Green-fingered scientists at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) are today harvesting seaweed from the institute’s own seaweed farm near Oban – with a view to serving it up as a crispy treat for Scottish politicians.
When it became operational early in 2013 the SAMS seaweed farm off the Isle of Kerrera was the first of its kind in the UK. The SAMS scientists use it to develop seaweed farming techniques. Seaweed is a versatile product with uses as biofuel, food, fertiliser, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
The seaweed reaped from this summer's harvest will be used to further SAMS’ research but Dr Phil Kerrison, one of the scientists exploring seaweed farming techniques, says he has ambitions to serve up a healthy snack to spark interest among Scotland’s political class. Dr Kerrison said:
“I became interested in seaweed because of its potential as a biofuel but it has real economic potential in high value food products too.
“We have an ambition to serve crisps made out of oarweed (Laminaria digitata) to MSPs to show them what potential it has as a product.
“There is a huge opportunity to have a sizeable sustainable seaweed industry around the Scottish coast. But compared to Asia, we have nothing at the moment. There is great opportunity for people who are prepared to take the plunge. It’s about changing people’s mindsets to see the potential of seaweed.”
The global seaweed farming industry produces tens of millions of tonnes every year across 44 countries. Scotland has a long history of seaweed harvesting, dating back to the late 17th century. We have been using seaweed as a natural fertiliser and alginates are commonly used as a thickener in ice cream and other food.
In the last few years, the potential of seaweed as a source of biofuel has re-awakened our commercial interest in seaweed. Seaweed can be fermented into ethanol, which can be mixed with petrol.
Often referred to as a ‘superfood’, seaweed is rich in iodine and calcium and contains natural antioxidants, minerals and amino acids.
At the Kerrera site, SAMS grows a variety of seaweed: Alaria esculenta, commonly known as dabberlocks or badderlocks, is already a high-value food worldwide; sugar kelp; and dulse (Palmaria palmata). The scientists have also started growing Porphyra – more commonly known as laver or nori – which is regarded as the most valuable seaweed in the world because it is used to wrap sushi. In Japan alone annual production value of nori amounts to two billion US dollars. These species are already being harvested in Ireland and sold in the UK as a snack food or ingredients.
Dr Kerrison also revealed plans to create a new seaweed farm on the site of a previous trial farm at Port a’ Bhuiltin, off Lismore. The new farm would be 100 metres-squared with 25 100-metre lines. He said:
"At capacity, the new farm could produce around 25 tonnes of seaweed, which is big enough for someone to start a commercial farm for high value food products."
Seaweed is seen as an important source for future supply of food and feed (additives), biochemical, biomaterials and bioenergy.
Dr Adam Hughes, senior lecturer in sustainable aquaculture at SAMS, said:
"Seaweed is such an important source for food supply and biofuels, yet Europe is far behind other continents in terms of developing the industry."