A seaweed nursery in Argyll is set for growth after securing investment funding of up to £75,000 investment from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).
The £150,000 project aims to expand and commercialise the nursery at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). The nursery will be operated by SAMS Enterprise, the wholly owned commercial subsidiary of SAMS, at the European Marine Science Park, Dunstaffnage.
The investment will be used to increase production capacity, improve efficiency, advance the Institute’s applied research capabilities and support the rapidly growing seaweed farming industry throughout the UK.
The nursery premises have been reconfigured to optimise production with refitted laboratories, upgraded seawater supply and installation of specialist equipment.
Morag Goodfellow, HIE’s area manager for Argyll and the Islands, said: “The seaweed nursery at SAMS Enterprise, which of course is backed by the global scientific expertise of SAMS itself, is both innovative and crucial to the growth in Scotland’s seaweed industry. It may also attract new investors into the EMSP business cluster, which would strengthen our regional economy.”
SAMS says the seaweed industry is the world’s fastest growing area of global aquaculture production, currently worth over £11bn a year.
The economic potential for seaweed is also being explored at a site adjacent to Mowi’s salmon farm at Scalpay, an island in the Outer Hebrides connected to Harris by a single track bridge. The farm at Scalpay is part of a study involving the University of Stirling, local shellfish partners and sustainable seaweed farming company KelpCrofting. Ultimately, the study should help to determine if locating a salmon farm adjacent to a seaweed and shellfish farm can benefit different species of marine life.
Mowi’s newsletter The Scoop quotes Laura Tulip, an Environmental Analyst with Mowi: “The team at KelpCrofting is pleased with its first harvest [of sugar kelp] and whilst we need a control to scientifically prove that the growth and quality of the seaweed has benefited from the nutrient enrichment from our salmon, the early signs are promising. Later this year, KelpCrofting will install a new kelp farm in the waters of South Pabay. Located away from the salmon farm, this will give us a point of comparison.”
KelpCrofting ensures that nothing is wasted, as Kyla Orr, Co-founder and Scientific Director of KelpCrofting, explains: “So far, we have harvested over eight tons of food grade sugar kelp from Scalpay. It is evident that the kelp is growing rapidly with each week that passes, and some fronds are nearly two metres long after only four months at sea! We will continue to harvest weekly into June and look forward to seeing how much more this super crop can yield.”
Each batches of harvested kelp is delivered locally to Kyle of Lochalsh for primary processing (chopping), after which it is transported to Oceanium’s trial biorefinery in Cheshire for further processing into nutritional supplements, plant-based protein and biodegradable packaging.
An Economic Feasibility Study on Seaweed compiled by Enscape Consulting for Crown Estate Scotland (March 2021) looked at the prospects for seaweed farming in Scotland and concluded that a small farm – around eight hectares – could achieve a payback within three years, but only at prices of more than £1,000 per ton of seaweed (wet weight).
This, the report says, is a price level “which might not be achievable without added value being incorporated in the business model”.
This could mean investment in processing infrastructure and, the authors suggest, collaboration between small producers. The report also recommends that the example of the Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group could be followed in terms of encouraging co-operative ventures and providing guidance for farmers. The report also suggested streamlining the licensing process.