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02 JUL 2021
On July 1 & 2 EABAorganized
Seaweed valorization conference

This was an extremely interesting conference with speakers and participants  from all over the world. It is good to see how the different countries are SHARING EXPERIENCE about seaweed farming, processing, selling.

“Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared.” (Bill Gates)

Issues that were mentioned during serveral presentations were:
  • influence of, and impact on the environment (temperature, light, nutrients, currents, pollution) has to be watched carefully.
  • Document developments very carefullyy
  • importance of government support (financially and politically) 
  • the importance of diversification of seaweeds
  • the importance of all stakeholders working together
The speakers were very knowlegeable and experienced. It was good to listen to their stories, parts of which you will find below. 

Day 1: What can we learn and SHARE from 3 seaweed industrial models?

1. North East Asia 

Asia is the main seaweed producer in the world (99%), with China producing 57% of seaweed available worldwide. There is a long history of and experience with seaweed with different species flourishing in different countries in the region. Seaweed production is 4x higher than 10 years ago and growing - as is demand. 
The EU can learn a lot from the decades of experience from Asia, although maybe not all (valorization) experience can be used in Europe. There should also be global and regional technical exchange and collaboration: ALL stakeholders (researchers, farmers, distributors, government!) must work together to make aquaculture a success.
Some Eco-environmental considerations: rapid industrilisation (coastal pollution), national and marine disasters, the role of CO2 absorption. The occurance of the green/red/brown tides are a problem.  As are appearing and disappearing seaweed species. 

2. South East Asia / Western Indian Ocean region
SE Asia is the largest global producer of carrageenan (mainly Indonesia and the Phillipines), with ups and downs in the harvest due to typhones, lack of research and innovation, environmental issues and the lack of seaweed biodiversity. Entrepreneurial value chain players have been very important for the development of the seaweed farms in the region. Seaweed production is now  a major feature of coastal socioeconomics and has dedicated support from all levels of government. 
Whereas empty plastic bottles were initially used as floatation support for the seaweed lines, Malaysia is now the 7th largest seaweed producer in the world.  The government is very supportive.  In aquaculture, seaweeds form half the proceeds (followed by freshwater fish and lobsters). 
Madagascar is looking for continuous supplies of robust/versatile seeds (fast growth rate, pest, diseased, climate change, resistance, high genetic divertity).  Following trial and error there are now several small operators along the East coast of Madagascar where seaweed grows better. 

3. The European status and perspectives
There is a lot of opportunity in Europe (growing conditions, innovation community, fast growing demand, strong alliance with the European Green Deal).  Seaweed for Europe is working hard on unlocking the system to deliver sustainable growth for the sector. The European Commission has 5 goals in the bioeconomy strategy and seaweed contributes favourably to all these goals.

Global algae production comes mainly from aquaculture, in Europe however, aquaculture is negligible. This might change soon: The North Sea Farmers are opening the first commercial scale seaweed farm (1.6km2 of seaweed cultivation between wind parks, 1000 ton wet seaweed per year) by a consortioum of pioneers.  Alginates will be the first focus.  In 2023 the first seaweed will be harvested. Looking at the wind farms in the North Sea the scaling up potential is over 400km2. 

The PROMAC project  in Norway provides a knowledge base for energy-efficient and sustainable processing of macro algae for human food and animal feed applications. One example discussed was replacing (part of ) Soy Protein Cencentrate in salmon food by protein from seaweed.

Dutch TNO are looking at  other possibilities with seaweed, extracting ethanol from algae. Different extraction methods have been tested, with different results. It is complex ....

Wageningen University Research, in the GeniALg project, are quantifying the Life Cysle Assessment  of cultivated Saccharina Latissima and wild-harvested Ulva seaweed as applied in (future) food products, and to evaluate if the addition of seaweed makes diets more sustainable. It seems a good idea to replace a veggie burger with a seaweed burger, as long as you eat only 1 a week (iodine intake). 

4. International Overview

The last speakers of the first day take a broader look at the seaweed market. It also shows differerences in opinion of how to proceed and the promises we make reference seaweed production. Dr Kathleen Drew Baker is mentioned, a British phycologist known for her research on the edible seaweed Porphyra laciniata, which led to a breakthrough for commercial cultivation. Kathleen Drew-Baker's scientific legacy is revered in Japan, where she has been named Mother of the Sea.
Questions arise : should wild seaweed just be used as (strong!) seed stock? Is it better not to promise too much ref the benefits and possibilities of seaweed? What about diversification? The number of types cultivated is not growing very fast and is much lower than other aquaculture produce. It is important to enhance productivity; is manipulation to increase yields desirable? 
As mentioned before: it is complex. 

Day 2: specific challenges from across the globe

The Senior Advisor United Nations Global Compact thinks the seaweed story is good news; 70% of the planet is water, supplying us with only 3% of the food. The stakeholders should get together to learn to use the ocean for food asap. 
SAFETY (of product, environment and workers) must be paramount. Regulation should be consistent - in Asia the iodine tolerance is 100x higher than in Europe. Blue food (seaweed) is high on the UN agenda. It is the greatest untapped resource for climate change. But it can only be developed WHEN WE WORK TOGETHER. 

in Korea, seaweed domestication, the process whereby wild plants have been evolved into crop plants, is well on its way. Registration procedures are in place, and so far 20 species have been registered. The suppport of the government is necessary. 

Domestication in Europe shows that ulva spp offers unique opportunities to the development of a successful breeding programme. Can we increase aquaculture yields as we have done with land plants? The steps have to be done very precisely and documented. If we compare the developments  with the US corn selection and yields, we are still in early stages of achieving success. But it looks promising to increase yield once the right individual species has been chosen. 

