The National Sea Grant Law Center


  • NSGLC in the Field- Continuing our Work on Seaweed Aquaculture

  • March 5th, 2020 — by Catherine Janasie — Category: Aquaculture

  • This week, the National Sea Grant Law Center (NSGLC) traveled to Providence, RI to participate in the National Seaweed Symposium. Seaweed aquaculture is a budding industry in the United States, and the Symposium is part of a Seaweed Hub that will be run by Sea Grant programs on the East and West Coast, as well as the NSGLC, over the next three years.

    As a first step, the Seaweed Hub completed a needs assessment for the seaweed aquaculture industry. The need assessment identified four major issues for the Seaweed Hub to work on: market opportunities, regulations, post-harvest opportunities and infrastructure, and production systems. This week’s Symposium formed work groups of seaweed growers, processors, researchers, and regulators to address these four themes. Sea Grant extension agents served as facilitators for these work groups as they tackled these issues over several days. Based on these initial discussions, the work groups will convene virtually over the next couple years to continue their work on tasks identified at the Symposium.

    The NSGLC served as facilitators of the regulations work group, which was tasked with considering clear regulations, how to best provide information on permitting, and food safety. Through its discussions, the regulations work group identified multiple objectives to focus on, including working on standard operating procedures for seaweed processors, compiling details on the permitting and siting process in seaweed producing states, including the needed permits and points of contact, and addressing food safety issues.

    Food safety is a major issue currently facing seaweed growers. While the foreign seaweed industry is well-established, the domestic industry is still emerging. Seaweed in its whole form has not been approved on the federal level as a food product. The USDA regulates the classification of farmed kelp and other algae as organic, but not when sold in its whole form. The organic classification only applies when seaweed is an ingredient in livestock feed, fertilizer, or food for human consumption. Likewise, the FDA has only approved some seaweeds as additives, including kelp, brown algae, and red algae.

    Due to a lack of federal guidance on the food safety risks of seaweed in its whole form, states are unsure of how to proceed with their own laws and regulations. The NSGLC has previously conducted research into how states are approaching the regulation of farmed seaweed as a food source. While several states have implemented regulations governing facets of seaweed aquaculture, no state has enacted a law or regulation specifically addressing food safety inspection for farmed seaweed.

    As states begin to tackle this problem, inconsistencies may emerge in state regulatory programs that could pose challenges for the industry, especially with respect to interstate sales. As a result, the NSGLC is working to develop a model state framework for the regulation of the sale of seaweed as food. This project will run concurrently with the NSGLC’s other work with the Seaweed Hub.

  • Catherine Janasie
    Senior Research Counsel

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