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 €10 million per year. This was the message at a Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM)-hosted conference titled ‘Farmed Irish Seaweed: An Ocean Wonder Food?’ as the Agency’s first report on Irish seaweed farming was unveiled.
Findings from ‘The European Market for Sea Vegetables’, a study specially commissioned by BIM for the conference, show Ireland targeting 2,000 metric tonnes (harvest weight) per year of seaweed farmed for human consumption, as it competes to develop a niche in the six billion-dollar worldwide farmed seaweed industry currently dominated by China and Japan, the global heavyweights in the eight million tonne farmed sea vegetable and 25 million tonne seaweed industry.
The demand for European farmed seaweed increasing by approximately seven to 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 €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 goes on to advise that while 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, it should also target higher value red seaweed, which is used as nori in sushi (Porphyra umbilicalis).
Global consumption of sea vegetables is rising as consumers become more aware of their health and nutritional benefits. Sea vegetables are an important source of protein and vitamins, specifically vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B6, and B12. Seaweeds are also known to have strong beneficial properties for gut health, are anti-carcinogenic and promote better hormone balance in women. New research indicates that seaweed may have a powerful role to play in controlling fat deposition and weight management.