independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Beyond the sea

Frank Melvin, seaweed harvester in Carbra, west Sligo

Back in the late 1980s, Frank Melvin decided to become a seaweed harvester in rural Cabra, west Sligo.

Back in the late 1980s, Frank Melvin decided to become a seaweed harvester in rural Cabra, west Sligo.

The seaweed trade was miniscule then, but now it's become a global phenomenon.

Frank said that his company, Carrigfhada, exports a lot of its harvested seaweed out of Ireland.

Much of it is used either for the cosmetic or food industries.

He said: "When I started off, it was more the traditional seaweed, such as Carrageen moss and Dillisk seaweed that we picked.

"We graduated then into the likes of kelp.

"We've expanded over the years into harvesting eight different types of seaweed."

Frank explained that different coastlines produce different qualities of seaweed.

"The coastline is exposed along west Sligo, say from Enniscrone to Rosses Point.

"Because it's not like other parts of the country, take the Cliffs of Moher, where there is a steep drop, the land gradually drops here.

"This leads itself to the growth of high value seaweed."

He said that in some regions, such as county Donegal, coastlines could be more sheltered with inlets and seaweed doesn't grow as well.

The uses for seaweed are plentiful.

"We sell to the cosmetic industry, including hotels and spas.

"A lot also goes to the food industry.

"We sell a good bit to Britain, and Tokyo too, although they are producers themselves."

Frank's son, Damien, took over the running of the business this year.

Frank quipped: "I'm what you'd call semi-retired, and I've never been working as hard!"

Business is booming of late.

"This year has seen a 20% increase in sales. This is huge.

"Like any industry, it takes a while to get going.

"More and more people are interested and using seaweed now.

"Traditionally, it was that you would chew dillisk until you were fed up with it.

"Today, it's totally different, there's nothing in the sea that is not good for you."

Frank added that plenty of research has gone into the seaweed industry and its benefits.

"We work under a license from the Department of Marine Natural Resources.

"There are particular times that you cannot cultivate the plants."

Frank said: "We take in the seaweed in by tractor container, then the drying process begins.

"This can take between 24-36 hours.

"The seaweed is packaged and then sent to various locations."

He added: "At present it is not overloaded with harvesters and hopefully that will continue."

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