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Seaweed demand could provide more local jobs

Friday, 21st November, 2014 9:45pm
Seaweed demand could provide more local jobs

At BIM's Seaweed Conference were, from left: Amarjit Sahota, Michael Keatinge, BIM; Dr Michele O' Dwyer, UL, and Donal Maguire BIM

THERE could be a major opportunity for jobs in West Cork as Ireland aims for a slice of a rapidly-expanding global market for seaweed.

Seaweed farming offers Ireland the opportunity to become a producer of one of the EU's fastest growing food categories, a conference in Limerick was told this week.

By 2020, seaweed could boost Irish seafood sales by an additional €10m a year, the conference heard.

The BIM-hosted conference, titled ‘Farmed Irish Seaweed: An Ocean Wonder Food?’ unveiled the agency’s first report on Irish seaweed farming.

Findings from ‘The European Market for Sea Vegetables’, a study specially commissioned by BIM, show Ireland targeting 2,000 metric tonnes a year of seaweed farmed for human consumption.

Ireland hopes to develop a niche in the $6bn global farmed seaweed industry. It is currently dominated by China and Japan, the current heavyweights in the 8m-tonne farmed sea vegetable and 25m-tonne seaweed industry.

The demand for European farmed seaweed, which is increasing by approximately 7-10% per annum, could lead to 100 new jobs being created on seaweed farms predominantly along Ireland's west/ south-west coastline.

Downstream processing of the new seaweed crops would also lead to a further 80 to 100 jobs in the region, according to the report.

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

‘Ireland is already established as an important seaweed producer; it is therefore well equipped to raise production levels of sea vegetables. Secondly, the European market is suffering from undersupply, with production falling short of demand. Imports comprised about 75% 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, 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.

There are openings for Irish producers in all product segments. Although nori is the largest in terms of volumes, most prospects are considered with dulse. Dulse is the second largest product segment, with sales volume at 70 tonnes in 2013. Ireland is already the second largest producer of dulse, exporting about 5 tonnes per annum. The segment is also the least dependent of imports, which comprise 10% of sales.

Wakame and kombu are also prospective, but their markets are relatively smaller; imports comprise 60 percent and 50 percent of total sales volumes respectively. Ireland is also not a major producer of these sea vegetables.

The nori market is the largest, with 288 tonnes sold in 2013.

Among the speakers at the conference this week were seaweed specialist and food writer Sally McKenna, Michael Murphy and Kate Burns, representing existing Irish seaweed farms Dingle Bay Seaweeds and Ocean Veg Ireland respectively, as well as Yoichi Sato, of Riken Food Company in Japan.