Government provides funding for edible seaweed venture

A Coromandel company is receiving Government funding to investigate the commercial viability of turning a pest seaweed into a high value export industry.

Project Whakatiputipuled by Wakame Fresh Ltd, is the first project to be contracted under Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures).  The fund is contributing up to $75,200 and Wakame Fresh Ltd $114,182.

Wakame Fresh Ltd has been operating in the Coromandel for seven years harvesting Undaria for domestic consumption. It began exporting to Australia last year.

Project Whakatiputipu aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of harvesting, processing and exporting edible seaweed products into Japan.

The trial involves harvesting and processing this seaweed.  The ultimate goal is exporting edible seaweed products into Japan. The project started in May 2019 and is scheduled to wrap up late this year.

Undaria is a seaweed, also known as wakame, that is native to south-east Russia and Asia. It has been used in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine for over a thousand years.

While cultivated in Asia, it is one of nine marine species on a list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.

It was introduced to New Zealand waterways in the 1980s via ballast water from cargo ships, the weed is now widespread along the eastern and southern coastlines from Auckland to Bluff.

It is an invasive seaweed which chokes out native species and clogs mussel farms.

Although classified as an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act, wakame is edible and can also be used to make fish food and fertiliser.

The SFF Futures funding will be used to conduct a feasibility study, including planning and finalising an approach to trial export of samples of wakame for market research. If this is successful, it is expected Wakame Fresh Ltd would enter a commercial contract with Kataoka Corporation for on-going commercial export of wakame.

A condition of the government’s funding is that Wakame Fresh Ltd will share the information gained through Project Whakatiputipu with the wider New Zealand seaweed industry, which the small kiwi company has embraced.

The intended outcomes of Project Whakatiputipu include:

  • demonstrating the commercial viability of harvesting, processing and exporting edible seaweed products into Japan
  • establishing New Zealand as a credible source of high quality wakame for the Japanese market place and
  • mobilising the aquaculture sector (and other investors) in New Zealand to collaborate and invest in the seaweed sector, including investment in research to identify the nutritional and medicinal benefits of New Zealand grown and processed seaweed.

If successful, the project will look towards creating an edible seaweed export market into Japan and other Asian markets.

Source:  Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries

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