Wild-harvested wakame export venture progresses

Wakame Fresh directors Lance Townsend, left, and Lucas Evans cutting up 'undaria' seaweed in the Coromandel Harbour.

A venture to export high quality, edible seaweed ‘wakame’ from the Coromandel Harbour to Japan is making good progress.

Coromandel Town company Wakame Fresh this year received a government grant to help it turn a particular type of seaweed, undaria, which grows on mussel barge lines, into a premium edible export product (wakame).

Undaria is an invasive seaweed and is often referred to as the gorse of the sea as it is a scourge for the mussel industry, clogging the lines around the mussel farms.

However, the edible seaweed is a delicacy in markets in Japan, where it is known as ‘wakame’.

Coromandel Town-based Wakame Fresh has received $75.000 from the Government’s $40 million-a-year Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund (SFF Futures) to investigate the commercial viability of harvesting, processing and exporting the edible seaweed to Japan – where quality wakame is in short supply. Read more here.

In December 2019, Thames Coromandel District Council hosted a gathering of key representatives from the aquaculture industry, government, iwi and universities, where Wakame Fresh managing director Lucas Evans presented a report on the feasibility of exporting Wakame to Japan.

"The Japanese seaweed market has an estimated annual value of more than $US 2 billion and there's a real opportunity for our Coromandel product to be a high-value offering," says Lucas.

"The feasibility report had led to a rapid increase in our knowledge and understanding of the salted wakame market in Japan and the methods available to produce this in New Zealand.

“This project is a significant initiative relating to the development of the New Zealand seaweed sector that offers economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits, not only to the Thames-Coromandel District but also nationally.

“The feasibility study, which was presented to stakeholders, identifies the significant challenges for New Zealand to overcome, including distance to market, knowledge of production techniques and the market, and competitors who have production cost advantages along with centuries of accumulated experience," says Lucas.

"Given the track record New Zealand has of innovating to solve problems and develop new aquaculture solutions, Wakame Fresh remains optimistic we can overcome many of these challenges. It will require significant investment of resources, time and energy, but the potential benefits available to New Zealand if this commercial application of undaria is indeed viable, will be significant."

Next year, Wakame Fresh will build on its 2019 research with a commercial pilot programme within the Hauraki Gulf.

Council has supported Wakame Fresh in developing initial contacts for the funding opportunities and by helping locate a suitable site at Coromandel Town to base its processing operations, along with hosting the December gathering to mark completion of the feasibility study.

Learn more about Wakame Fresh founded in 2012 in Coromandel Town on its website.




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