Government backs edible seaweed venture

  • Hon Stuart Nash
  • Hon Damien O’Connor
Agriculture Fisheries

A pest seaweed is to be turned into a premium edible export in a Government funded venture announced by Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash today.

Coromandel company Wakame Fresh is receiving $75,000 of funding through the Government’s Sustainable Food & Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) to investigate the commercial viability of turning a weed into a high value export industry.

“This is the first project the fund is supporting and it’s a perfect example of the type of innovation I created the fund for”, Mr O’Connor said.

“I established the $40 million a year fund last year to support this Government’s move away from volume to value.

“The food and fibre industries are the backbone of New Zealand’s economy, delivering more than $45 billion in export revenue last year. The Coalition Government wants to help extract more value from what they already do, in a sustainable way that means our natural resources will be there for future generations.

“This fund provides a single gateway for farmers and growers to apply for investment in a greater range of projects that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits that flow through to all Kiwis. 

“Undaria, also known as wakame, is often referred to as ‘the gorse of the sea’. It’s one of the world’s most invasive pests. It’s also a staple part of the diet in Japan, where quality wakame is in short supply. The Wakame Fresh team are turning gorse into gourmet!

“This project is really exciting. It’s pioneering, it’s innovative and it has the potential to create new market opportunities. It also supports a Government priority to assist thriving and sustainable regions.

“This could be the next big thing for New Zealand. We could be looking at the start of a lucrative edible seaweed export market into Japan and other Asian countries”.

Minister Nash says a number of people, including investors and researchers, are interested in this project’s trial and its results.

“If successful, it will encourage New Zealand’s aquaculture sector to collaborate and invest further in this area.

“Aquaculture is a growth industry for this country and has the potential to play a more significant role in our economy. It’s currently worth $600 million a year and employs over 3000 people.

“We want to be the most productive, sustainable country in the world. Projects like this will contribute to New Zealand’s reputation in sustainable and innovative aquaculture”.

Notes for editors

About the SFF Futures fund

About the project

Project Whakatiputipu, led by Wakame Fresh Ltd, is the first project to be contracted under SFF Futures. SFF Futures (MPI) is contributing up to $75,200 and Wakame Fresh Ltd $114,182.

Wakame Fresh Ltd is a small New Zealand company, owned by Lucas Evans and Lance Townsend. It 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, and the ultimate goal is exporting edible seaweed products into Japan. The project started in May 2019 and is scheduled to wrap up in late 2019

The Government’s 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.

About Undaria

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.