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New guidelines for sustainable European seaweed

Seaweeds can provide an alternative source of food, feed, fuel and livelihood for an ever-expanding population
Seaweeds can provide an alternative source of food, feed, fuel and livelihood for an ever-expanding population
May 21 2019

A new report gives scientific guidance to help meet a growing global demand for seaweeds while also protecting resources and the environment.

The report calls for development, improvement and diversification of seaweed aquaculture practices in Europe.

With the world's population set to hit 9 billion before 2050, seaweeds can provide an alternative source of food, feed, fuel and livelihood for an ever-expanding population, if produced in a sustainable way.

They also play a key ecological role in coastal ecosystems - whether it's supporting the food web, protecting coasts from erosion or removing excess nutrients from the water.

Worldwide production of seaweeds has doubled in the last 10 years.

Yet European production currently lags behind Asian countries despite the EU's large exclusive economic zone, its high seaweed biodiversity and its leadership on seaweed research.

Co-authored by the JRC, this study provides guidance on how to further tap into an expanding industry that is estimated to be worth more than €8 billion.

A team of experts analysed the current EU policy framework for seaweed aquaculture, identifying challenges and how they can be solved to make the most of this resource in a sustainable way.

Bottlenecks and how to solve them

The production of seaweeds in Europe is largely based on the harvesting of wild stocks.

However, climate change and disturbance from human activity is putting pressure on these populations, with commercially important species and essential coastal habitats decreasing in abundance in certain areas of Europe.  

For example, several species of kelp - used for things like food, animal feed and fertilisers – are starting to disappear from the most southerly areas where they normally grow.

To protect these wild seaweed resources and answer to the market demand for seaweed biomass, aquaculture production (farming) is becoming more common.

But this also has potential environmental and ecological impacts, including the change to ecosystem dynamics caused by introducing non-native species or modifying the interaction between species.

Developing the sector also depends on overcoming technological, market and regulatory constraints – such as upscaling production and simplifying legal procedures.

Because it is an emerging sector in the EU, there is currently no framework to guide the development of seaweed aquaculture in Europe that considers all these aspects.

With this in mind, the report recommends:

  • harmonising EU regulation and simplifying procedures across Member States;
  • adopting a risk assessment approach to the cultivation of non-native species;
  • improving standardisation and traceability frameworks;
  • adapting food security monitoring programmes for seaweeds;
  • dedicated research to support market claims.



The report 'PEGASUS: Phycomorph European Guidelines for a Sustainable Seaweed Aquaculture' is the result of the multidisciplinary COST Action Phycomorph, composed of scientists expert in seaweed.

PEGASUS provides guidelines on the status quo, best practices, legislation and regulations that currently apply to seaweed production, focusing on seaweed as a food or food supplement.

It also gives the latest scientific knowledge on the biology and physiology of seaweeds, the possible pest and disease breakouts, and how this biological knowledge could meet identified industry needs.

PEGASUS supports aquaculture practices that guarantee a high level of preservation of the EU's environment and biodiversity.

The report was first presented to the Searica (Seas and Coastal Areas Intergroup) group of the European Parliament in February 2019 to stress the need to boost the sustainable development of seaweed aquaculture in Europe and suggest future directions to be followed by policy-makers.

COST (European Cooperation in Science and Technology) is a funding programme for research and innovation networks that enables researchers to set their interdisciplinary research network in Europe and beyond.

COST's actions help connect research initiatives across Europe and enable scientists to grow their ideas by sharing them with their peers.

By creating open spaces where people and ideas can grow, COST helps to unlock the full potential of science.