SAMS shares information of diseases/epiphytes and the loss of production and/or loss of taste, both of which have an impact on yield. To share knowledge and develop an online digital algal informative website, My Seaweed looks weird,  is under contruction.  Bio security is very important in domestication of seaweeds. 

The growth rate of seaweed in the fishery industry in China is 2x higher than that of fish. 23 Different species grown in Chinese waters. Relay and rotation  breeding of different species are being used to maximise production. The main focus is on cultivating 5 excellent species. Facility recontruction is being encouraged to minimise environmental impact. Challenges experienced are the  global climate change and the breeding of stress-resistant varieties.

Conciliating viable productions with efficient management

Using an Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) system will give 'more bang for your buck', is the experience in Canada. To calculate the true full value of an IMTA one should not just consider biomass and food trading values but also the ecosystem services they provide and effects of the circular economy approach. IMTA could be combined with wind parks in integrated food and renewable energy parks (IFREP). 
Seakura in Israel went 2.5 km inland to produce seaweed in a controlled environment ensuring many quality standards and certificates through sustainable aquaculture. As climate and disease can be managed there is high yield of high quality. Seaweed harvested is processed in several manners. The bottleneck is the umami taste of seaweed which not everybody likes ..
The 'Chambre Syndicale Algues & Vegetaux marins' explains about seaweedproduction and management in France. The country has been divided into zones, licences are required, limiting the amount of seaweed that can be harvested. Reference farming the idea is to select genes, followed by seeding. Proof of concept and tracking the environmental impact is very important. Diversity (wild seaweed and in cultured seaweed) is important.
"We have to deserve wat we take from the sea". 

Sourcing - processing: how can we move from harvesting to cultivation and make it a main stream ingredient?

Seaweed is good for health: economic health, planet health, human health. As seaweed can be used in a wide range of applications, there is a vast range for market extension. Most growth is expected in the Food sector. Arsenic and iodine levels should be no problem as only the necessary ingredienst can be extracted. All seaweeds have different (amounts of) useful components. 

Cargill offers one of the widest ranges of commercially available from seaweed derived carrageenan. It is a unique and important ingredient that is much used in Europe: in food and feed, for personal care products and pharma. Standards must be implemented, even though this is very expensive, 

The last speaker in this block explains closing the gap between harvest and cultivation in Europe. Olmix Group is developing an international ecosystem of partners – farmers, integrators and distributors – to grow plants and to raise animals in a plan for agro-ecological transition.  Local opportunistic seaweed (waste) is harvested and biomass is used through products for animals and plants. 

Every speaker has mentioned the importance of standardization and regulation which is the final topic in this conference.
Korea, as said before, has a very well established seaweed economy. As plastic waste pollution is detrimental for the seaweed industry, the Korean government has developed an ingenious licensing system where exclusive rights are given together with the responibilityof the farmer to ensure a clean sea. Natural and biological disasters can be insured via a special Aquaculture disaster Insurance. Providing that a farmer returns the farm to its prior state, the government covers losses up to 70-80% of the average annual production. These government policies have lead to more openness about the occurance of diseases and willingness to try new, better cultivation methods.
In Korea it is relatively easy to incorporate new species as ALL STAKEHOLDERS ARE INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS, not just the researchers. 

In order to contribute to a sustainable future, it is important to make agreements and set clear standards for algae and algae products. NEN supports the standardization process in the Netherlands. A standard can lead to regulation and law. The standardization system in Europe is based on the national pillars. CEN/TC454 'Algae and algae products' is being developed; initially for energy but it now includes food, feed, pharmaceuticel and cosmetical applications. And maybe it should be further extended to include (multi) use seaweed farms?
The process in the development of this standard is open to all stakeholders!  You can register via NEN. 

In France CEVA looks at algae regulation. Various areas are covered by CEVA, food will be used in this presentation. There is an increasing interest in seaweed as food, both by consumers and professionals. Harmonizing EU regulation and simplifying procedures across member states is needed. Within regulation there are 2 main challenges:
  1. levels of contaminants and
  2. is edible/novel food authorized in food products/supplements?
As France has been using seaweed for consumption for a number of years now, the French recommentations of restrictions on heavy metal levels also define the maximum levels for all edible seaweeds. Ref iodine there is a risk of excess intake but the iodine levels can be reduced by the way in which seaweed is being prepared (loss of 85% of iodine when blanched in tapwater) and by varying and deversifying the species consumed. 

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) recommends limiting the exposure to cadmium from seaweed consumption to 0.35 mg/kg of dry matter in edible seaweed. To monitor contaminants, data must be collected from across Europe, the risk assessed and maximum levels of contamination set via European legislation. The novel food regulation can look at, and use data from countries where the novel food has been part of the diet of a significant number of people, such as Asia. 

The conference ended when many more things could be shared. In attending the conference people connected and can continue discussions if interested. In December there will be another conference - because there is still a lot to learn. And as Bill Gates says: 

“Power comes not from knowledge kept but from knowledge shared.”

About the EABA:  
The general objective of the European Algae Biomass Association (EABA) is to promote mutual interchange and cooperation in the field of biomass production and use, including biofuels uses and all other utilisations. It aims at creating, developing and maintaining solidarity and links between its Members and at defending their interests at European and international level. Its main target is to act as a catalyst for fostering synergies among scientists, industrialists and decision makers in order to promote the development of research, technology and industrial capacities in the field of Algae. The EABA has over 150 members consisting of big corporations as well as smaller companies, universities and individuals with one common characteristic: their
INTEREST IN ALGAE (micro and macro)