Seaweed Harvesting & Big Companies

When I first came to Hustadvika in 2004 I was intrigued to see trawlers dragging steel dredges removing seaweed – to begin with it was simply interest then I saw they were everywhere.

Sitting in a small boat, looking over the side in clear water, it is like another world – it is full of small fishes and strange animals – some are so bizarre that they defy the imagination – to look down on this strange world is like flying – then the sheer beauty of our planet hits – everything is locked together – one animal is dependent on another, plants are dependent on other plants and all dependent on seaweed.

Fishing at Hustadvika has always been good – sometimes there are few fish but always there is a catch – the first years here I caught many species – gurnard – the orange ur – small sei were everywhere – particularly to the east by Svartoksen – there was always good sport there and much bigger sei too if you knew where to fish and were brave enough to try shallow water.

But always there are trawlers.

Talking to other fishermen I was told that they ploughed the entire coast – 30 years ago particularly at Færøy – a fisherman from there told me that the fish had disappeared. That the seaweed trawling deppo had also closed.

I found out that they had been doing this for nearly 60 years.  Slowly I began to feel that my dream world of fish and animals was under extreme threat but then it was only a feeling.

Logic told me that it was impossible for a country such as Norway, full of people who study nature and are marine biologists – who indeed are proud of their nature, to allow anything that would jeopardize the environment.  Norway is known worldwide for its love of nature and its pristine coast.

So I began to study seaweed harvesting – the first thing I found was a very large article on seaweed harvesting worldwide – it mentioned Brazil in particular.  How much seaweed it had and how many people were employed in the industry and how much money they made.

Then I found a video from the BBC about seaweed cultivating in Brazil – it talked about the  collapse of seaweed beds from overharvesting, how small communities were starving because  the fish had gone.  Later I contacted marine biologists in Brazil but every time I got to asking them about what happened when the seaweed beds collapsed – the communications ceased.

One of my local contacts Johan and I spent a lot of time discussing seaweed harvesting – my reading of related documents on the internet had really alarmed me – there was so much really vital information that seemed to be completely ignored by every institute involved with marine protection and marine biologists.  Johan was convinced that the boats were harvesting illegally – so we studied them and then began filming.  We sent the resulting video and photographs to the Fiskeridirektoratet.

It appears that indeed they were fishing illegally so now we waited for a prosecution.

Meanwhile the trawlers were endlessly busy – it seemed that they harvested in the same place continuously – how could this be – surely a once over and that would be that – but no they went over the same places again and again – later they were even using search lights in shallow water, why??

Sometimes we would see seaweed stalks washed up with growths of sponges and other animals on the stalks – later all the stalks were bare – nothing grew on them at all, even the blades had very few animals.

Reading a document produced by Henning Steen on seaweed, it is clear that there should be up to 100,000 individuals per cubic metre of seaweed – these stalks and blades were nearly empty.

A document produced by the UK environment agency on the feasibility of seaweed harvesting on the UK coast detailed how it took 7 to 9 years for the animals to come back in full strength in the seaweed forests – it also went on the say that mechanical seaweed harvesting may never be sustainable.  Tare tråling is illegal in the UK.

Environmentally sustainable harvesting

mechanical seaweed harvesting damages the seabed

This is from a document produced by the Northern Ireland environment agency – it is a careful summation of scientific documents from many sources.

Northern Ireland environment agency

Essentially it says that mechanical seaweed harvesting could damage the marine ecosystem.

I decided to educate myself as much as possible on this matter – reading all kinds of strange papers, often on seemingly unrelated subjects.

One thing that did come clear from all this reading was that the 7 to 9 years is absolutely correct.

A paper revealed how seaweed removes tnt explosives from the sea, another how efficient it is at removing nitrogen and phosphates – then i began reading about gold tides – brown tides and more.  It seems that the seas are populated by numerous kinds of algae, some of which produce toxins – nerve agents.  When the nutrients reach a certain level populations explode killing everything in the sea.  Exactly as it does on land – the perfect example is a fish tank – fill the tank with plants and the water is clear – leave it without and it soon turns into a green soup.

Further reading showed how people on the sea and living near actually got very sick from these poisons being brought up in spray and aerosols  (The effects were noted 1 kilometer inland)- It is even possible for it to be picked up by rain and carried many miles.

Harmful algal blooms

hab info


Here at Hustadvika the spray often goes up 50 metres or more into the air, we can actually see it.   Another paper from no less a publication than the medical journal the lancet revealed how cholera had spread over the  west coast of South America in the late 90s – the source apparently was India – over 50,000 people got sick and 500 died.  The way it was spread was by the bacteria clinging to tiny floating algae in the sea – nearly the entire coast is regularly trawled for seaweed – as you know seaweed removes nitrogen and phosphorous – remove the seaweed and other plants take over, just as in a fish tank.   Normally cholera bacteria would sink to the bottom and die.

