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Seagriculture in the Faroes

By Rhianna Rees

This year's Seagriculture EU conference was located in the Faroe Islands, a direct flight from Edinburgh and an unlikely spot for a conference, were it not for Ocean Rainforest and their immense efforts in creating a successful Faroese seaweed sector.

The Faroes themselves felt reminiscent of home. Similar to the West Coast of Scotland we experienced constant drizzle, cloudy skies, high winds, and striking landscapes. In the one day of respite, we were lucky enough that the wind died down and the sun shone while we were visiting the farm and exploring the islands.

Ocean Rainforest's Seaweed Farm

Ocean Rainforest is one of Europe's largest seaweed farms. With three sites currently in operation, they are trialing innovative techniques of cultivation and coppicing (partial harvesting) their lines over a span of 3 years, this is largely due to the Faroes consistent high salinity and low temperatures, differentiating it from other parts of Europe.

Ocean Rainforest is also venturing away from an overreliance on drying in an attempt to alleviate their bottlenecks. While they maintain their dehydration rooms, and have made efforts to improve the speed and reliability of their processing, they are also exploring other methods of stabilisation, namely fermentation. This fermented seaweed is then used for animal feed, but is also being developed for human consumption to help improve gut health. During the tour and during the tasting session we were joined by a representative from FermentationExperts, Rene Schepens, who talked about how customers were desperate to get a hold of their products after a short stint away because (and I'm quoting from memory here) "when I eat a little bit a day, I can decide when I will... you know. If I have a flight and I need to go at 8am, I can choose when to go... Otherwise, maybe I only go three times a week, and I don't know when that will be".

Strong indications suggest that patients suffering gut health issues (Crohns disease, colitis, IBD, psoriasis), or Metabolic Syndrome (obesitas, Diabetes II, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) benefit from eating small daily amounts of fermented canola/seaweed, according to Schepens.

Ocean Rainforest's chopping machine

The tour was a unique insight into a pioneering company's operations. But, of course, the conference was more than just the tour. Talks ranged from the intricate science of seeding technology to the vast potential of biorefineries. Each year new species are being explored, and new technologies trialed.

Oceanium's Charlie Bavington discussed the challenges of building a fucoidan business around inconsistent seaweed composition, making forecasting and value-add a challenge (Charlie provided a similar talk for the SSIA webinars, available here). SAMS' Michele Stanley discussed the importance of genetic biobanking in a rapidly changing landscape and even shared some results from their recent trials of Saccorhiza polyschides.

I chaired a panel on the state-of-play and challenges towards a thriving European seaweed industry with the likes of Felix Leinemann, Adrien Vincent,

Eef Brouwers, and Maren Sæther. The key takeaways from the panel were that Europe is positioning itself to help the sector through regulation, assistance in novel classification, and collaboration across countries. While some of the key challenges we face are inconsistencies across countries within Europe, missing regulation for food, feed, and fertiliser, and the pressure of space in coastal regions, our panelists recognised these are challenges we all face, and are making strides to help remove such barriers.

Many of our members were already in attendance at Seagriculture, presenting us with the opportunity to reconnect and share updates, as well as make introductions to other organisations present. Hosting a stand, we were proud to represent a consortium of full and associate members who chose to utilise the space and event join us on it.

Among those represented were:

  • Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC): Showcasing cutting-edge research and innovations in biotechnology.

  • Scottish Association For Marine Science (SAMS): Providing crucial insights into marine ecosystems and sustainable practices.

  • RUBISKO: Highlighting advancements in seaweed cultivation and traceability.

  • Atlantic Mariculture Limited: Demonstrating commercial seaweed farming techniques and successes.

  • Young Aquaculture Society: Assisting the next generation of aquaculture professionals.

  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise: Offering additional resources and information, underscoring the regional support for our industry.

The success in the sector often feels like a rollercoaster and seeing the passion and number of people in the room working on making this industry thrive is always inspiring.

For the SSIA, our benefit came in the conversations with other industry organisations facing similar challenges in food standards, organic accreditation, and unification around a shared vision for a successful seaweed economy in Europe. I certainly have my next steps laid out and an eye on future projects that we as an industry should be aiming to focus on.

Some key takeaways and next steps:

  • Seaweed for human consumption and animal feed needs clearer guidelines and threshold analysis.

  • We also need to do consumption analysis. What portions are people consuming? What species? In what capacity?

  • Farmed seaweed should be organically accredited, but we either need a justification for the use of F/2 in the nursery stage, or we need to work to develop an alternative.

  • The development of industry organisations in other countries like Ireland, the US, and the UK, are either being considered, in the process of deliberation, or are at the point of being defined. This gives us the opportunity to create cross-country collaborations with a single point of contact.

At a time when the SSIA is determining our strategy for the next 3-5 years, ensuring we align our priorities with other countries to foster support efforts is key.

Events like this assist in the sharing of knowledge and bring us away from our silos to discuss collaborations to alleviate pinch points. Steps are being taken, and, as Olavur said so eloquently in his opening speech, "the seaweed sector is like a traditional Faroese dance, two steps forward, one step back". Progress may feel slow, but we're getting there, together.

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