Could Commercially Harvesting Seaweed Seriously Damage the Marine Ecosystem?

Seaweed moundIsland and coastal communities in Scotland have, since the first people came to our shores , used seaweed. There are huge varieties of seaweed and its uses are many – everything from  eating it to  using it as fertiliser on fields.

To the detriment of farming in Orkney in the 18th C the people were taken from their wee farms and put to work gathering kelp from the shoreline. The kelp industry made the landowners lots of money as it was used in soap and glass making. You can find out more about that here: Kelp Burning in Orkney

Seaweed Cultivation

In 2017 the Scottish Government published a Seaweed Cultivation Policy Statement. which The Orkney News reported on at the time Seaweed Cultivation Guidelines Published.

The Scottish Government is supportive of small scale developments of sea weed cultivation. In its guidelines it refers to seaweed cultivation in inlets and sea lochs preferably where aquaculture is already taking place. But adds ” There may also be potential for seaweed growing in other areas.”

Wild Seaweed Harvesting

Prior to the guidelines being published research had been done on the environmental impact of commercial harvesting. It noted:

“The removal of native seaweeds could provide opportunity for the establishment of non-native seaweeds which could pose a threat to native species (ABPmer, 2013). As non-native species are difficult to eradicate, their introduction may permanently change the character of a habitat (OSPAR, 2009; ABPmer, 2013), having implications for those species which rely on seaweeds to provide habitat, shelter and food.”

An application has been made for a licence to dredge for wild kelp in shallow waters on the West Coast of Scotland to be processed in Mallaig. It claims that this is a sustainable operation. In the dredging of the kelp beds whole plants will be removed. It is said that young plants will be left and that areas will be quickly recolonised by new kelp plants.

The large areas of kelp subject to the application are like forests on our sea bed. They provide a habitat for a wide range of animals and just like a forest on land they act like a shelter belt protecting the coastline from the impact of large wave action.

Commercial harvesting of wild seaweed has been going on in Norway’s west coast for some years and people are starting to worry about the long term impact of it on marine life- Commercial Seaweed Harvesting

Islanders and those who rely on the sea for their living need to think very carefully about the implications for permitting the dredging of wild seaweed. Coastal communities  too need to consider the impact the operation will have on their shorelines.

Is this the direction we want Scotland to go down where untold and potentially lasting damage is done to our marine environment?

Reporter: Fiona Grahame


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5 replies »

  1. The thick and prolific kelp fields round Shetland’s shores is the main reason, apart from an abundant supply of food, for our large Otter population. Small scale local harvesting for garden use is OK but don’t think commercial harvesting is a good idea.

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