Seaweed may yet be a lucrative crop for more than 6,000 landowners in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and Donegal who have rights relating to seaweed.
The rights are specified in Land Registry folios held by the Property Registration Authority of Ireland (PRAI).
Seaweed has become the raw material in biopharma products such as probiotics and anti-coagulants.
Irish companies use seaweed or seaweed-derived products in areas such as body care, cosmetic products, and artisan foods.
As a result of seaweed’s increased importance as a raw material, there are currently 17 applications for licences under the Foreshore Act, 13 of which are from companies that wish to harvest and process wild seaweed, for products ranging from artisan food products to animal health products to high grade fertiliser.
However, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government which is assessing these applications, has put them on hold while officials work on the complex legal issues surrounding rights to harvest seaweed.
The PRAI has provided the department with data on rights.
There is no definitive number for those already engaged in traditional harvesting of seaweed, but it is estimated that between 250 and 400 of the 6,500 rights are being exercised.
Minister of state at the department, Damien English, has said he aims to bring clarity to regulations on wild seaweed harvesting, to balance existing rights of traditional harvesters and commercial potential, while ensuring sustainability of the resource and compliance with domestic and EU environmental law.
He said: “If we wish to encourage further high value growth and to provide more jobs at all levels, including high quality jobs at both graduate and PhD level in the areas of research and development, technology and advanced production process and sales and marketing, then investment is needed.
“Companies based in Ireland such as Oilean Glas Teoranta, BioAtlantis, and Brandon Bioscience, have made significant investments in these areas and are already producing high value products that compete in global markets.
However, the Government’s policy on seaweed was the subject of a Dail vote defeat last week, when the Government’s amendment to a private members’ motion moved by Galway West Independent TD Catherine Connolly was defeated by a margin of 80 to 42 votes.
Ms Connolly’s motion called on the Government to suspend seaweed licencing pending publication of a national strategy to promote development of the seaweed sector with particular focus on the interests of traditional harvesters.
She said the value of the sector is €18m per annum, €6m of which is in exports.