Seaweed has long been part of the crofting and rural lifestyle in the Outer Hebrides, rural Ireland and rural Canada. It has been widely used to turn the rocky, wind swept, infertile shores into small oases where residents used the seaweed to grow their own food to sustain their families. Later, as seaweed-based industries emerged they provided a sustainable income for local people enabling them to feed their families and support their lives on the croft.
Virtually every family in Uist has been affected by the seaweed industry in some way; either it was the first job they ever held, it was the first work they got when they relocated here, or they have a family member that cut seaweed for the factory. There is no doubt that harvesting seaweed is a time-honoured and noble tradition that runs deep within our Island communities. With the establishment of Uist Asco, this tradition is enjoying a renaissance that benefits the good people of the Outer Hebrides.
The resurgence in seaweed operations took a leap forward when in 2017 Acadian Seaplants purchased the existing Uist Asco Ltd. Investment in upgrading the seaweed processing plant and developing the harvesting infrastructure were made to help build the harvest and the industry in Uist.
We have come a long way since 2017. When we purchased the factory there were three workers and only 1 part-time harvester. After two years of work and investment, we now have seven full-time people and two part-time personnel with two more planned to be hired this year. We also have a roster of 14 harvesters. The work we do has also created a lot of jobs for local contractors and other people who provide us with the goods and services needed to grow Uist Asco. We are fortunate that we have many top-notch suppliers who are helping us to realize our company’s potential.
What’s equally exciting for us are the opportunities we’re creating for young people to stay on the Islands. We are very proud that half of our harvesters are younger than 35 years of age and would normally have limited opportunities for employment. Likewise, most of the employees at the factory are under 30, many of whom have moved back to the islands to be with families or to trace their ancestral roots. Thriving businesses like Uist Asco are key to ensuring we attract and retain our young people.
Seaweed in the Outer Hebrides has long been an under-utilized, sustainable resource. The revitalization of the industry is bringing employment opportunities for our young people, developing professionals as well as helping expand the overall socio-economic ecosystem in Uist by providing support for youth programs and local initiatives.
We are enjoying a seaweed renaissance in the Outer Hebrides – one that is guided by resource science and sustainability. We believe this is only the start of an even brighter future for our coastal community. Want to read more, please visit our website www.uistasco.com
The author, Jean-Pierre (JP) Brien, is Uist Asco’s Project Manager.
Scottish Seaweed, Harvested Sustainably, for a Better Future.