Sugar kelp partnership sweetens food hub proposal on Vancouver Island

Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood, Cascadia Seaweed envision growth of industry

MIKE YOUDS

SPECIAL TO THE NEWS

A plan to grow Port Alberni’s seafood industry may well include sugar kelp.

Victoria-based Cascadia Seaweed Corporation and Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood Ltd. have announced a partnership to develop a west coast seaweed venture with processing based in Port Alberni.

“Cascadia Seaweed is putting its first crop in the water in December for harvest in June next year and the best way to fast track this is to be on existing fish tenure,” explained Michael Williamson, Cascadia’s president.

Jointly owned by six Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations, Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood was founded in 2003 as a shellfish development company and expanded into processing in 2015 with the purchase of St. Jean’s Cannery in Nanaimo. Huu-ay-aht and Uchucklesaht First Nations, limited partners in the seaweed venture, have unused tenure adjoining their shellfish tenures, two one-hectare sites to begin sugar kelp production.

READ MORE: Port Alberni pitches for provincial food hub in former Port Fish processing plant

“From my perspective, it’s really important that we build capacity in our area and seaweed aquaculture is something needed out here,” said Larry Johnson, president of Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood. “This is a new product, a new line,” he added. “We’ve had aquaculture in mind for a while.”

The company partnered with North Island College in a pilot project involving four areas, Johnson said. While the seaweed industry is in its infancy on the west coast, there is a lot of demand globally, Johnson said.

“It’s a very good fit,” he said of the latest venture. “We share the same values and principles. It’s a good partnership.”

The city, meanwhile, expects to know by month’s end if Ministry of Agriculture funding of up to $750,000 is available to develop a new seafood processing hub at the former Port Fish plant on Harbour Road, said economic development manager Pat Deakin.

At the same time, Cascadia is discussing its storage and processing needs with the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA), he said.

“I’m excited by the partnership,” said Deakin, who has been aware of the proposal for a couple of years. “The principals of Cascadia are a dynamo of a team.” He’s similarly impressed with Nuu-chah-nulth Seafood partnership and their work with area First Nations.

“The industry itself is large and growing,” Deakin said, noting that the product is valued by the pharmaceutical and nutritional sectors for its nutritional value. It also has environmental benefits, taking advantage of an unused part of the water column and absorbing carbon.

“It’s very gentle on the planet,” Williamson said.

Asia-Pacific is the centre of the global seaweed or micro-algae industry, but North America’s industry is expected to grow faster over the next five years. The Island’s west coast offers ideal growing conditions.

READ MORE: Vancouver Island distillery wins an international award for best gin

Williamson said their plan is to “prove through” the system in 2020 and expand to 20 hectares the following year. He described the Port Fish plant as an ideal spot, if the food hub proposal develops, but said the partnership intends to proceed in any case.

Canadian Seafood Processing was already on board with the seafood hub proposal but will need only a third of the 12,000 square feet available at the former Port Fish plant near Tyee Landing. PAPA has offered to match provincial funding for the proposed food hub. Effingham Oysters, a collective based in Barkley Sound, has also expressed interest.

Port Fish used to process primarily hake and groundfish before it closed eight years ago.

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