There is huge scope to develop seaweed cultivation in the European Union, but careful oversight is needed to ensure expansion is done in an environmentally sustainable way, a study by an international research consortium has found.
Globally, seaweed production is booming, with the average annual growth rate in the amount produced running at 6.8% in the last decade, according to the study. But most of that growth is down to increased seaweed farming in Asia, which produces a massive 97% of the total. Europe, by contrast, produces 1%, with most European seaweed harvested from the wild, rather than produced via aquaculture.
The growing market for seaweed means a big opportunity for Europe. Seaweed has for millennia been used as food in some cultures, especially in Asia, but more recently seaweed has been experimented with as a raw material for products including medicines, cosmetics, additives, biofuels and bioplastics. Seaweeds also help to keep the oceans clean and have high potential to absorb carbon dioxide.
Development of the seaweed sector in the EU could be helped by initiatives to increase public acceptance of seaweed as food, and by updating food safety laws to adequately cover seaweed, the study said. Meanwhile, research into seaweed and its applications should continue.
And development of the sector should be managed to prevent incursion of non-native species, to balance competing demands on seaweed-harvesting areas and to prevent over-exploitation of seaweed growing in the wild.
The study, Phycomorph European Guidelines for a SUstainable Aquaculture of Seaweeds, was produced by the EU-funded Phycomorph project, which aims to bring together EU research on seaweed.