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About the client

Established in 2014, the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge is a 10-year, two phase government-funded research programme set up to address how we can best develop our marine economy, while protecting the taonga of our marine environment.

Executive Summary

EnviroStrat has been a significant contributor to the Sustainable Seas National Science Challenge blue economy workstream. In 2018/2019 we led a research project to identify marine activities that have the potential to create economic value whilst contributing positively to social, cultural and ecological wellbeing in New Zealand. This included a stocktake of national and international blue economy developments, and examined threats and opportunities for the New Zealand blue economy; one of which is the rapidly evolving seaweed sector.

While currently operating at small scale, with gaps and barriers limiting the sector’s ability to grow, seaweed has huge potential to be a game changer for New Zealand’s blue economy.

Our initial blue economy stocktake was the critical foundation for a subsequent research project, being led by Cawthron Institute, to develop a framework for a sustainable Seaweed Sector in New Zealand. The framework provides strategic prioritisation of key elements of a future sustainable seaweed sector. It includes consideration of species, product types, research needs, regulatory changes, the role of iwi and treaty considerations, and future business models that will enable sustainable growth of this promising sector.

The draft framework will be tested through case studies to understand how it can effectively operate, identifying and removing barriers and setting the scene for sustainable growth.

Our approach

Our blue economy stocktake identified a unique opportunity to develop the strategic context for a sustainable seaweed sector. Given the very early stage of the seaweed sector in New Zealand, we sought to do this across multiple lenses in a dynamic, multi-stakeholder context. This approach allows us to understand and prioritise opportunities and risks to ensure the rapidly emerging sector, regulatory changes, research needs, market demands, species, upstream/downstream infrastructure, supply chain and technology needs, environmental benefits and risks, and Māori aspirations.

About the seaweed sector

There is significant global and domestic interest in seaweed.

Between 2000 and 2018, the global farmed production increased more than tripled from almost 11 million tonnes to 32 million tonnes (worth USD 14 billion) (FAO, 2020)

Similar to the global experience, there is a great deal of domestic interest, including from the government, investors, the existing aquaculture sector, Māori, environmentalists and researchers.

A prosperous seaweed sector could provide meaningful economic, environmental, social and cultural benefits to local communities, along with broader impacts nationally. While numerous new initiatives and businesses are targeting seaweed as a novel primary resource for the blue economy, the New Zealand seaweed sector is still in its infancy and is not keeping pace with international developments.

The need for a seaweed sector framework

Our Blue Economy Stocktake identified that there is currently no overarching vision for a regenerative seaweed sector to guide regulatory frameworks, ecological sensitivities, climate change, relationship to protected areas, fairness/social justice, and systems implications of uncoordinated economic development. The development of a Seaweed Sector Framework is an important step to help support and guide the sector’s development.

Market sector review

The market sector review prepared by EnviroStrat was the first stage in the development of the Seaweed Sector Framework. It provided a characterisation of the New Zealand seaweed sector today, including current demand, supply and regulation, along with barriers to growth. Focus was on identifying opportunities and barriers to the sustainable growth of the sector. It helped us identify which species have characteristics of greatest commercial interest, future market opportunities, regulations and research priorities.

Inputs to this research report included reviews of sector reports and scientific papers, along with interviews of individuals involved in seaweed research, businesses, regulation and development projects.

For New Zealand to have a sustainable and high value seaweed sector, the market review report suggested:

  • Establishing a seaweed sector group to foster collaboration and iwi / stakeholder engagement, share information and inform decision making, and set priorities and aspirations for development of the industry.
  • Scoping, funding and developing high profit, high fit seaweed industries.
  • Developing a clear pathway for’ ecosystem services’ markets from seaweed (e.g. blue carbon, nutrient extraction) in New Zealand.
  • Prioritising research and development to support the sector, with initiatives that overcome collective hurdles and unlock the highest value opportunities for NZ to be prioritised. Consideration should be given to overseas research approaches that can be adapted, to maximise New Zealand’s research spend and avoid duplication.
  • Developing a Government strategy, which informs regulatory solutions and funding priorities in line with the Framework. This should be a fit-for-purpose cross-agency regulatory framework including international harmonisation, marine spatial planning, consenting, permitting, and standards setting requirements.
  • Develop a governance framework for the sector that incorporates Māori and mātauranga.

Cawthron Institute has led the development of two additional research reports that contribute to the overall Framework – Seaweed Sector Review (part 2): Species characteristics and Te Tiriti o Waitangi considerations and Seaweed Sector Review (part 3): Environmental effects of seaweed wild-harvest and aquaculture.

Testing the framework on real-life case studies

Our role has evolved from research to a more applied approach, with our responsibility now shifting to creating the draft framework. The framework draws from the research reports by EnviroStrat and Cawthron, as well as a series of interviews and focus groups with a range of iwi, stakeholders, researchers, and regulators. Using real-life case studies, we will assess how the seaweed framework can effectively operate across different scales, both regionally and operational size.

The result

EnviroStrat has helped influence the direction of both public and private investment, and regulatory change in the sector. We have identified priorities for which species, product types and markets New Zealand should (and shouldn’t) be competing in, identified business models that align with a sustainable sector, and regulatory changes that will enable future sectoral growth.

The outcome will be a framework that will provide an easily accessible and understandable summary of a sector that will enable future participants to see where their perspectives fit.

Key Metrics

  • Transitioning to a blue economy research report (2019)
  • Development of the Seaweed Sector Framework (2020 – 2022)
  • Multiple workshops with stakeholders, iwi, regulators and market participants considering different elements of framework resulting in strong support.