To say this paper is from reliable sources is an understatement – the bibliography is clear.

Marine enrichment

Peru banned seaweed harvesting in 2008 (but it was ignored)- in 2012 there was a huge die off of large marine animals on that coast – initial reports suggested viruses but eventually official state documents showed starvation was the main cause – many of these animals forage directly in the seaweed forests – sure El Niño (that is a change in the sea currents every 7 years or so) impoverishes the waters considerably and the vast shoals of anchovies these animals mainly feed on moved south, but there is no doubt that seaweed harvesting activity could have had a role.

Articles on HAB – harmful algal blooms on the North American coasts showed how these were spreading over the entire coast – it appears that seaweed harvesting is a huge industry in the states.

I made a film on on seaweed harvesting – with screen clips of documents and films of the trawlers – some later comments were very revealing

“A shame. I was not intimate with the industrial harvest of seaweed in other parts of the world than in Japan & the Philippines where dramatically different & sustainable methods are utilized in cultivating seaweed primarily for food.”

In 2012 there was a meeting at Runde about taretråling – there i met the leaders of FMC Biopolymer the company that harvests seaweed on the Norwegian coast – They told me that no scientific proof exists that Taretråling harms the environment.

At dinner i sat next to a lady who was on the committee overseeing taretråling – when she found out why i was there she told me bluntly that taretråling on the Norwegian coast will never stop and that she personally would see to it.  She was a marine biologist.

The conference was most interesting – the first paper was produced by the Renowned Henning Steen – it was about the distribution of cråkeboller – sea urchins – along the north coast of Norway and their decimation of the seaweed forests.  I asked him directly if taretråling had anything to do with the explosion of the population – he replied there was no connection at all – when i asked him if there had been taretråling where the population explosions occurred he became quite angry saying that there was no connection between taretråling and sea urchins.

Later a paper produced by Svein Håkon Lorentzen clearly stated that fish numbers were severely reduced by seaweed harvesting and some birds did not have sufficient food afterwards – this led to a outcry from Fmc biopolymers who called the paper unscientific and worse – talking with fmc biopolymers later i told them that i felt marine biologists were afraid to speak out if they saw anything wrong with seaweed harvesting – they appeared surprised and said they never experienced anything like that.

Close scrutiny of Lorentzens paper says this

However, these fish, especially medium-sized and large cod, are important predators of early pelagic and settled juvenile stages of sea urchins (e.g. Steneck et al., 2002, 2004). In our study gadids of the size that are considered important predators on sea urchins did not seem to be severely affected by kelp harvest. However, if this had been the case, it could have had a strong negative effect on sea urchin predation (and density) and might have strengthened kelp-forest susceptibility to grazing, especially because kelp forests are also strongly reduced and fragmented due to the harvest itself (e.g. Sjøtun et al., 2006). The kelp harvesting industry is familiar with the risk of increased sea urchin abundance after kelp harvest due to the ‘‘opening of barren areas” (Steneck et al., 2002). A paper showed that lobsters were not affected by taretråling and the researcher had done a great amount of observation but had found no lobsters at all in any dredged  material.  There was also no evidence to suggest that immature lobsters every spent any time in the seaweed forests.

The full paper


In January 2013 we finally asked permission from the fiskeriedirektoratet for permission to peruse the case we initially brought against the taretrawlers over 18 months before.  Johan and i had both been visited by 2 policemen and questioned about what we saw.  Both of us said we saw nothing, but our cameras saw everything.

So we called a policeman on Aukra – we conversed on skype and filmed the conversation.  The policeman treated us like children and did not seem to grasp the fact that the taretrawlers had been caught fishing illegally and with indisputable evidence too.

Visiting the Fiskeridirektoratet  – they watched the entire video and passed it on – we heard later that the prosecution had gone through within a couple of weeks.

Over the time i have been observing the tare trawlers i have formed a theory that the seaweed stalks are better for alginate extraction without epiphytes – in other words the tare trawlers have to go out of bounds to remove seaweed in the nearby areas so that epiphytes do not carry over to the growing seaweed.  The seaweed harvesting company fmc biopolymers is actually treating the entire coast of Norway as a farm for their seaweed – their actions are removing as much of the wildlife as possible but possibly something worse has now appeared.

Since December of 2012 most of the cod caught inshore has had diseased livers.  They are green, brown or nearly black and some are so diminished in size that it is nearly impossible to tell that they actually are livers at all – no other fish seem to have this.

After the harvesting here this year there have been large amounts of seaweed washed ashore – we filmed a great deal and found no animals fastened to the stalks – in one place the seaweed stalks were over 1 metre deep, the smell in February, though cold had begun to be noticeable over the entire Hustadvika.

