An edible seaweed farm

Hopes for Tasmanian seaweeds to be commercially grown alongside salmon fish farms

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Trial: A Tasmanian native species of seaweed is being commercially farmed alongside Atlantic Salmon in multi-species fish farm trials.

Trial: A Tasmanian native species of seaweed is being commercially farmed alongside Atlantic Salmon in multi-species fish farm trials.

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Hopes for Tasmanian seaweeds to be commercially grown alongside salmon fish farms

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Like the thousands of native seaweed species that exist in Tasmanian waters and coastlines, the edible seaweed industry is growing.

Agricultural land across the globe is declining, vegan diets are on the rise, and consumers want greater access to sustainable foods, which have all allowed a market for edible seaweeds to develop.

Kai Ho Tasmanian Sea Vegetables, led by seaweed biologist Craig Sanderson and marketer James Ashmore, have wild harvested, processed and sold edible seaweeds since 2013, and now plan to develop a native species seaweed farm.

They currently harvest the invasive undaria pinnatifida, or Japanese Wakame, from Tasmanian waters, but more recently turned their attentions to the native species Lessonia corraguta, otherwise labelled the Tasmanian Kombu.

The business secured a three-year government permit to harvest the native species, and conducted tests and market research on the product.

Dr Sanderson said when this permit ended, Kai Ho needed to look for alternatives to continue the product.

"If we were going to go ahead with selling the product it would need to be farmed. So that is what we are doing at the moment. If we can successfully grow [this seaweed] in a farm, and successfully market it, then we should be able to start a new commercial farming enterprise," Dr Sanderson said.

"It hasn't been a full time operation but it is scaling up at the moment. We have worked out the basics [how to farm it, and when to harvest], now there is a bit more interest in working out the other aspects to farming."

Dr Sanderson, regarded by those in the industry as "the godfather of seaweeds" has been working with the plant for more than 30 years, and is currently involved in research with Tassal that looked at farming seaweeds alongside salmon, mussels and oysters in a multi-species fish farm operation.

This research discovered that Tasmanian Kombu is one of three seaweeds along with the Giant and Golden Kelp species, that could be used by Tassal to help offset increased nitrogen in the water from Atlantic Salmon fish farms.

All can be grown in hatcheries, seeded onto twine and wrapped around rope, which can then be set as long-lines close to or near fish farm pens.

Dr Sanderson said aquaculture farming of seaweeds is an agricultural-type sector that is likely to grow.

"There is a worldwide interest in seaweeds which is increasing every year in Europe and also in Northern America. The landmass is pretty well saturated for traditional agriculture and so there is a big focus on developing these types of industries," he said.

"It is a billion dollar industry in South East Asia, and while seaweed is not something that is part of our culture in the west, more people are in fact eating seaweeds."

Mr Ashmore said and market research and testing was conducted on its wild harvest Tasmanian Kombu.

"First we had to work out how we were going to harvest it without damaging the plant whilst also maintaining good regrowth, and then we looked at how we were going to process it to get the best marketable product," he said.

"We had it going to chefs all over Australia, and into health food stores. They loved it."

When Tasmanian Kombu was available it sold for more than $22 per 100 grams of dried product, described as an "essential ingredient in any Japanese pantry".

Mr Ashmore believes that demand for edible seaweed in Australia will grow.

"In Asian countries seaweed is a major part of the diet and while our current consumption is very low the potential is immense. The more we pushed our product [into the domestic market] the more we sold.

"This is a replacement food, environmentally friendly, sustainable, and highly nutritious."

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The story An edible seaweed farm first appeared on The Advocate.

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