Seaweed farming, especially near ocean aquaculture sites, can help B.C be a low-carbon producer of choice for seafood, milk, and beef.

Burping cows breathe new life into aquaculture for BC

Seaweed farming, especially near ocean aquaculture sites, can help British Columbia be a low-carbon producer of choice for seafood, milk and beef

By Fabian Dawson

The BC government aims to show climate leadership with a comprehensive plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and position the province as global a supplier of choice for low carbon food, aquaculture products and commodities.

Pathways to attain this goal have been laid out in the new B.C.’s Low Carbon Advantage plan.

“This is the moment to seize our low carbon advantage,” states the Business Council of BC.

Seizing the low-carbon moment is exactly what Vancouver Island-based Cascadia Seaweed is doing with its research on how seaweed, added to a cows daily feed, can dramatically decrease the amount of methane produced through cow “burps”

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas is a by-product of rumination (the digestion process that allows cows to eat grass) and is primarily released by cows through burping.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), cattle are responsible for nearly 10% of greenhouse gases generated worldwide by human activity.

Agri-Foods Canada states :“In one year, the amount of methane a dairy cow produces is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from a mid-sized vehicle driven 20,000 kilometres”. Tackling this harmful emission, which is about 28 times more powerful than CO2 when it comes to warming the Earth, can help farmers continue to earn a sustainable livelihood while contributing to positive climate outcomes.”

The research being advanced by Cascadia Seaweed — and its academic, government and industry partners — is investigating native, cold-water seaweeds from coastal British Columbia to be added to cow feed.

Similar research from all corners of the globe with positive results have been obtained using a warm-water red seaweed called Asparagopsis taxiformis , but the goal for Cascadia Seaweed is to cultivate a local species, or a combination of cold-water seaweeds, with equally effective outcomes, the company said.

Bill Collins, Chairman of Cascadia Seaweed, said that the new research project is focusing on a subset of seaweeds that can be sustainably cultivated and provided to farmers.

“Not only will they assist the beef and dairy industry in reducing methane outputs, the pressure on arable land to grow monoculture crops for feed will be reduced, providing opportunities to improve soil health which in turn draws down CO2 from the atmosphere and works to restore ecological balance.”

Cascadia Seaweed’s Chief Science Officer, Dr. Jennifer Clark, said that among the 600 or so native species in BC, there are varieties that may contain physical and chemical attributes which will interact with the digestive systems of cows to reduce methane production and to increase the animal’s efficiency in digestion.

“Along with our current cultivated species of red and brown seaweeds, there are 50 or so other target species that we think may hold the key to an effective and palatable feed additive.”

Cascadia Seaweed CEO, Mike Williamson, said that the company is continually looking for the highest and best use of its cultivated seaweeds.

“We are growing to be the largest provider of cultivated seaweed in North America, and we are doing so in a carbon negative manner. Along with using seaweed as a healthy and nutritious ingredient for human foods, we are investigating other verticals that equally contribute positive outcomes to the climate, coastal communities and our First Nations partners, along with our stakeholders.”

Seaweed verticals also provide for innovation and increased sustainable values for BC’s shellfish and salmon farmers.

Dr. Stephen Cross the former Industrial Research Chair for Sustainable Aquaculture at North Island College (NIC) in B.C. said his study showed that seaweed aquaculture can play an important role for B.C.’s salmon farmers.

The kelp-growing study involving over 40 fish farms showed good potential in growing seaweed within salmon farm tenures, he said.

It found that excess nutrients from a fish farm could act as a fertiliser for kelp, supercharging the plant’s growth. In addition to kelp providing additional revenue, it will also absorb much of a farm’s waste, and act as a carbon sink.

There are more that 630 seaweed species in B.C.’s 20,000 km of coastline – the world’s most diverse – making it conducive for incredible production and market opportunity, said Dr. Cross.

At the moment, seaweed harvest in the province is mostly from the wild, totalling roughly 800 to 1,000 MT per year.

B.C.’s farmed oyster harvest totalled 7,700 tonnes in 2017 and accounted for more than one-third of the provincial shellfish harvest. Oyster sales in B.C. generated $29 million in wholesale value in 2017 and represented about half of the shellfish aquaculture industry’s value.

Shellfish and seaweed aquaculture in the waters off British Columbia provide numerous environmental and economic benefits to the region, said a global study by scientists from the Nature Conservancy and the   National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

The study, the first of its kind to examine the global potential for the concept of ‘restorative aquaculture’ found the commercial production of shellfish and seaweed will have a net-positive effect on the surrounding environment – filtering polluted waters and providing habitat for commercially-important seafood species.

“Enabling conditions suggest that development of a seaweed aquaculture sector in B.C. could provide numerous environmental and economic benefits to the region, including enhanced nutrient removal, habitat for commercially and recreationally important fish and invertebrate species, and novel employment opportunities,” said Dr. Seth Theuerkauf, aquaculture scientist at The Nature Conservancy and lead author of the study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

“There exists growing interest in seaweed aquaculture in BC, which is consistent with the identified high Restorative Aquaculture Opportunity Index (RAOI) score identified for development of seaweed aquaculture in this region in this study,” Dr. Seth Theuerkauf told SeaWestNews by email.

“Further, across the east and west coasts, Canada has a robust shellfish aquaculture sector,” he said.

“However, as we identified in our global-scale analysis, many high potential regions in the developed world, including parts of North America and Europe, shellfish and seaweed farmers in some locations encounter an inefficient or unclear permitting process, posing constraints to potential development of a restorative aquaculture industry.”

“Further, policy, regulatory, and permitting processes for shellfish/seaweed aquaculture often do not yet incorporate the potential positive environmental value farms can have into decision-making,” he said.

Cascadia Seaweed is now waiting on licencing from the Province of BC to install seaweed with a shellfish farm in the Klahoose Territory.

Last June, one of the smallest First Nations in British Columbia – The Kwiakah – announced it is collaborating with the Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI) at North Island College to conduct wild kelp bed research.

The goals of the collaboration are two-fold: to create a detailed map and measurements of the wild kelp beds and to research the role of kelp in carbon sequestration from the ocean.

The core of the traditional territory of the Kwiakah First Nation which has 23 registered members, includes the Phillips and Frederick Arm region, about an hour’s boat ride north from downtown Campbell River.

It is rich with Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) which contours much of the steep, rocky shoreline throughout the territory.

(Image shows Kennedy Nikel, Applied Marine Biologist and Dr. Jennifer Clark, Phycologist, in Danvers Inlet collecting sori, the reproductive tissues of kelp.)