Scheme aims to establish commercial seaweed farming sector

24-Niwa seaweed combats climate change
Unknown/Marlborough Express
24-Niwa seaweed combats climate change

The Ministry for Primary Industries and Auckland Council are investing millions in a pilot scheme that hopes to establish a commercial seaweed farming sector in New Zealand.

The three-year kelp farming pilot project, in the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Plenty, is a partnership between GreenWave NZ​, EnviroStrat, AgriSea​ and Government.

EnviroStrat chief executive Dr Nigel Bradly is leading the research.

The New Zealand pilot includes hatchery production, on-water farming, seaweed processing, and training programmes for seaweed farmers.

The Government is contributing $2 million, Auckland Council $1.2m and EnviroStrat and other investors making up the $5m required.

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Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge​ estimated the global seaweed sector to be worth nearly $20.5 billion in 2018 and said it was growing.

Seaweed production has tripled over the last two decades and now makes up a third of all aquatic farming, the research company said.

But executive chair of GreenWave NZ Mawae Morton​ said there was limited research and development available for ocean-grown seaweed in New Zealand and this was a significant barrier to establishing a commercial seaweed sector.

Red Seaweed (Asparagopsis armata) is successfully farmed by CH4 Global in NZ and is grown naturally on a cable.
Supplied
Red Seaweed (Asparagopsis armata) is successfully farmed by CH4 Global in NZ and is grown naturally on a cable.

“This project will provide the proof-of-concept for farming New Zealand seaweed at a commercial scale. Positive findings will provide confidence to new entrants and co-investors, reducing the risk associated with the creation of a new sector,” Morton said.

“The knowledge gained through the project will be accessible to the sector.”

The pilot will develop on-water farm infrastructure and growing techniques, and test production to prove the commercial viability of seaweed farming. The seaweed being farmed is native brown kelp (ecklonia).

“This project will provide the proof-of-concept for farming New Zealand seaweed at a commercial scale. Positive findings will provide confidence to new entrants and co-investors, reducing the risk associated with the creation of a new sector.”

Ministry for Primary Industries director of investment programmes Steve Penno said the pilot could mark the beginning of a new industry for New Zealand.

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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, opens the Cawthron Institute's National Algae Research Centre in Nelson.

“Markets exist for locally produced seaweed-based products, and there is potential to develop future markets for blue carbon and nutrient credits,” Penno​ said.

“This project will measure the potential environmental benefits, which include increasing marine biodiversity, improving water quality through the uptake of nitrogen and phosphorous, carbon sequestration, and potential erosion protection for coastlines.”

Waikato University ​would lead the research and trial designs, and Premium Seas Limited and AgriSea​ would contribute their production, market and processing expertise for the next three years.