NBFN at Arendalsuka 2023

| september 25th, 2023 | Høydepunkter

NBFN AT ARENDALSUKA 2023

During Arendalsuka, experts, politicians, and industry representatives gathered in  GRID-Arendal’s back garden to discuss what it will take to further develop the seaweed industry in Norway and Europe. 

Watch the full event on YouTube

Norway is in many regards an ideal country for cultivating seaweed, with tangle, rockweed, and sugar kelp growing abundantly in the temperate waters of its vast coastline. As the world’s second-largest seafood exporter, Norway is no stranger to creating and piercing seafood markets. But while 2023 has been a record year for seaweed cultivation – with over 600 tonnes harvested – there are a number of barriers that need to be overcome before the industry can truly take off. The Norwegian Blue Forests Network (NBFN) assembled government representatives, industry leaders and researchers to discuss what these barriers are, how they can be overcome, and what opportunities lay ahead.

Marie Hauge (Communications Director, IMR) hosts a panel consisting of Kristina Sigurdsdottir Hansen (State Secretary, Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries), Harald Sveier (Head of Research and Innovation, Lerøy), and Christian Chramer (CEO, Nordic Seafood Council). Photo: Edward Hinkle, GRID-Arendal.

 

The environmental impact of Norway’s seaweed industry at today’s levels are largely positive

“Part of what’s so fantastic about kelp is that we don’t use any inputs other than some rope. (…) We don’t use fertiliser, we don’t use feed, we don’t use pesticides.” – Harald Sveier, Lerøy

Kelp and other seaweeds are incredibly versatile – they can be harvested and cultivated for human consumption, for animal feed, for bioplastic materials, for their alginate which acts as a binder and thickening agent for everyday products like toothpaste and ice cream, and more. Many of these uses can contribute to a lower carbon footprint. Studies have found, for example, that adding seaweed as an ingredient in cattle feed can reduce the bovines’ methane emissions. Like wild blue forests, farmed seaweed also provides important ecosystem services such as water filtration, short-term carbon sequestration, and habitat provision that supports higher levels of biodiversity. However, cultivated seaweed can also negatively impact the environment. For example, growing the same species in high quantities can result in the spread of disease and genetic materials, as well as invasive species. At the current levels, the environmental impact of seaweed farming in Norway is largely positive. However, there could be a tipping point. It is therefore essential that the industry develops hand-in-hand with research and makes use of lessons learned from the fish aquaculture industry in Norway and the seaweed industry in Asia.


Gunhild Borgersen (Researcher, NIVA) gave an overview of the positive and negative effects cultivated kelp can have on the marine environment. Photo: Edward Hinkle, GRID-Arendal.

 

As the industry expands, so does the need for new kelp aquaculture zones

“Spatial planning is a slow process. This is the case for terrestrial planning and also for the coastal zones.” – Kristina Sigurdsdottir Hansen, State Secretary for the Ministry of Trade, Industry, and Fisheries (Labour Party)

So, if environmental concerns are not hindering cultivation, what is? Panellists approached this question from varying perspectives, representing both the public and private sector. Harald Sveier, Head of Research and Innovation at Lerøy, maintained that efficient, sustainable, large-scale cultivation technology is ready to be implemented. However, issues at the municipal level may prevent new cultivation businesses from putting this technology to work. While the government has shown support in prioritising this industry, this is not necessarily reflected at the municipal level, where municipalities designate zones for aquaculture. The location of kelp cultivation plants is determined by regulatory plans and licences in areas that are deemed suitable for aquaculture.

This presents an interesting challenge – kelp cultivators and fish farmers are competing to operate in the same zones when, in reality, the optimal conditions for kelp farming are not necessarily the same as they are for fish farming. In some cases, this has led to kelp cultivation sites being approved, but are not yet in use. For this reason, there is an opportunity for municipal governments to create additional aquaculture zones that are specifically designated for kelp cultivation, but this change may take time.

Marketing kelp as seafood: big potential, with time

Earlier this year, seaweed officially became recognised as seafood within the Norwegian fisheries export law – thus allowing it to be marketed as seafood. This change means that seaweed and kelp will be able to benefit from the Norwegian Seafood Council’s services, including important marketing abroad. However, tapping into the international market will take time.

The need for patience in developing aquaculture space, structures and markets was a reoccurring theme echoed throughout the panel, balanced with the urgent global need for sustainable food sources from the ocean. Christian Chramer, CEO of the Nordic Seafood Council, drew a parallel between the current state of kelp cultivation and early efforts to create an international market for Atlantic salmon from Norway, one of the most lucrative seafood exporting and marketing ‘wins’ in recent memory. Chramer maintained that efforts like this take time, but there are promising advantages already that could pave the way for a majorly upscaled market within a three-year timeframe. There is a fast-growing market for seaweed products globally, and in terms of marketing, we have the underlying structure and apparatus of how to carve out space for Norwegian seafood.

“We are short on time, because the world needs more food and more healthy food. And kelp and other seaweeds will help deliver that.” – Christian Chramer (CEO, Nordic Seafood Council)


Chef Patrik Christopher Hemstrøm of ‘Under’ serving kelp-forward dishes for the audience. Photo: Edward Hinkle, GRID-Arendal.

 

The event concluded with Michelin star-awarded chef, Patrik Christopher Hemstrøm, inspiring the audience through food, showcasing how this nutritious and flavourful ingredient can be used in one’s own culinary adventures at home. It’s unclear whether, and if so when, the Norwegian kelp industry will reach its full potential, but in the meantime, we will be patient and enjoy the seaweed appetisers.

 

For more on this topic, check out NBFN’s latest brief,
«The seaweed industry: Opportunities, barriers, and next steps» (in Norwegian)

 

See also the special chapter of the UNEP-NBFN report Into the Blue: Securing a Sustainable Future for Kelp Forests titled, «The global state of kelp farming and a brief overview of environmental impacts»

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