Some years ago i wrote to the scottish minister responsible for the possible big seaweed harvesting industry coming to the country – i urged him to look into the papers we read and not to bow to business pressure.
We have a lot of documents on Chile with emphasis on the environmental disasters currently unfolding – the situation from the reports is dire to say the least.
The Norwegian situation is delicate with seabirds declining in some areas by as much as 70% – as many bird reserves are trawled it is very likely that this has a major impact.
Some areas the plants have dissapeared – the industry is currently harvesting in areas formerly severly predated by sea urchins, we have a number of reports connecting harvesting activities with predation.
The report in its conclusion goes on to say this, apparently Commercial mechanical harvesting on the Scottish coast is environmentally unsustainable, with emphasis on wave damping and destruction of ecological habitats.
Here are the finer details
It is a fascinating glimpse into internation politics when a goverrnment report says that commercial trawling for seaweed is sustainable in other countries but not in scotland – fact is mechanical harvesting of seaweed is not sustainable wherever you are.
It is easy to feel a little bit out of mainstream environmentalism by concentrating on commercial seaweed harvesting – so few of the larger organizations seem to be aware, with most of them concentrating on the same thing the others are concentrating on though hopefully doing a better job. Perhaps this is where the state would like them to be?
So it is with relief to see the occasional article such as this one – seeming to fully support our cause
The purpose of us writing this is to hopefully prevent the Norwegian state and local interests from using the Havforskningsinstituttet papers and its conclusions reviewed here to underpin the present, continued harvesting practice. The reader is encouraged to spread it so it will have an effect.
The research paper “Effects of seaweed harvesting on fish and crustaceans – Nord-Trøndelag 2012, Havforskningsinstituttet, Fisken og havet no 4/2013 was written by Henning Steen, Torjan Bodvin and Frithjof Moy (SBM in the following; the paper is in Norwegian, the title translated.) It was commissioned by FMC Biopolymer, which take financial interest in the positive conclusion that seaweed harvesting (taretråling) has no detrimental effect on biotopes where harvesting is taking place.
The paper’s conclusion seems to be that there is no significant difference in the observed wildlife before and after harvesting. “Apart from increasing the catchability of Goldsinny wrasse (ctenolabrus rupestris), no significant effects of kelp harvesting on fish and crab catches were observed in Nord-Trøndelag in 2012.” (From the English summary.) The wording also can be used in another situation: there is not enough data to conclude with statistical significance that there is a difference in the observed wildlife. From the paper, this also seems to be the fact. The authors point out some of the weaknesses themselves, but this may easily be overlooked. More on this below.
We also question the sampling of species used to conclude whether the harvesting has any effect. Many factors influence the presence of fish right after harvesting, for instance the fact that the harvesting itself makes much food available to e.g. predatory codfish. The sampled and counted species should be the resident ones in the kelp forest, more than the ones that move and do not depend on it so strongly. We recognize the plan to follow up with research in the years after harvesting. However, if the baseline for comparison is as weak as we find here, the later observations will probably not tell us anything about harvesting effects.
The authors seem to be unaware of the weight of the well documented claims that seaweed harvesting has strong negative effects. However, it IS sustainable to claim that research commissioned or sponsored by the largest commercial actor in the business cannot be viewed as impartial. The connection to FMC Biopolymer calls for collecting of other information.
Research calling for concern and greater caution is easily obtained, see some references at the end below.
A brief discussion of the business on a general level is offered below.
On the material collected by SBM:
To be able to make statistically significant (meaning strong) statements, one must have a considerable number of observations. Here we see 2-10 pots used for counting the number of fish and crustaceans. This is completely insufficient. The comparison baseline is essentially useless, as we see it.
It is possible to assess how many observations SBM would roughly need and how much different the numbers of organisms and species would need to be to make any statements. The species sampled among the appx 250 living in the kelp is also significant. (less than 20)This requires a combination of “plain” statistics and qualified marine biologist assessments, and we encourage SBM and other researchers to present this. In our opinion, their discussion of own results does not go deep enough. It might also have undermined the relevance of their work. This said, we do not doubt that SBM have done their considerable field work with good intentions and thorough planning. It’s just that the outcome is inconclusive, that this fact is not clearly stated, and that the conclusion in its fogginess serves their sponsor’s commercial interests. And, the amount of clear findings and conclusions by others should invoke a much clearer statement from SBM: We couldn’t find any connection, but other research indicates that there may well be effects we didn’t see.
