Sea­weed eco­nom­ics 101: boom and bust in the North Atlantic

"... seaweed could become an economic workhorse for coastal communities looking for the glimmer of a sustainable boom."

"Traditionally, North Atlantic coastal communities have relied on wild seaweed, accepting its peripatetic existence—this marine bounty is seasonal, which limits its quantity. A modern, industrial-scale development demands a steady, reliable supply, and the key to that is cultivation. That’s what SES is trying to do. But it’s tricky."

"As little as three years ago, the answer was simple—energy. A seaweed-as-biofuel boom loomed on the North Atlantic horizon. (...) But the price of oil plummeted and took the price of biofuel with it. Now, (...) no one is talking about bioenergy as the driver for the seaweed business. And biofuel is no longer SES’s first market goal (...) [but] high-value products (...)"

"One promising market for seaweed is nutritional supplements—nutriceuticals, in industry-speak. Local boutique businesses have popped up to serve that market, but the big boys have their eyes on it, too. Handå, Funderud, and Chopin all talk about developing biorefineries, where seaweeds would be processed for multiple uses, starting with products like nutriceuticals."

"Ten years ago, [Thierry] Chopin coined the term “integrated multi-trophic aquaculture” (IMTA) to describe his vision. The idea is to take advantage of the components, or trophic levels, of the ocean’s natural food webs to build a closed system. Fish farms produce nutrients from feces and wasted food. Seaweeds use those nutrients for growth. Invertebrates and juvenile fish find food and shelter in the seaweed. The seaweed becomes food for the farmed fish, closing the circle."

"Like Jon Funderud in Norway, Chopin is convinced there’s a rosy economic future for cultivated seaweed."

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