Seaweed is the foundation of the ocean and marine food chain, critical to ocean habitats and often serving as nursery areas for many aquatic species around the globe. Over the past few decades the use of seaweed by humans has also drastically increased. 82 percent of farmed seaweed being used for human consumption. 12.2 percent of seaweed farmed is used in cosmetics, whilst 2.9 percent is used for animal feed, and the final 2.6 percent in agriculture.

Due to this intense increase in demand for seaweed, most natural seaweed growing in the oceans, free from human activity, has now been replaced by monitored farms. The past sixty years have seen a shift, wherein 96 percent of seaweed we now use is gathered from farming operations, whilst only four percent comes from wild harvests.

Seaweed concentration is spread throughout 33 countries, China being its main producer (harvesting 54% of all seaweed), alongside Canada and North America. The seaweed industry is certainly an immense one, bringing in US $5.65 billion and over 25 million tonnes of seaweed annually. The main importers of seaweed include Brazil, Russia and India, while the primary exporters include Finland, Sweden and Russia.

With such a vast quantity of seaweed being processed and harvested per year, seaweed farmers are feeling the pressure to produce even more of the popular algae. But such a rapid turnover means that the seaweed we harvest isn"t always of the best quality, nor produced in the correct manner.

 

Saving the Seaweed

To safeguard seaweed, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) are here. These two non-profit organisations have begun a certification scheme, named The Seaweed Standard, to transform the seaweed market into a sustainable one. These two companies collaborated to ensure the protection of marine life and the responsible production of seaweed. The MSC specifically specialises in marine life, with the aim to keep the oceans teeming and populated. The ASC"s primary goal is to minimise the negative impacts aquaculture has on the environment. Both also aim to contribute to the health of the world"s aquatic ecosystems by promoting, recognising and rewarding environmentally sustainable and socially responsible use of seaweed resources through certification. Focussing on all seaweeds, marine and freshwater algae, alongside macroalgae and microalgae, the standard applies globally to all locations and all scales of operations.

 

Launching The Seaweed Standard

The Seaweed Standard was initially launched on November 22, 2017, and became effective March 1, 2018, ensuring that seaweed farmers follow specific rules and regulations to ensure that their produce is sustainable and responsibly sourced. At least one member of each harvesting team who applies for the certification must have completed the environmental and social training; however, over time MSC and ASC have made training available online, so all members of harvesting teams can access training resources. The ASC website has all the relevant scheme documents available and a get-certified guide, so those who are interested in applying for the certification can discover exactly what is required to become officially-credited sustainable seaweed farmers.

Two training facilities became available for farmers to take part in, based in Beijing and London, from October 2017 onwards. In this first test 50 potential auditors participated, 77 percent passing the environmental training, whilst 65 percent passed the social training part of the test. The Seaweed Standard is currently working on establishing training locations in Japan, China, Korea, Canada, Europe, US, Chile and Peru, and online training is now also available. Companies who wish to become certified must have been in operation for a minimum of 12 months, or the equivalent of one harvest cycle. Harvesting activities that use mutagenic, carcinogenic or teratogenic pesticides, alongside other toxic chemicals, in the marine environment are ineligible for certification.

The Seaweed Standard rate organisations based upon a wide variety of factors, which can all be viewed on the ASC website. With criteria ranging from sustainability, effective management, social responsibility, community relations and interactions, the rating aims to cover every aspect of the farming process: communicating with the local public, farmers, local fishermen and managers to get the most accurate representation of how each farming plant runs. These are split into 68 different scoring issues, alongside 31 performance indicators.

Companies are also split into three different categories, depending on how they harvest their seaweed; "Wild stock only", "Land stock only" and "cultivation at sea", which also separates groups into those who use wild seed and those where wild seed is negligible. How each application fares depends on the seaweed production category considered and on the characteristics of the activity.

 

Rules to go by

Five principles make up the core of The Seaweed Standard, and marking criteria is based heavily upon these five issues.

 

Principle One: Sustainable wild populations

The harvesting and farming of seaweed is conducted in a manner that maintains the productive capacity of the wild seaweed populations and their sustainable use

 

Principle Two: Environmental Impacts

Structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem, including the habitats and associated dependant and ecologically related species, are maintained and undamaged by said harvesting and farming activities

 

Principle Three: Effective Management

Harvesting and farming activities are subject to an effective management system that respects local, national and international laws and standards. They must also incorporate institutional and operational frameworks that require use of resources to be responsible and sustainable

 

Principle Four: Social Impacts

Labour standards must be based upon the core International Labour Organisation (ILO) standards and SA 8000. Wages and working hours for employees must be set in accordance with national regulations

 

Principle Five: Community relations and interaction

The farm must have minimal negative impacts on the local community, whether this be homes and surrounding villages, fishermen, local resources such as forests, water and wildlife. There must be suitable conflict resolutions.

 

Traceability

One central issue The Seaweed Standard also deal with is the transport and distribution of seaweed after it has left the designated sites. The certification scheme aims to avoid the mixing and substitution of certified and non-certified seaweed. Any threats of mixing seaweed are termed as "risks" and must be documented, which will be taken into consideration regarding site certification.

Many threats come from companies owning several seaweed production plants or companies, wherein one could be certified, and the second one isn"t. This drastically increases the risk of both site batches being contaminated and mixed in any of the distribution stages. If risks are not mitigated, the organisation cannot be certified. The Seaweed Standard emphasise that at the first point of sale there must be no risks of contamination.

 

A busy future ahead

Currently The Seaweed Standard has auditers carrying out site visits throughout Japan, focussing on the sustainable production of the seaweed Euglena (E. viridis/ E. sanguinea). Site visits took place August 17-18, 2018 and reports are being composed until Sept 12, 2018. Similar certifications are also taking place with various other marine life, which have been proven to be hugely successful, protecting produce such as abalone, bivalve molluscs, freshwater trout, pangasius, salmon, seroila and cobia, shrimp and tilapia. The Seaweed Standard also recently exhibited at Vietfish 2018 and are due to showcase at the High Energy Mariculture Conference in Corfu, Greece on October 17-19 2018.

 

The Assessment Process

The process for certification can time up to 12 months to complete, and follows a precise set of investigations and examinations as follows:

Step 1- Checklist and pre-assessment

Step 2- Invite stakeholders to examine the site

Step 3- Info gathering, site visits and scanning. Meeting and interview with stakeholders, clients and employees

Step 4- Opportunities for improvements. If critical conditions raised, clients have three months to rectify these. If not solved, assessment cannot continue

Step 5- Critical review composed. Site must prepare action to solve critical conditions

Step 6- Public comment draft report: Report open for stakeholders" comment

Step 7- Final report and determination.

Step 8- Public certification report: Stakeholders that were involved in the assessment can object within 10 working days of publication of the FR.

"Focussing on all seaweeds, marine and freshwater algae, alongside macroalgae and microalgae, the standard applies globally to all locations and all scales of operations"

by Rebecca Sherratt, International Aquafeed, UK

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