Seaweed farming offers Ireland the opportunity to become a producer of one of the EU’s fastest growing food categories.
It could also give Irish seafood sales a €10m a year boost by 2020, a Bord Iascaigh Mhara-hosted conference was told in Limerick.
The $6bn (€4.8bn) worldwide farmed seaweed industry is dominated by China and Japan, the global heavyweights in the industry.
A study by BIM show Ireland targeting 2,000 metric tonnes (harvest weight) per year of seaweed, farmed for human consumption.
The report estimates that a 7% to 10% annual increase in the demand for European farmed seaweed could lead to 100 jobs being created on seaweed farms, mostly along Ireland’s west and south-west coastline. Downstream processing would also lead to a further 80 to 100 jobs.
Amarjit Sahota, founder-director of Omega Monitor, a British specialist research, consulting and training firm, said the European market for sea vegetables, estimated at about €24m at wholesale value, is considered to have high prospects for Irish producers for tworeasons.
First, Ireland is already established as an important seaweed producer; it is therefore well equipped to raise production levels of sea vegetables. Second, the European market is suffering from undersupply with production falling short of demand.
Mr Sahota urged Irish seaweed farmers to look at other processors as partners rather than competitors.
“This is because undersupply leads major processors to import from other European countries and / or outside Europe.
“Many processors would welcome a new source of sea vegetables, as it would enable them to increase supply and raise sales,” he said.
The report advises that while Ireland should continue to farm the brown seaweed species of the type already being grown at sites in West Cork’s Roaring Water Bay and at Dingle Bay, it should also target higher value red seaweed.
Donal Maguire, BIM director of aquaculture development services, said about 472 tonnes of sea vegetables were sold in 2013 in the EU. It would have taken almost 5,000 tonnes of harvest weight seaweed to generate this finished product.
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