Australian seaweed production

Globally seaweed is a highly valued marine resource. It is estimated that the global seaweed industry is worth around US$6 billion a year (Ferdouse et al. 2018). Most seaweed is consumed as food, with the remainder being used for industrial (cosmetics, fertiliser and agars) or feed purposes (such as animal and fish feed). Commercial harvesting occurs in approximately 35 countries throughout a variety of climates and regions, mainly in Europe and Asia (Chen 2004). In 2017 China imported the most amount of seaweed and the Republic of Korea was the largest exporter (UN 2019).

An increase in the volume of Australian seaweed imports in recent years suggests that there has been growing demand for seaweed products in Australia. The volume of seaweed imports increased by 10,550 tonnes between 2000 and 2017 while the volume of exports has been relatively steady (Figure 15). However, data on the size of Australia’s seaweed harvest are limited, so it is unclear how or if changes in domestic production have contributed to the rise in volume of seaweed imports.

Australia’s seaweed industry is in its early developmental stages compared with international competitors. In 2017, the export price of seaweed was approximately $2.18 per kilogram and the import price was $2.81 per kilogram.

Figure 15 Australian seaweed exports and imports, 2000–2017
Chart showing import and export volume of Seaweed to and from Australia. The volume of exports rose from low levels in 2000 and peaking in 2006 at around 2,900 tonnes and then followed a declining trend for the period ending in 2017, at around 2000 levels of exports. Import volume has been growing significantly since 2000, with initial import volumes starting at around 1,000 tonnes in the year 2000 and peaking at around 14,000 tonnes in 2015 and declining slightly to around 11,500 tonnes in 2017.

Source: ABARES, UN

There is limited data to determine the gross value of production (GVP) of Australia’s seaweed harvest. For this reason seaweed GVP statistics in this publication are not included in jurisdictional reporting—with the exception of Tasmania. Tasmania first introduced a formal management plan for its seaweed fishery in 2017. Prior to 2017 the harvesting of marine plants was subjected to regulations spread across several pieces of legislation and there had been no requirement for the reporting of commercial seaweed harvesting.

The two main harvested species of seaweed in Tasmania are Bull Kelp and Undaria. Bull Kelp is a native species and is collected primarily on King Island and on northern regions of the Tasmanian west coast. According to the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE), Bull Kelp harvesting generates approximately $2 million in income to King Island (DPIPWE 2019). Bull Kelp is primarily used as a thickening solution for a range of products, including sauces, syrups, cosmetics, gardens and pastures. Undaria is not native to Australian waters and was likely introduced from ballast water. It is considered a marine pest (DIPWE 2019).

It was determined by DPIPWE after an initial survey in 1994 that an eradication program was not feasible and as a result provisions were made to commercialise the species (DPIPWE 2015). Undaria is also known as ‘wakame’—a delicacy in Japan and the Republic of Korea (Pereira & Yarish 2008). In 2017–18 it was estimated that approximately 1,895 tonnes of seaweed were harvested in Tasmania.

On the west coast of Western Australia marine algae are produced by the aquaculture industry for beta-carotene (Gaughan, Molony & Santoro 2019). These statistics are not included Australian fisheries and aquaculture statistics reporting.

In Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria there are currently a number of seaweed-related research projects underway including:

  • the potential for seaweed extract to print skin tissue with 3D technology (Murphy 2019)
  • the benefits of seaweed in cattle feed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Koreis 2019)
  • an investigation of the potential of commercial seaweed aquaculture in Port Phillip Bay (Deakin Research 2017).

These projects are at the research stage and have not been commercialised.

Last reviewed: 30 April 2020
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