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Seaweed in South Korea

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

By Stevie Jarron

Stevie Jarron, one of the SSIA Directors travelled to South Korea, in an industry exchange tour, organised and funded by WWF USA. Stevie was also sponsored by Argyll Aquaculture for the trip. WWF hoped to showcase the fully developed seaweed cultivation industry of South Korea. The tour group consisted of seaweed farmers from USA and Canada as well as Wales, England and Scotland.

The tour took in the research facilities of the country which are intrinsically linked with the farming and processing sides of the industry. WWF took the group to Wando, the centre of their seaweed aquaculture industry, and were given access all area tours of state of the art processing facilities and multiple seaweed and IMTA farm sites. All the farmers on the tour took home new ideas and concepts from the Korean industry and fond memories of the experience of this friendly and welcoming country.

The most striking feature of the Korean Aquaculture Industry is the very close tie between the academic research, the processing needs and the farming. Climate change resistant cultivars are produced for the farmers that are the perfect raw materials that are needed for the products processed for the Korean markets. The seamless coordination of all parts of the industry was intertwined by government research and development facilities and support, at a regional and national level. This allows South Korea to produce 1.7million tonnes of seaweed at nearly $1b value.

The farms are set out in Cooperatives which allow farmers to operate in close proximity to well supported harbours. Their close knit working allows information and equipment sharing as well as market logistics. An interesting observation was that the farm vessels used and the farm techniques deployed, were not overly technically complex, automated or especially large. 16m aluminium, open decked workboats, with twin outboards and a hiab arm. Very simple and fast vessels to harvest lines and get the product to shore.

The farms visited produce 6 species of seaweed. The large brown kelps were mainly fed to abalone farms within the same Co-op area. Across the industry, the smaller browns, greens and reds made up 1/3 of the volume but 2/3 of the value of the industry. If we are to market our seaweeds in a similar way, we should take heed of this and divert some of our focus away from purely kelp based farming.

Tours of the processing factories showed their absolute cleanliness, efficiency and modernity. Product quality, food hygiene and staff safety were foremost at all times. The level of automation and the volume of production speaks of how highly seaweed is prized as a food in Korea (and wider Asia).

South Korea is a fully modern and highly technical, developed country. But their culture values seaweed in a way that we will never mimic here. We need to make products from seaweed that fit our own cultural food preferences rather than attempt to recreate an Asian style food market in direct competition with other world food products.

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