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Seaweed I -First General Recommendation January2021-(AAC 2021-02)

New Recommendation from the Aquaculture Advisory Council on seaweed farming in the EU

EUROPEAN UNION
Thursday, January 21, 2021, 05:00 (GMT + 9)

The AAC adopted its first general recommendation to the European Commission and the Member States on seaweed farming in the European Union, acknowledging its importance in the development of a sustainable EU aquaculture.

1.Definition and limitations

Definition
Seaweed,  also  referred  to  as  macroalgae,  comprises  several  species  of  macroscopic  and  multicellular marine algae. It includes some types of Rhodophyta (red), Phaeophyta (brown) and Chlorophyta (green) macroalgae. The term ‘seaweed’ lacks a formal scientific definition as well as a common multicellular ancestor, rendering it a polyphyletic group. Seaweed has no root and extracts all nutrients from the body of water in which it grows. It can attach itself to a surface and remain in the same location despite sea currents and waves. Seaweed grows in marine and brackish waters.

Limitations
This paper focuses on the cultivation of seaweed and not on wild harvest or gathering stranded biomass on beaches.

2.Brief overview

Consumers

Seaweed’s product narrative portrays it as a healthy food product or good medicine. This narrative has reached  consumers  and  the  demand  for  seaweed  products  has  been  increasing,  evidenced  by  their presence in supermarkets. These products originate from wild harvest and cultivation. However, almost all cultivated algae found in EU markets is imported.

Industry

The raw materials that seaweed’s biomass can provide to the food, chemical and  cosmetic  industries have been explored for decades; seaweed products are already on the market. The industry demands raw biomass of constant quantity and quality for its processing factories. This is something that current primary producers of seaweed in the EU have difficulty delivering. Therefore, the industry mainly uses wild harvests from different locations around the world as an adjustment variable.

Primary production

Primary  producers  of  seaweed  in  the  EU  struggle  with  a  long  payback  period  for investments.  This  is because they lack experience in seaweed cultivation, coastal planning is insufficient to allow for farming areas and weather can impact harvest, the same way as for agriculture. It will take several decades of cultivation  to  be  able  toaccurately  estimate  the  yield  and  the  constant  quality  reachable  at  each location.

3.Arguments
Seaweed cultivation has a high potential along the EU’s coastal waters.

Increased seaweed cultivation in EU waters gives substantial potential for a new source ofbiomass for food, feed and industrial uses. In addition, the production process provides relevant ecosystem services, such  as  nutrient  and  carbon  sinks  and  habitats  for  marine  microlife  and  fish  reproduction.  Clever distribution of areas for farming with buoys, ropes and chains can also protect Natura 2000 areas and sensitive shorelines from unwanted vessel traffic. Natura 2000 areas can also benefit from neighbouring seaweed production because it ensures the presence of professional employees to keep an eye on things and report possible infringements. Birds also benefit from buoys and increased fish reproduction, and local commercial and recreational fishermen and benefit from increased wild fish populations.

Licenced production areas should be situated in water deep enough to not shadow present ecosystems found  on  the  sea  floor.  Not  only  the  surface  of  the  farmed  Seaweed  itself  introduces  new  areas  and hiding  places  for  small  sea  animals,  but  by  introducing  new  types  of  production  gear,  designed  to promote  biodiversity  (e.g.  with  extra  large  surface  area,  like  a  coral  reef),  increased  sitting  space  for numerous species is provided in an otherwise empty water column. This means that seaweed farming can yield net-positive biodiversity.

Innovative  seaweed  farm  designs  can  attract  tourists,  inviting  them  to  visitand “dive in”, which can benefit the local tourism industry. In contrast to aquatic animal farms, there are no animal welfare issues involved.  Finfish  and  shellfish  farmers  can  actually  benefit  from  sending  tourists  to  neighbouring seaweed farms.

For the last century, agriculture production in the EU has used, and continues to use, artificial nutrients in fertilisers in surplus compared to nutrients in harvested crops. This surplus undoubtably ends up in our  water  bodies.  EU  citizens  are  concerned  about  the  environment  and  are  willing  to  correct  past mistakes. Therefore, the more knowledge can prove that seaweed cultivation can correct the nutrient status in EU water bodies, the more citizens support it.This is also in line with the EU Water Framework Directive, which strives to restore the nutrient status in watersheds to levels before the use of artificial fertiliser. Seaweed farming could be considered as the best way for EU member states to achieve good water quality and environmental status.

Since  consumers have reacted positively to seaweed’s product narrative and the industry already produces  products  from  wild  algae,  the  focus  must  be  given  to  primary  production  in  seaweed cultivation.

For  a  primary  producer  to  yield  sufficient  amount  of  seaweed  and predict  turnover  rates  that  can support their business, they need production areas of relevant size and leases that give them enough time  to  pay  back  their  investments.  For  example,  in  wheat farming,  farmers  need  several  hundred hectares to support employees. There is also a lot of information about wheat farming because it has a long history. Similarly, seaweed production licences need several square kilometres to give farmers an opportunity to  build  their  businesses.  The  licence  duration  should  be  long  enough  to  motivate  an investment in this emerging industry and account for difficulty in predicting weather.

The EU research community should be rallied to support seaweed farmers

4.Recommendation

4.1.Licence to operate
To  expand  seaweed  production,  the  most  important  issue  to  address  is  the  legal  framework.  The  EU Commission  could  develop  guidelines  for  member  states  on  how  to  establish  a  legal  framework  for granting licences to establish new and expand existing seaweed farms. This would also include allocating space and ensuring social acceptance.

4.2.Production
We  need  a  solid  and  ongoing  R&D  plan  to  develop  protocols  for  identifying  optimal  sites,  optimising farming technologies and farm management to ensure predictable quantity and quality at a predictable cost

4.3.Placing on the market
The EU Commission needs to analyse current legislation (e.g. food safety) to ensure that issues related to seaweed (e.g. labeling) are properly addressed. An EU certification standard could properly accelerate marked  development,  buildconfidence  in  the  novel  food/ingredient  and  support  a  level  playing  field with imported products. The Commission might need to introduce new combined nomenclature codes to keep track of EUand imported products.

5.Future work

The   Aquaculture   Advisory   Council   (AAC)   will   oversee   the   possibility   of   producing   a   second recommendation on seaweed, including a list of species of interest that can be farmed in Europe, a list of  market  opportunities  for  this  kind  of  production  and  the  identification  of  the  ecosystem  services provided

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