New Zealand’s food future is seaweed

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New Zealand has a nutritious and sustainable subsea forest in our oceans and we are starting to harvest it, writes David Herkt.

Troy Bramley and Claire Edwards live in Tora, a population of nearly 30, on the rocky and dramatically wind-shaped southeast edge of the Wairarapa Coast. It is a spectacular landscape but the strong currents offshore have also created a unique fishing environment.

There is no fixed line, gas station or commerce, but that does not prevent innovation. There is an internet link. Bramley and Edwards’ company, Tora Collective, is at the forefront of new ways to eat sustainably while delivering the best seafood Aotearoa has to offer.

“I have been in the fishing industry most of my life, and from what we saw in the local markets, the products were nowhere near as good as they could be. That’s when we came up with the idea to bring the fish straight from the ocean to the market, ”says Bramley.

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“These are second-grade export products that the local market gets,” says Edwards. “It was about reclaiming a very important part of what it means to be Kiwi Back. [on] our plates.

You have to live and work with the cycle of tides and bad weather. Their 8-meter catamaran, Tākitimu, checks for craypots on a 15 km stretch of coastline around Tora, heading south towards Ngawi to dive for the kina. Coastal algae feed and raise their stocks of crayfish, pāua and kina.

“Our customers buy into the way we conduct our business and our lives – the way we fish sustainably, the way we have so much dedication and care for the resource and the product. When they open the box, it comes in a bed of seaweed with homemade ice packs, which are compostable, ”she says.

“People have that connection to supporting something good and making an epic product out of it as well. “

Troy Bramley and Claire Edwards.

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Troy Bramley and Claire Edwards.

They sell live produce to customers online – crayfish, pāua, kina – while also making some octopus and seaweed for upscale restaurants. Tora catches strictly on order, so there is no waste. Their product is harvested one day and it is with the consumer the next day thanks to an efficient delivery system. They pride themselves on communicating with their customers, who can go online to see where their meal has been fished.

It's not a bad place to work for Claire Edwards.

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It’s not a bad place to work for Claire Edwards.

“Protecting the reproductive cycle is the most important thing,” says Bramley. “This year, we have made the decision not to leave crawfish females in the Tora region, as we are seeing a shortage of them. There are things like that. If you talk to people [at] the size front, you can make decisions about the future of fishing.

They are also among the true pioneers who find and deliver a product traditionally ignored by New Zealanders. While Bramley is fishing, Edwards frequently searches for seaweed thrown ashore on the rocky shore. It is used for wrapping – lightly dried to absorb water, or left wet for pāua.

Then, thanks to Bramley’s mother, Lea, who is somewhat of an “algae guru” – with many years of experience, including trips to Ireland and the United States to further her knowledge – they also a permit that allows them to collect limited amounts of kelp for quality restaurants that use it for cooking and steaming. They are also more than aware of the many other possibilities seaweed has, and not just for food.

Troy Bramley and some of his sea bounty.

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Troy Bramley and some of his sea bounty.

“I strongly believe that we need to get into aquaculture for algae,” Edwards says. “There is such an opportunity out there – for the ecological benefits, for the underwater regenerative benefits, for climate change by turning C02 into oxygen, for cleaning. It’s like a natural cleanser for the ocean. There is enormous potential. “

Seaweed is also part of the vision of Angela Clifford, CEO of the non-profit organization Eat New Zealand.

“We are a South Pacific island nation. We are not a tiny island nation. We are a huge continent, except most of our continent is under the ocean, ”she said.

“Somehow our cultural identity around our ocean is gone, and instead it relies heavily on our land – meat, dairy and pastures, kiwis and apples – but missing the point. , we are missing our biggest opportunity.

Fresh seafood on the table for Troy and Claire.

Benjamin johnson

Fresh seafood on the table for Troy and Claire.

“If you look at all the seaweed crops in the world, places like Japan or Ireland, what they have in common is a reasonable amount of coastline. New Zealand is up there with the 9th longest coastline in the world, and we have some of the cleanest, coldest waters. Why don’t we have an algae culture? And why not enter this space.

For most people, their only encounter with seaweed is sushi or a wakame salad, but there are a myriad of other uses – and not just for food.

