Monday, 06 July 2020


Turning marine pest into bespoke export product

A Coromandel company is leading the way in turning one of New Zealand’s most aggressive marine pests into a bespoke export food product.

Wakame Fresh, based in Coromandel Town, has been successfully harvesting and supplying undaria seaweed for the domestic market for seven years and in 2018 expanded into Australia. However, the company has now received $75,000 of government funding to investigate launching the product into the lucrative Asian markets. If successful, the initiative could see a significant expansion of the company’s activities and additional jobs right across the aquaculture sector.

Last Friday, owners Lucas Evans and Lance Townsend, hosted Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor on a visit to see the seaweed being harvested and processed first-hand.

“This project is really exciting. It’s pioneering, it’s innovative and it has the potential to create new market opportunities. It also supports a Government priority to assist thriving and sustainable regions. This could be the next big thing for New Zealand. We could be looking at the start of a lucrative edible seaweed export market into Japan and other Asian countries,” said the Minister.

The investigation known as Project Whakatiputipu is the first initiative to be funded under the Government’s Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund (SFF Futures) and aims to demonstrate the commercial viability of harvesting, processing and exporting edible seaweed products into Japan.

The project started in May 2019 and is scheduled to wrap up later this year. The Government’s funding is in addition to the $114,000 that Wakame Fresh is investing, and will be used to conduct a feasibility study, including planning and finalising an approach to trial export of samples of wakame for market research. If this is successful, it is expected Wakame Fresh Ltd would enter a commercial contract with food exporter, Kataoka Corporation, for on-going commercial export of undaria which is also known as wakame.

A condition of the government’s funding is that Wakame Fresh Ltd will share the information gained through Project Whakatiputipu with the wider New Zealand seaweed industry, something the small kiwi company has embraced.

“This fund provides a single gateway for farmers and growers to apply for investment in a greater range of projects that deliver economic, environmental and social benefits that flow through to all Kiwis. Undaria is often referred to as ‘the gorse of the sea’. It’s one of the world’s most invasive pests. It’s also a staple part of the diet in Japan, where quality wakame is in short supply. The Wakame Fresh team are turning gorse into gourmet,” said Mr. O’Connor.

Undaria seaweed is native to south-east Russia and Asia. It has been used in Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine for over a thousand years. While cultivated in Asia, it is one of nine marine species on a list of the world’s 100 worst invasive species.  It was introduced to New Zealand waterways in the 1980s via ballast water from cargo ships. The weed is now widespread along the eastern and southern coastlines from Auckland to Bluff. It is an invasive seaweed which chokes out native species and clogs mussel farms. When harvested it is a muddy brown colour, however, when blanched in water it turns bright green.

Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash said a number of people, including investors and researchers, were eagerly following the project’s trial and its results. “If successful, it will encourage New Zealand’s aquaculture sector to collaborate and invest further in this area. We want to be the most productive, sustainable country in the world. Projects like this will contribute to New Zealand’s reputation in sustainable and innovative aquaculture,” he said.

Pictured: Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor (right) with some of the team from Wakame Fresh, demonstrating how local seaweed is being harvested. The Coromandel company is investigating exporting the seaweed for the Japanese market.


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