, will help with a collaborative approach to scaling up the industry, addressing production capability and regulations affecting the growth of the industry,” says Kelly.

The Australian Seaweed Industry Blueprint estimates the seaweed sector could grow to a GVP of $100 million within five years and create 1200 direct jobs. It could also help Australia reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 3%.

The Blueprint identified the cultivation of Asparagopsis as a feed supplement to reduce methane emissions from cattle by more than 80% as “the biggest single opportunity for rapid industry growth and optimising social and environmental outcomes.”

In addition, seaweed industry development is expected to be supported by the Marine Bioproducts Cooperative Research Centre (MBCRC) announced in June 2021, with some research already underway. The scope of the MBCRC is much broader than seaweed and encompasses other marine organisms, with about 70 Australian and international partners. Three of ASSA’s corporate members are participants in the MBCRC: CH4 Global, Sea Forest, and Tassal.

Read the ASSA report here

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