“Algae as a product is used for fertilization on land. It is given to animals. It is a nutraceutical. It is part of the pharmaceutical preparations. It’s a health supplement … It’s the way people have eaten for eons. It’s a great product.

“From what I understand, this is the fastest growing plant in the world. That it can capture carbon faster than anything else. I’m amazed we haven’t seen its potential before now.

AgriSea, a family business from Paeroa is almost 25 years old. It is one of New Zealand’s most successful biostimulant companies, now branching out into other seaweed products. He saw the potential.

“We are a family business run by Maori, driven by values,” says Clare Bradley, Agrisea’s head of science, research and development. She and her husband, Tane Bradley, run the business. “We are very innovative and seaweed is absolutely present in everything we do. ”

Clare Bradley was a biology student at the University of Auckland when she had the chance to spend five weeks in the Amazon, volunteering with indigenous communities.

Tane and Claire Bradley.

Provided

Tane and Claire Bradley.

“I stayed there for two years. I had no running water, no electricity, nothing, and I started to learn the importance of ecosystems – that nothing happens in isolation in nature. I acquired the vision of Indigenous communities capable of creating value – and by value we don’t necessarily mean money, but value for future generations while maintaining the integrity of their natural environment.

“It’s part of my story, and I was lucky enough to marry AgriSea, in this whānau. With algae, we have the opportunity to reimagine what an industry might look like based on the indigenous values ​​that make remote coastal communities thrive, and we are talking about a high value added industry.

“I think what surprises people is that the use of seaweed dates back thousands of years and there are many established industries around the world,” she says. “It’s in things like your sushi and seaweed salad, but it’s also a thickening agent, so it can be in your toothpaste, shampoo, a lot of cosmetics and food ingredients. People don’t realize how widely used it is.

Claire Edwards and a Bounty of the Sea.

provided / provided

Claire Edwards and a Bounty of the Sea.

“Seaweed is so nutritious. In New Zealand, there are almost 1000 species. There is huge potential out there in terms of which ones are good for iodine consumption. You have antibacterial agents. You have antivirals. It can be used as a sunscreen as some of them grow under the heat and sun of the tidal area. It can be used for bio-packaging of natural packaging additives to reduce our use of plastic. We have a seaweed gin that we made in collaboration with a distillery called Southward, ”says Clare Bradley.

The AgriSea whānau were among the founding members of the Algae Association.

“Algae has potential, but it’s absolutely the rainforest of the ocean,” says Clare Bradley. “Fifty percent of the world’s oxygen comes from algae and algae. It is a nursery for baby fish. It is a food for so many other maritime industries.

“For the Seaweed Association, it was about protecting this industry and making sure it doesn’t get into the quota management system as it is. We strongly believe that this is the wrong model for managing algae. We cannot develop a hard-hitting industry from our wild stock. “

It is a message endorsed by the government.

“A number of algae are part of the quota management system,” says Mat Bartholomew, director of aquaculture at Fisheries New Zealand, where he leads work to support the sustainable development of the aquaculture sector.

“The reason they’re in there is to protect them from a potential unconstrained harvest. ”

“If anyone were to stumble upon something that has impressive potential for algae as a product, we want to make sure that the wild resource is not plundered because of that value. Our point of view is that the future of algae definitely lies in agriculture.

“Our place in [the] The seafood business is largely based on our niche, our competitive advantage over the types of seaweed we have in New Zealand and the values ​​we associate with that, ”Bartholomew said.

“We need to be very clear on what this benefit really is, and it certainly won’t be large-scale production to put miso soup.”

Troy Bramley's Tora Company catches strictly on order, so there's no waste.

Benjamin johnson

Troy Bramley’s Tora Company catches strictly on order, so there’s no waste.

Dr Dave Taylor, technical director of Aquaculture New Zealand, is another scientist who knows that remoteness from global population centers means the nation needs to focus on high value rather than high volume.

“We have to make it worth it [it] here, otherwise we will continue to buy bulk seaweed from Asia, and there is a lot of it.

“We’re looking for a unique New Zealand story about algae, and we have a wonderful story with them here. We have our Maori cultural history and our environmental history, and they will both add a special thing [to] the world market.

It looks like there is a future of blue water and New Zealand has taken the first steps.


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