Interest in the production of seaweed has grown in recent years as it is seen as a sustainable alternative to land crops or even fossil fuels. Cultivating seaweed in European waters and using it for applications such as food, feed and green chemicals would not only allow us to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels: it would also help close production cycles on a more regional scale. The production of seaweeds is not commercially attractive right now, however.
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency commissioned Wageningen Economic Research to investigate whether the business case for seaweed production in the North Sea could benefit from the inclusion of ecosystem services in the equation (seaweed production provides various ecosystem services, such as uptake of nutrients by seaweed, wave dampening and contribution to nature).
A natural capital framework was used to answer the question. The chosen methodology aimed at identifying the relevant services, assessing their value and figuring out how they can be valorised. It included literature studies and a series of workshops with stakeholders from the private sector, scientific institutes, NGOs and public authorities.
The study showed that it is possible to have a meaningful discussion about the value of ecosystem services. It is not unthinkable that economic sectors would pay for the ecosystem services provided by seaweed cultivation. The fact that some of these services have considerable value can benefit the business case for seaweed cultivation. However, what is still lacking is sufficient evidence that these services are in fact delivered, and valid throughout the year. In addition, effective policy instruments that allow for the valorisation of public benefits, such as carbon and nutrient uptake, can contribute to the development of a circular seaweed economy.
Van den Burg, S. W., Van Duijn, A. P., Bartelings, H., Van Krimpen, M. M. and Poelman, M., 2016. The economic feasibility of seaweed production in the North Sea. Aquaculture Economics & Management, 20(3), pp.235-252.