On the findings and evidence of others
As Ibsen pointed out in his 1882 drama “An enemy of the people”, the ‘compact majority’ may be wrong. However, we believe that the diverse list of researchers referenced in the following paper should be listened to, and call for greater precaution. In this paper, 45 scientists from 7 countries are acknowledged and are understood to support the statement that Norwegian research is biased. See quote below.
Biased Norwegian reports
Eight of the 45 listed are Norwegians, and we find it encouraging that there are critical voices from within the Norwegian research community, considering that it quite small. Debate and dispute in Norwegian research fora seem to be lacking. If a healthy dispute is actually lacking, it is crucial that other voices from outside are made heard. Our website Stopptt.com is an attempt to assist them, and even be such a voice.
Below the blue-highlighted text in the snip, the authors claim that constant removal of kelp will never allow the macrofaunal community to reestablish itself fully, and that the harvesting “effectively sacrifices that area of seabed of ever becoming a natural community again” until the activity stops permanently.
So, we find it reasonable to believe that were it not for the scale of the economic interest of (a) large corporation(s), the practice would have stopped long ago.
We must also remember that it’s not in the industry’s interest to harvest a pristine kelp forest. The handling and alginate extraction is far easier with a less diverse biomass.
Now, for a wider view on the operations: a piece of simple math says that about 87 km² of seabed is enough to produce the present annual amount of seaweed, with a 5-year harvesting cycle. However, for various reasons concerning the kelp’s quality and alginate content, new areas are sought for a shorter or longer time. Assuming the harvesting returns to the former places, the kelp forest never gets a chance to recover.
We are not against sustainable harvesting, and neither are most of other researchers. With 25.000 km of Norwegian coastline one should think that some kind of harvesting regime IS sustainable. However, until a fruitful and constructive dialogue with the industry is established, we cannot see another solution than requiring FMC Biopolymer to stop its present operations. We realise, regretfully, that this is difficult to achieve until further evidence of damage to the ecobalance is on the table.
Snip from ehs paper on commercial seaweed harvesting
Pertaining this, we fear that Norway’s small research community and close bonds with FMC Biopolymer makes change of operations unlikely in the foreseeable future. We encourage critical voices to make themselves heard more clearly.
In addition to the high harvesting intensity, the operations have even been proven to be illegal at times: In 2011, seaweed harvesting was observed out of boundaries and FMC Biopolymer received a fine. Later, in 2015, they received a fine of 72.000 NOK.
Furthermore, the perhaps minor crime of overloading the trawlers is standard procedure.
Picture of overloaded trawler
The use of formalin to curb anaerobic decomposition of the seaweed at the facilities is more difficult to accept. The substance is banned in most countries for its damage to biotopes, and to human health.
wiki toxic formalin
A closing remark
From a precautious standpoint It is hoped that SBM’s research and conclusions in the referenced paper will be considered non-valid and irrelevant. Steen confirmed in 2013 that he recognizes findings that 80-90% of small fish were gone 1-2 years after harvesting [NRK article], but says more research is required. This should not prevent Havforskningsinstituttet from adopting a more cautious attitude.
If, or when there is a major ecosystems collapse, the integrity of the research community that has supported harvesting will be called into question.
Just one last little snip – this is from research done on the effects of harvesting on seabirds and was not paid for by fmc.
During our foray into the world of Seaweed trawling we’ve had a number of contacts with FMC – both personally through a chat with Ole Damm Kvilhaug who is responsible for FMCs operations here in Norway and second hand through actions my little group has undertaken.
Its almost like fencing – you work at your opponent hoping they will show a weakness.
For a while we concentrated on illegal trawling – we got one prosecution through but any more were heavily thwarted – so we tried overloaded ships – we filmed the trawlers overloaded and went to the Norwegian maritime authorities – yes they said, they do appear overloaded. We were given to believe that there had been an immediate prosecution – the ships were suddenly much less loaded – but that only lasted a little while.
So we filmed the ships again – we were told by the Sjøfartsdirektoratet that they had a visit from FMC and that the quality of our videos were now too poor to pick out any details. As i said fencing.
It brings to mind Monsanto cheerily causing devastation through court rulings against farmers and others – little realizing that it was kicking up a storm of massive proportions – one that is costing them dear.
With all this in mind there is a document produced by the eu on seaweed harvesting problems – essentially i think it says – if you want to start commercial seaweed harvesting and come across any environmental or local governmental problems we will have a team ready that can ease any problems. This is the document –
I have spoken to a number of colleagues about this and it seems to be a major ramping up of mechanical seaweed harvesting everywhere – roll on – the sooner the damage is visible the sooner it will be stopped. NEVER?
We’ll find out!
