Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Americans, Don't Ignore Farmed Seaweed
In the latest issues of the Global Aquaculture Advocate (Sept/Oct 2014), there is a fascinating article, Seaweeds: Top Mariculture Crop, Ecosystem Service Provider. Sure, the title might seem dull, but the points it makes are thought provoking. And there should be much more discussion in the seafood sustainability realm about seaweed.
Mariculture is a category of aquaculture where the species are raised in the open ocean, an enclosed section of the ocean, or in enclosed area which is filled with seawater. Since 2004, seaweed has been the most common mariculture species. In 2012, seaweed represented about 49% of all global mariculture. Nearly half! In comparison, mollusks (like oysters and clams) represented about 31% of mariculture while fin fish represented about 11% and crustaceans only 8%. In addition, nearly 96% of all seaweed comes from mariculture, so very little is wild harvested.
In 2012, seaweed production reached about 24 million metric tons, valued at $6.4 billion, and this total has an average annual growth of 7,7%. It is a huge business so why don't more Americans know about this seaweed production? The main answer is that over 96% of all seaweed production occurs in Asia, in six countries including China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, Japan and Malaysia. As such, Americans rarely notice anything but the finished product that might show up on their plate at a Japanese restaurant.
Seaweed needs more respect in the U.S., as it is both good for the environment, the ecological weel being of the sea, as well as providing a nutritious and sustainable food choice. Kelp is very healthy for you, being gluten free and low in calories, carbohydrates and fat. It also is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and iron, as well as one of the few foods with the nutrient iodine, which is essential for hormone balance.
This past spring, I learned about one of the few seaweed farms in the U.S. Founded in Maine in 2006, Ocean Approved was the first kelp farm in the U.S. and they grow it sustainability in the cold, clean waters of Maine. They see kelp farming as an industry and not just something done by their own company, and in fact, even have a Kelp Farming Manual on their website.
I got to sample some of their kelp products and I found them tasty, from a Berry Kelp Smoothie to a Kelp Savory. As I have said before, we need to diversity the amount and type of seafood species we eat, to better protect our oceans and the life that inhabits it. Kelp and other seaweeds are species that we should be consuming far more, supporting those locals willing to take the risk on seaweed mariculture. We also need to encourage other Americans to invest in domestic seaweed aquaculture, to both help our oceans, our economy and to provide another sustainable choice.
Give these plants of the sea their due respect.