How Ireland’s seaweed industry can catch up with EU boom

    New analysis outlines the factors hindering Ireland's seaweed industry, and proposes a comprehensive strategy for future growth.

    A new strategic analysis by Ireland’s Seafood Development Agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, outlines the factors hindering Ireland’s seaweed industry, and proposes a comprehensive strategy for future growth.

    Ireland, although renowned for its seaweed research and cultural heritage in seaweed utilization, finds itself trailing behind the rapid expansion of seaweed production in other European Union member states. Despite the thriving global market for seaweed, Ireland’s seaweed cultivation sector remains relatively small and in its early stages, the analysts found.

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    Lack of investment and market limitations among obstacles to growth

    The strategic analysis uncovered several factors contributing to this sluggish growth, including the modest size of the aquaculture industry, insufficient capital investment, and a limited domestic market.

    As part of the strategic review, analysts spoke to Irish seaweed industry participants, who expressed optimism and ambition for their businesses looking ahead. However, Ireland’s seaweed cultivation sector faces challenges in realizing its goals. According to the analysis, these are primarily due to investment and a lack of capacity. In order to manufacture high-value, refined seaweed products, Ireland’s seaweed industry would need extensive processing facilities, which in turn require substantial capital investment as well as considerable amounts of biomass.

    Consequently, this predicament underscores a crucial finding of the review: expanding the sector necessitates additional processing capabilities, which, in turn, demand substantial volume growth to justify the required investments.

    Irish seaweed industry needs investment in data, know-how and facilities

    Moreover, the strategic analysis reveals a lack of understanding regarding the nature and location of the growing seaweed market. Growers in Ireland, the authors say, often adopt a “produce first, find buyers later” approach, rather than first identifying market demand.

    Emphasizing the importance of strategic market planning, the anlysts assert that identifying demand beforehand and tailoring species cultivation accordingly would better support increasing market share. Furthermore, the absence of commercial hatchery facilities and limited capabilities beyond a few species further compound the challenges faced by the industry.

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    From building the sector, to growing the market and safeguarding the future

    In response to such obstacles, the analysts propose a comprehensive strategy for Ireland’s seaweed industry, with a wide array of initiatives ultimately summarised under 3 key “pillars”.

    Firstly, to “build and sustain the sector”, a seaweed community must be established, the market analysed and understood, including the demand and possibilities for cultivation of different species. Research capacity also needs to be increased, and funding needed for the development of production capacity, including hatcheries and specialist processing facilities.

    Seaweed is a growing industry in the EU and worldwide.
    Seaweed is a growing industry in the EU and worldwide. Photo: Adobe Stock.

    Secondly, in order to “establish and grow the market”, the experts suggest that both Irish authorities and producers should take measures to protect and monitor seaweed production, given the “need for solid data” to develop the sector. Government and private sector also need to invest in capacity, while support is necessary to bring products to market. Another essential ingredient for the future of Ireland’s seaweed cultivation sector is good judgement in licencing. The report notes that “a robust licencing process ensures the long-term viability of the sector and protects the sector from criticism of failures arising from environmental, safety and management failures.”

    Finally, in order to “secure and safeguard the future” of Ireland’s seaweed industry, collaboration with the wider seafood sector will be key. Ireland also needs to work on building public awareness and acceptance of seaweed aquaculture and products, and preparing for future opportunities and challenges, such as changes to EU legislation and possibilities for innovation in aquaculture practices and technologies.

    Ireland to implement its seaweed strategy by 2030

    The strategy aims for full implementation by 2030, with certain actions potentially extending beyond that timeline. Priority has been given to specific actions that address the previously mentioned issues, including ensuring access to hatchery facilities, providing accurate market data, and boosting production, initially targeting the food and ingredients market to augment the national biomass output.

    Recognizing the need for collective efforts to overcome the hurdles confronting Ireland’s seaweed industry, the proposed strategy envisions achieving growth, improving market comprehension, and establishing a sustainable and thriving seaweed sector in the country.

    About Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM)

    Bord Iascaigh Mhara helps to develop the Irish Seafood Industry by providing technical expertise, business support, funding, training and promoting responsible environmental practice.

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