You must earn latitude for latissima, report tells would-be seaweed farmers
Emerging UK sector must learn lessons from more established forms of aquaculture about importance of public support
Attitudes towards the UK’s emerging seaweed farming sector and lessons to learn from other aquaculture industries have been documented and analysed in a new report to be launched today.
The Social License for Seaweed Farming project, led by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban and paid for by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), has used the findings to produce resources for would-be seaweed farmers to improve social license, a term given to an activity that has gained public trust and backing.
Lead author Dr Suzi Billing from SAMS will launch the report at the year’s Scottish Seaweed Industry Association (SSIA) annual meeting in Oban, which begins today and ends on Thursday. The report offers a range of resources and data from a two-year study of attitudes towards seaweed farming from a range of communities and stakeholders throughout the UK.
Billing said: “Seaweed farming is at an early stage of development in the UK and Europe but there is increasing interest from investors. It is seen as a great example of nature-based solutions and is appealing for its potential socio-economic effect, particularly in rural areas.
“At this stage of development, it is important that seaweed farming learns lessons from more established forms of aquaculture. There must be a relationship between the operator and the community before a seaweed farm goes to the planning stage, so that people know what they’re getting. It is difficult to do that retrospectively, as the operator is seen as less trustworthy.
“Considering social license to operate (SLO) in the early planning makes the planning application stages easier for all stakeholders.”
The report stresses the importance of understanding local social context when thinking about site selection. The study finds that people were more likely to accept and support seaweed farming when positive relationships were already established and critically, when the industry as a whole is perceived as environmentally sustainable.
While a relatively new concept in the UK, seaweed farming has been operating at scale for decades in Asia, which accounts for more than 95% of global production, powering an $18 billion industry.
Mollie Gupta, WWF-UK seaweed solutions project manager, said: “As we move forward in this exciting journey, social license is going to be pivotal in fostering trust, acceptance and ensuring that any benefits of seaweed aquaculture are genuinely felt and understood by local people.
“It is only with social license that we will be able to responsibly and sustainably scale up seaweed aquaculture, and in doing so achieve the potential benefits for nature, people and climate.”
The report will be launched during Billing’s conference talk at 14:45 at the SSIA meeting, which is taking place at the Corran Halls, Oban.
Rhianna Rees, the SSIA’s business development manager, said: “This promises to be an inspiring conference for the SSIA, the first in three and a half years, with a focus on ‘how to scale responsibly’ where we will delve into a wide spectrum of crucial subjects, including biosecurity, animal interactions, investment, global perspectives, colocation, scalability, and community buy-in.
“There is mounting interest in the sector, and we anticipate the participation of around 150 delegates.
“This conference will serve as a platform to identify some of the bottlenecks we face in an expanding seaweed sector. We will discuss challenges around gaining social license, the differences between the sector in Scotland compared to Norway and South Korea, and what colocation with wind farms could look like.
“Together, we aim to develop a sustainable and thriving seaweed industry that benefits not only our coastal communities but also the world at large.”
Scotland’s energy and environment minister Gillian Martin was due to give a keynote speech opening the conference this morning, after which sessions were scheduled on biosecurity, environmental stewardship, safety and expansion, social responsibility, and global perspectives.
Tomorrow’s keynote speaker is Ólavur Gregersen, chief executive of Faroes and California seaweed farmer Ocean Rainforest. Tomorrow’s agenda includes sessions on marine interactions and operational challenges, and a regulatory framework.
Thursday will be used for a Seaweed Industry Growth and Sustainability workshop, and SAMS will host a site visit to its Seaweed Academy and Seaweed Nursery. Find more information about the conference here.