Seaweed Snack Innovator Harvests His Underwater Garden
When Ash Sutton realised the seaweed growing on his farm off the West Australian coast had a similar texture to lolly snakes, he started thinking about his next business move.
"It's such a cool-looking product. I thought, I won't refine it, I won't process it, but wouldn't it be good if that actually tasted like a lolly," he said. "It has a very elastic sort of feel to it, and hence I thought this would be good and a little chewing snack."
It's been four years and taken "a lot of chequebooks" but he is about to launch two seaweed-based products as alternatives to lollies and jerky.
The process of transforming the red spinosum into edible products is a closely kept secret. Mr Sutton says the products contain "nothing artificial" and are sweetened with honey collected from his farm at Greenough, just south of Geraldton.
"It's straight from pretty much the ocean in the mouth," he said. "It's gone through rigorous shelf-life tests...government red tape has been hard work, but [with] persistence ... it's very exciting to be able to get it to the consumer."
Mr Sutton's seaweed farm sits in the southern group at the Abrolhos Islands, 60 kilometres off the coast from Geraldton. Howling winds and swell have made for a difficult farming journey to find the balance between the seaweed getting enough sunlight and shelter from the strong ocean currents.
"You see the cold fronts arriving and you come out the next week and all your stuff is spread out off the lines. I've had to move my location a couple of times because of the weather," he said.
But the isolation of the Abrolhos makes the water pristine, and ideal for seaweed production. "It's a lovely spot, you're away from the riffraff and so is the ocean. The ocean out here is really pristine, doesn't get affected by any of the farming effluents coming off the land or anything like that."
Mr Sutton lived in Asia for ten years where he noticed "seaweed was just about on every menu and a normal part of life". When he returned to Australia he decided to try his hand at seaweed farming.
It was a homecoming, after spending his earlier years working in the commercial fishing industry around the Abrolhos Islands. "I thought, well, buggered if I'm going to go commercial fishing. I still love to work on the ocean and I'd love to do a sustainable business for the environment and the ocean," he said.
After obtaining a permit to capture fifty kilograms of wild seaweed stock he began his farming operation.
"It's like a big underwater garden and after four years of diving and looking at seaweed, you sort of work out, hang on a minute, it's not growing so good here and it only works under that amount of light and the amount of coral," he said.
"After it grows out to a certain size, which is about three months, I'll come along and harvest the cuttings, and it'll still keep growing.
"So it's really sustainable. It's like you don't touch the environment ever again."
// JOANNA PRENDERGAST
© Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.
Brilliant. Where can I buy it ? (A google search brings up the other weed mostly).
Sounds like it's not on the shelves just yet:
I'll try and find out when and how it can be bought.
Instagram page not found?
Here you go:
What a legend. Having a go and making the world a better place. Living La vida pirate!
Good on him, I wish Ash great success.
If I'm not mistaken, irrespective of taste, I've been led lead to believe that there are no toxic seaweeds or kelps.
He should do a trip here and check out the myriad of seaweed snacks and sweets we have here.
Ash, well done fella. I know this will inspire others to do the same. Can Australia shed its horrible environmental record and start a new revolution of using plant life as a local or exportable commodity and substitute all those hard hoofed animals that are destroying the very earth they walk on, come on, we can do it ?
This is fantastic. Can't get any cleaner waters than the Abrohlos Islands. Combined with honey from around Greenough. Great idea! I was only talking about harvesting seaweed for human consumption in Oz the other day. Sounds like a lot of hoops to get it to commercial reality. Good luck to him.
Please update us on availability, what an awesome idea. If only we had a viable alternative to the plastic packaging. Any ideas anyone?
The plastic packaging is apparently recyclable? That's only taking their word for it - read it in an Instagram post - but if/when more info comes out I'll include it.
problem with the packaging - and he's not alone with this challenge - is it might be 'recyclable' but 99% of it will be either littered (accidentally or whatever) or landfilled at best; maybe even ending up in the ocean. 100% we have to shift away from using plastics at all.
Some good alternative "plastics" are coming into production. Biopolymers from seaweed, plastic wrapping from food waste - https://www.greatwrap.co/pages/why-compostable. Its starting to happen.
The potential of seaweed is amazing. A familiar part of other cultures diets (e.g. Ireland, Japan, Nova Scotia, Indigenous Australians etc). Combine this with multi-trophic aquaculture systems (seaweed, shellfish and fish grown together with very little inputs) and we have a very nice sustainable food system model. The art is in the introduction to the consumer - so massive props to Ash for being one of the pioneers.
Thanks stanfrance, greatwrap looks to be a great place for us all to start.
Good on ya mate.
that photo. looks like if ELo never met Oprah
pretty cool idea. i like me jerky so im looking to forward to giving this a burl
No breakfast, solid meal at 11, chew on some jerky and a beer at 5 ish, dinner at 7, fall asleep on the couch at 8
We on the same diet?
Awesome. Ash looks like quite a character.
Don't you just love the smell of a seaweed farm in the morning ? I do.
I can appreciate the effort he's gone to to get it to the market stage. The processing room on the instagram site looks well set up and hygienic . I imagine the Safefood and AQIS hurdles would have been very high .
From Agrifutures (au) regarding an emerging seaweed industry..."In the early stages this will require a cautionary approach that is more, rather than less rigorous than for other crops, while the industry is in development."
Kudos. Looking forward to trying it.
Indo's (on Lembongan) had been harvesting seaweed from farms for the Asian market during the 90's but abandoned it for tourism $$$. Covid lodkdowns & tourism goes belly up so they start seaweed production again in order to survive lack of torist $$$. Tourists returning, hopefully seaweed production continues as a sustainable eco friendly alternative for the Indonesians. Well done Pirate on your seaweed venture in The Abrolhos hopefully a GR8 success.
Fascinating! I love nori and sushi… I can’t wait for this.
BTW Balinese still harvest seaweed … everywhere from nusa dua to nusa p and probably heaps of other places I haven’t even heard of .
Captain Blackbeard seems to have hit on a winner. BTW I like my seaweed steamed with a dash of Frank's sauce.
I'm ready to buy some and support you for all your dedication and hard work. When are you selling ? Need to know to order from Wollongong NSW.
I hope they taste like biltong...love biltong but apparently it isn't healthy to eat every day.
Great name. Good luck with the product and getting it on the shelves an to the consumer. I look forward to trying the weed.
This is awesome. Loved going out to the islands.