This smell is very similar to the smell given off by hydrogen sulphide – h2s is a gas given off by decomposing matter in the absence of oxygen.  There has been a great deal of press coverage of the influx of a species of seaweed from the Ulva family on the French and UK channel coasts – as it degrades it produces hydrogen sulphide in such amounts that it has killed many animals and at least one person.

The theory began to emerge that decomposing piles of seaweed on the sea floor must produce h2s – it is well know that many areas of the sea contain h2s and that crustaceans of various types can survive there – it is not illogical to assume that whilst most fish are driven away cod are not entirely, and eat the crustaceans.

So it appears that the sea floor gets a double whammy – the seaweed beds are raked over and any life there is destroyed then afterwards comes poisoning from the decomposing seaweed.  No wonder fish are disappearing from the coast.

We contacted the Mattilsynet in Molde as we were concerned that the fish were poisoned – we were told that the fish were safe to eat – so we sent them pictures of the livers and asked if the livers were safe to eat – the reply told us that it was normal for fish livers to be like this – the lady concerned is a veterinarian so she should know – then we got a link to a internet page which said that one should not eat any fish livers at all.

Further searching showed that there were some 30 places along the coast where seafood should not be consumed under any circumstances – there were many articles about dioxin poisoning as well as that of other chemicals.

Later we were persuaded to bring the liver samples to Molde – I tried to contact NIFES who have a webpage explaining that they are researching fish livers, but after 3 attempts to talk to someone about this i gave up.  On the way back I received a phone call from Inger Mette Hogstad explaining that they did not have the knowledge to check for h2s poisoning and that they had contacted NIFES who also said they did not have the knowledge.  Could i please take away the samples.

The maps produced by the Fiskeriedirektoratet shows that the  coast from Rogaland to West Agder, above Trondheim is the subject of Taretråling.

Seeing the taretrålers in action is like watching a very hungry animal determined to feed – this led to a little research into the company behind taretråling on the Norwegian coast.

The FMC Corporation is based in the USA – it consists of 9 companies – their record is fascinating.

They  received a record fine of 25 million euros for running a price fixing cartel for hydrogen peroxide – a larger fine for the same with phosphate – 1 1 million dollar fine for pollution with cyanide, and natural radiation among other chemicals at the Fort hall Shoshone bannock Indian reservation – 13 million dollar fine for fraudulently inflating the cost of research paid for by the USA government into the development of the Bradley fighting car  and so forth.

One FMC company produces a chemical called Furadan – or carbofuran.  This insecticide was banned by the US government as it killed birds and other wildlife – further research reveals that is is used in many countries to kill large predators such a lions – in fact it appears to have been largely responsible for the  reduction of the number of lions from over 100,000 to less than 20,000 in Africa alone.

An FMC website says the product is safe and should be used as it is indispensable.

Another company mines lithium – this is used in electric cars – the very same ones the press is so busy promoting.

Further papers show that Lithium mining tackles place mostly in the Atacama desert bordering Chile and Peru – it is the driest place on earth – it is also the home to many wild animals who rely completely on the limited amount of water there – the same with very old subsistence farming communities.  Unfortunately the industry requires huge amounts of water – as there is no rain the scarring of the landscape is permanent.  The communities are unable to exist as is the wildlife.

Our contacts with the Fiskeridirektoratet led us to send them printouts of the documents we found on the net – later it was explained to us that they had no access to these documents -Their main researcher is Henning Steen.

It is most interesting to learn that many of the managerial staff at FMC biopolymers come from the Fiskeriedirektoratet.  When we presented documents about the court cases – from the American courts concerning Fmc Biopolymer the director of the Fiskeriedirektoratet told us that it was Normal for a large company these days.

It is clear that something is very wrong with the marine world, with research and outlook – If it is true that hydrogen sulphide is being produced in sufficient amounts by decomposing seaweed  to seriously affect important fish species such as cod then the law is being broken as cod are on the red list of endangered species.

We are no marine biologists – but if we can work it out then why cant the professionals – It is clear our coasts are dying – Fmc Biopolymers operate worldwide – they must have seen every kind of condition in the coasts where they have been operating.

Today the taretrawlers have been filmed in the Hutadvika bay – at the same time the river Farstad elv has been found to be full of dead fish.  So the river is polluted and the pollution is flowing into the sea where it would normally be dealt with by seaweed but that is being removed as i write this 29/04/2013

To finish – we got in contact with a company harvesting seaweed on the Californian coast – the director was a ex employee of Fmc Biopolymers – he told us that the best alginates fetch up to 180 dollars per gram – we know that the maximum load of each trawler is 130 tons – they can do 2 to 4 trips per day – dry weight that is 30%  – of that 30% is alginate – therefore it is not unreasonable to assume that between 5 and 10 tons of alginate come from each load.

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