VICTORIA & PORT ALBERNI – Partners in a new seaweed company seeded their first crop in December, and are looking forward to the first harvest in May, 2020.
Two one-hectare sites in Barkley Sound west of Port Alberni is expected to yield 90 tons of sugar kelp, which is in demand as food and pharmaceuticals, says Cascadia President and CEO Michael Williamson, adding their goal is to initially expand up to 100 hectares.
“We will be processing it in Port Alberni, which has been awarded a designation as a provincial food hub, and they have a good processing facility there,” he says. ”Everybody needs seaweed. Anybody that eats sushi or buys the green dried sheets from the store maybe don’t realize that they’re always using it already.
“We’ll be looking at other uses for the kelp, but it’s already being used in makeup, neutraceuticals, additives for food, pet food and bio-packaging. And kelp is really good in that it contains iodine, potassium and calcium.”
Williamson said he and his partners learned that seaweed production and harvesting was identified as a promising product in the growing aquaculture sector at an economic development conference last year. After internal discussions they reached out to Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Limited Partnership, which owns and operates St. Jean’s Cannery in Nanaimo, and a partnership agreement was reached in September.
Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood LP President Larry Johnson, says “We are very excited to be partnering with Cascadia Seaweed as the first step in expansion of the seaweed industry in BC. Following on from our traditional practices, and adopting what we have learned from other NSLP brands, we see this an important contribution to sustainability within our partner Nations.”
Kelp and other BC seaweeds have been identified as important and abundant sources of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. The World Bank predicts seaweed farming has the potential of “adding about 10 percent to the world’s present supply of food” in coming decades.
In 2017, BC seafood production represented a landed value of almost $1.2 billion. In the coming years, seaweed products will contribute to growth in these numbers.
As well as representing an opportunity to produce food, the growing of seaweed permanently sequesters carbon and reduces ocean acidification in the region directly around each farm.
Williamson says “We have an aggressive strategy to grow cultivation and processing of seaweed. This is an exciting market, and kelp and other high-quality seaweeds will comprise an increasingly large part of diets and industrial processes.
“As an environmentally and socially responsible company, Cascadia Seaweed is very pleased to be working with Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood for our first sites, and we look forward to the contributions we can make to diversification and support in local communities.”
Williamson says it was important for Cascadia to partner with First Nations, who want to bring additional industry into their communities.
“There’s a lot of interest, and our dialogue is ongoing with other First Nations,” he adds.
The four founding partners, Williamson, Chairman William Collins, COO Tony Ethier and CTO Steven Cross have a combined 135 years’ experience in the ocean. Williamson spent 30 years in the navy.
An initial private offering raised seed capital for the operation, with the B.C. Securities Commission ruling that investments would be eligible for tax credits.
‘The demand and the opportunity was greater than we expected,” says Willliamson. “We’ll probably have another raise early next year.”
Williamson believes seaweed harvesting is attractive “because of two things: Climate change and the plant-based movement. People want alternative sources of food, and this industry is climate positive.
“Seaweed as an industry has existed in BC for decades, but it’s been a cottage industry. To really address food security to meet future demands, it will have to be done at a much larger scale.”
Coastal BC is one of the richest areas in the world for seaweeds, and the coast supports more than 600 natural species of seaweed. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that “Today, the global seaweed industry is worth more than $6 billion USD. . .of which some 85 per cent comprises food products. . .the global seaweed market is experiencing steady growth, buoyed by the increasing demand for products.”