As the federal Liberals try to stave-off more controversy as a result of the SNC Lavalin affair, the government does deserve credit for a wise expenditure of public funds.

On February 12 at the Petit de Grat campus of Université Sainte-Anne, Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner announced $248,816 in funding to the Aquaculture Association of Nova Scotia (AANS) through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency’s Business Development Program.

Over the next three years, the AANS will conduct on-site trials and explore market opportunities for the products they develop. The onsite trials for this project will take place at sites owned by Bounty Bay Shellfish, Louisbourg Seafoods/Cape Breton Bivalve Inc. and in Arichat with Premium Seafoods.

The three-year project will be broken up into two branches. One will be a seaweed cultivation trial, the other part will develop a viable commercial roadmap.

The AANS developed a collaboration with Merinov, a group from Québec, for the seaweed cultivation trials. Merinov has expertise in the development of seaweed aquaculture for commercial purposes and will play an active role in the project.

Dr. Marie Lionard, industrial researcher with Merinov, will be working with all partners during the research phase using the knowledge acquired from research conducted over the past five years in Quebec. She said there are environmental differences (weather, water salinity) between Nova Scotia and Quebec which must be taken into consideration, but using sugar kelp will help mitigate those challenges since researchers are already familiar with that sea plant.

Dr. Lionard explained they will start with seeds in the water in autumn and let them grow over winter, while researchers analyze the seaweed and monitor its growth. Because of weather changes from year-to-year, she said it will be helpful to grow the seaweed over multiple seasons. She added they will also be trying to grow other species in coming years like dulce.

As expected, the news was greeted positively by local politicians, groups and businesses.

Cuzner noted that the presence of industry partners Premium Seafoods, Louisbourg Seafoods and Bounty Bay Shellfish – as well as government and community partners – demonstrated the commitment to work together.

Noting the potential in ocean plants, and the research that’s been done, Cuzner pointed to the iodine, minerals and vitamins found naturally in plants, as well as the “promising cultivation potential” of plants like sugar kelp. A press release from ACOA noted that seaweed has applications as a food, in nutraceuticals and cosmetics, natural health supplements, and agricultural fertilizers.

Dr. Isabelle Tremblay, research and development coordinator with the AANS, said the project has great potential for her group, the businesses involved and the entire aquaculture sector. She noted that shellfish farmers can use existing infrastructure on their leases to quickly and easily change to seaweed. She said seaweed is an important, emerging market around the world, there are plenty of resources in Nova Scotia and people are looking for good quality products.

Bond Jonas, with Premium Seafoods, said she was excited for the Isle Madame company to continue working with the Marine Research Centre in Petit de Grat. With a closed shrimp plant in Arichat, she told the crowd that Premium is exploring ways to renovate the facility to now process seaweed because the company sees the potential for employment in the area.

Not only does this study have the potential to evolve into a new and emerging industry, and can open new markets and avenues for investment, it also offers jobs, and a future in a burgeoning sector.

Regionally, this can further cement Atlantic Canada’s foothold in the growing sea plant industry, but locally the possibilities are far more exciting.

To be able to transform an idle shrimp plant into a fully-functioning sea plant processing facility will make this project worthwhile, even if that is the only benefit to come from it.

But that is not the only impact from this study. Even if the study is inconclusive, local institutions like the Marine Research Centre will gain valuable knowledge and experience with sea plants, will have the ability to continue their research, and can explore innovations in this new industry.

Then there is the complete buy-in from the community and government, which is necessary for this study to proceed, but to have three significant companies in the seafood game come together, share skills, knowledge, resources, and infrastructure – all for the common good – is very encouraging, and will definitely help this study along.

As a result of this partnership, as well as tremendous support from the community, hopefully this study will be the beginning of something special.