The blue bioeconomy includes any economic activity associated with the use of renewable aquatic biological resources to make products. The 2022 edition of the EU blue bioeconomy report focuses on algae and seaweeds, as the algae sector has been recognised as the most notable sector of the EU blue bioeconomy. The report offers an overview of latest developments of micro- and macroalgae cultivation systems in the EU and the world. It has a special focus on sargassum (a macroalgae), and shows how seaweed can capture carbon and can also transform regional economies. The report was prepared by EUMOFA (European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products). The Commission adopted in November 2022 the communication ‘Towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector’ which addresses some of the findings highlighted in the report.
Key findings of the EU 2022 blue bioeconomy report
Overview of latest developments of micro- and macroalgae cultivation systems
Seaweed farming and harvesting are still very small-scale in Europe – despite 36% of entries in a global seaweed industry database being in Europe, many are start-ups not yet commercially operational.
The regulatory landscape for seaweed licences and permits is uncoordinated, contains many regulatory actors at national and local level, and sometimes poses high costs for small companies seeking to farm at sea.
‘Aquaculture 4.0’ – the use of Information Technology, automated high-sensitivity monitoring, Internet of Things, in-cloud analysis, real-time automated and robotic responses – will become standard for managing large-scale microalgal and seaweed facilities
Sargassum is not yet ready to be valorised commercially
Sargassum is a genus of large brown seaweed that spends its life on the ocean’s surface and floats in large masses. Pelagic sargassum plays a crucial role in marine ecosystems, serving as hotspots for biodiversity and productivity in otherwise substrate poor, low-nutrient open-ocean waters. The surge in sargassum blooms across the Atlantic region has led to the proliferation of projects that seek to mitigate its effects. But for the time being, there is no real market for sargassum. Most solutions seeking to valorise sargassum are not commercially mature yet.
Seaweed as ‘blue carbon’
Seaweed ecosystems play a significant role in the marine carbon cycle. According to scientific literature, they act as a net sequestrator of CO2 worldwide. The EU hosts significant wild seaweed ecosystems but accounts for less than 0.25% of the global human-led seaweed production. Possible actions to integrate seaweed in climate policies include conservation, restoration and farming, with potential positive effects on both climate and the environment. For the EU to take the best of seaweed’s climate mitigation potential, knowledge gaps have to be addressed. It includes assessing existing wild seaweed ecosystems in Europe, building a better knowledge of nutrient availability and eutrophication in EU coasts and basins and evaluating the carbon footprint of seaweed-based products.
How can seaweed farming transform regional economies?
In addition to being small-scaled, the European seaweed industry is regionally imbalanced.
The growing demand for seaweed products cannot be fulfilled by producers due to a variety of factors (knowledge silos, lack of data transparency, unpredictable production cycles, inefficient supply chains, complex regulatory frameworks). This situation leads to risk-averse investors and businesses being disincentivised. The challenges facing the European seaweed industry are not technology driven but more related to governance and market issues. The reversal of this trend will depend on the stable access to raw material, the development of the value-added products and the transfer of expertise between regions where production is well developed and those wishing to develop the industry.
Blue bioeconomy incorporates any economic activity associated with the use of renewable aquatic biological resources to make products. Examples of these wide-ranging products include novel foods and food additives, animal feeds, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, materials (e.g. clothes and construction materials) and energy.
The Blue bioeconomy report is released every two years and aims to provide an updated overview of the European Union’s blue bioeconomy sector. It is prepared by the European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products (EUMOFA). EUMOFA is a market intelligence service of the European Union developed by the European Commission. It works to increase market transparency and efficiency, analyses EU markets dynamics, and supports evidence-based policy-making.
On 15 November 2022, the Commission adopted the communication Towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector, a pioneering initiative to unlock the potential of algae in the European Union. The communication proposes 23 actions to create opportunities for the industry to help it grow into a robust, sustainable and regenerative sector capable of meeting the growing EU demand.
Source: European Commission I Oceans and fisheries (https://bit.ly/3GN68G7)