Seaweed Demand Is Exploding in the French Countryside: Here’s a Closer Look

Seaweed cultivation, culture as well as cuisine in picturesque Brittany, France is slowly and quietly getting revolutionized. Scarlette Le Corre, an original French female fisher, says she has eaten seaweed for 35 years and “in good form — eat algae and life is très très belle.”

In an interview with BBC, Le Corre reveals that she first qualified to captain a saltwater fishing boat in 1979, and has since spent the next few decades working in a traditionally male dominated industry. 

Seaweed Farming: A Growing Global Endeavor 

On the rocky coast of this part of France, scavenging for wild algae is a natural pastime, whether for augmenting fishing income or simply collecting wild seaweed, “sea spaghetti” or thongweed, kombu, Irish moss or sea moss, and all sorts of algae by hand with a knife and scissors. 

This quiet revolution is part of the booming global algaculture that is producing over 30 million tons of seaweed every year. Compare the 35.82 million tons harvested in 2019 to just 4.2 million in 1990, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. 

There are, however, a few stark contrasts; European farmers are responsible for barely 1% of world production and favor wild stock, while in Brittany there is a much bigger landscape with a 2,700-kilometer stretch and 1,000-odd islands and islets on the pristine offshore waters.

Seaweed flourishes in temperate water and sunlight, according to Le Corre, which is why it grows in shallow waters near land. What is actually cultivated sea field is often mistaken for a colony of resting seagulls on the water, the BBC report continues. 

Sea Moss in Focus

Sea moss, also popularly known as Irish moss, is a type of seaweed growing year round in tidepools and inlets. It’s commonly harvested around the rocky coasts of North Atlantic beaches and has been traditionally part of the cultures there, including Jamaica and parts of the Caribbean. 

It’s used to extract carrageenan, a staple in baking as well as cosmetic production, but also eaten on its own or manufactured into organic supplements for the health benefits. Sea moss, for instance, supplies a majority of the minerals that the human body needs. 

No other than influential celebrity Kim Kardashian posted about sea moss smoothie on her social account, and this pretty much kickstarted the renown of sea moss outside of usual health food circles and into the mainstream. 

Economic Value and Contribution

In Breton waters, some 850 varieties of seaweed flourish. This alone is responsible for booming French seaweed production that handpicks 5,000 tons of wild seaweed annually and some 35 farmers harvesting 65,000 tons from the local sea fields. The area is among the largest seaweed fields in Europe.

Seaweeds today only produce a tiny fraction of the global supply of biomass. Offshore cultivated varieties, too, do not compete with food crops for land or potable water, so they are thought to provide an alternative source of biomass to sustainably produce food, chemicals, as well as fuels. 

Globally producing seaweed, though, requires understanding why they are currently limited in numbers, promoting scientists and researchers to determine the optimum density within a given population, along with the ideal rate of frequency of harvesting. Exploitation of the commercial seaweed trade is still a reality, making it important to model seaweed farming sites that offer good economic value while providing sustainable conditions in the cultivation sites. 

For the farmer Le Corre, a fistful of seaweed is food for one month. “Everything traditionally done with fruit and vegetables, I do with seaweed,” she says with pride, citing her heritage born from the beaches and her fisher father’s legacy from some six decades ago.