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Kiwi company funded $75,000 by Government to try turning pest seaweed into high-value export

A Coromandel business wants to make the most of a pest seaweed by turning it into a sought-after food export.

With buy-in from the Government, Wakame Fresh wants to bring the invasive Undaria, or wakame, to the Japanese market.

As the first recipient of funding from the $40 million Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, the $75,000 investment will be used to test the plan's commercial viability.

Co-owner Lucas Evans said there was a potential for the business' return to be in the range of hundreds of millions of dollars but "this is a humble start".

"[There is] speculation it could represent half of the aquaculture," Mr Evans said.

Co-owner Lance Townsend said the benefits of the venture "can be shared with New Zealand". 

"It's a big future for everybody."

Biosecurity New Zealand said the seaweed is unwanted as Undaria can clog mussel farms and choke out native species.

Seaweed researcher Richard Furneaux said it was about making use of something New Zealand could not get rid of.

Despite its destructive nature, there is a demand for the seaweed from one Japanese company with Japan facing a shortage of the delicacy after the 2011 tsunami wiped out many Japanese seaweed farms.

Shoichiro Kataoka, a Japanese importer, said the export potential of the product could be "endless" as the seaweed becomes more popular around the world.

He said he wanted higher quality seaweed products from New Zealand than other imports from China and Korea.

The seaweed was first introduced to New Zealand in the 1980s. It is now found along nearly the entire country's eastern and southern coastlines.

Undaria has been harvested elsewhere in New Zealand for products like fertiliser but Wakame Fresh is the first company to want to export it as a food product on such a scale to Asia.

Seaweed is popular in Japanese cuisine and is used in dishes such as sushi, miso soup, ramen and seaweed salad.

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It’s got Government funding to test the commercial viability of selling the seaweed to Japan. Source: 1 NEWS