We sent Net Algae a question on their question form –
Possibly one of the most influential documents on seaweed harvesting has been produced by the Northern Ireland Environmental health services. The document is an assembly of information from every angle – with a view to enabling the industry, that is a sustainable industry. Apparently this is a very important document for the industry.
It is possible the Norwegian model is based on the idea that there is so much that it is not possible to damage or change the ecology significantly using current harvesting methods – unfortunately historically in other countries this is clearly not true. We note that the intensity of the industry here in mid Norway has considerably slackened in the last few months with greater efforts further north in unharvested areas – the information we have that the plants grow back only so many times appears to be true.
This is a snip from the EHS document
It says quite clearly that MECHANICAL HARVESTING could threaten the marine ecosystem –
Many seabird colonies on Norway’s coast are experiencing a massive downfall in population, some as much as 2/3rds – many of these colonies are in areas where seaweed trawling occurs.
The various ornithological organizations we have spoken to say this is due to the ecology being changed by a massive invasion of mackerel – it seems logical to assume that if the habitat for most of the food for the birds is removed, so will the “food ” go elsewhere. In fact the habitat does not even have to be removed for there to be a change in the ecology of the seaweed beds – the plants have a chemical defence against predation – the destruction of some of the plants by dredges would be enough to trigger this.
There is currently a great deal of interest in this matter in Bergens Fylkestingret with questions being asked about who gave permission for trawling in the bird reserves?
Here we can confirm that there is trawling in 97 bird reserves – 35 are open for trawling all the time and the others are supposedly closed during the hatching season.
Thus we have companies and scientists from the uk finding it easier to install wave energy test equipment here than in the uk because one phone call fixed it.
This is enviable for profit but what is the cost of this type of business to the environment?
Norway’s Government clearly relies on the small population and the difficulty of any organized and linked opposition – strict laws are bent or avoided altogether – so while on paper the country looks fine the reality is very different.
In our fight against FMC corp and in particular FMC health and nutrition the company that is commercially harvesting seaweed on the Norwegian coast, we have had several successful prosecutions – but each time some state organization has tried to stop our actions and protect the company concerned – this includes the police and a number of the state regulatory bodies who should know better. Norway, you should be ashamed about this!!
This article came from a friend in the area – she was very distressed at reading this – and so was i – it is quite unbelievable – but our experience seems to bear this out – something dreadful is being allowed to happen on our coast and it is being largely ignored.
When seaweed dies a natural process of bio degredation begins.
This process naturally produces https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_sulfide
among other chemicals. This gas is rated as being of a similar toxicity to cyanide gas.
In other words being near decomposing piles of Seaweed could kill you.
In fact due to the vast influx of seaweed in summer months on the coast of Brittany there has been a recorded death from this very same factor in the last few years – numerous wild and domestic animals have also died.
click to read
This is from the Telegraph Newspaper
To be able to handle large amounts of harvested seaweed Formalin has been found to be the only usable chemical capable of preventing the production of this gas. However formalin has problems of its own.
The eec has become so concerned about this chemical that it has produced strict controls of its use – its use in animal feeds for instance will be banned from june 2015.
click to read
The main concern is its particular connection with various types of cancer, in particular leukemia.
This from Wikipedia.
click to read
To enable the Norwegian alginate industry to function it needs to use a lot of formalin
This is a report of the use of formalin from Fmc in the industry
Essentailly it says that before 2000 Fmc released into the sea over 700 tons of formalin per year – fortunately they now have it under control and the release is down to about 100 tons per year.
click to read Release of over 700 tons of formalin into the sea
Apparently this is the only industry that is allowed to do this.
The building at Smørholm used to store the seaweed looks poor repair – from the outside it looks as if the walls are composed of timbers slotted into place – if there is any proper jointing or plastic lining it is impossible to ascertain from the outside.
One question which has disturbed us considerably is how is the formalin dealt with after use?
Is it washed out and re used? What happens to the waste that must be contaminated with formalin?
How much formalin does the finished alginate contain? Are there any measures for this – has anybody measured this?
We know there are serious health issues associated with carrageenan http://fodmaplife.com/tag/health-issues-with-carrageenan/
Nearly every month there seems to be a new exciting project aimed at seaweed cultivation – perhaps this video may explain why there untimately seems to be so little of it.
It also explains why it is important to have as few animals as possible attaching themselves to the plants – Commercial harvesting on the Norwegian coast is done in such a way as to minimize “fouling” or the attachment of animals, unfortunately this is in wild seaweed forests which cover most of the coast. The effects are very noticeable to those who fish in the zone but so far our polititians have ignored this