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Macroalgae production in Northern Europe: Business and government perspectives on how to regulate a novel blue bioeconomy


Macroalgae biomass production, understood as cultivation and harvesting, is a minor industry in Europe atpresent, but the sector is recognized as having substantial growth potential. Here, we framed the environmental license as a boundary object between business and authorities and investigated the details of macroalgal licensing procedures in seven Northern European countries (Finland, Estonia, Sweden, Germany, Norway, Iceland, and Scotland). We conducted surveys and interviews with macroalgae companies and licensing authorities to understand the challenges faced by both sides. Generally, macroalgae production in Northern European countries is regulated by environmental and water laws and is not included in maritime spatial plans. Private actors need to apply for an environmental, water and/ or fishing permit to start operations in this sector, often with several authorities involved. The companies expressed their dissatisfaction with non-specific laws and burdensome licensing procedures that may delay or even prevent the start-up. The authorities highlighted the lack of scientific environmental risk assessments of macroalgae production and the need to resolve possible conflicts with other marine sectors. Companies need the license to access markets while authorities view the license as a tool to enforce environmental legislation. As a boundary object, the license is the result of correspondence and cooperation between companies and authorities. A one-step licensing procedure for macroalgae production should be applied to encourage this business and to facilitate the compliance of legislation. In addition, macroalgae related activities should be recognized in the national maritime spatial plans to facilitate long-term planning.

Application in MSP:
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Stage of MSP cycle:
Cross-border / trans-national aspect:
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Questions this practice may help answer:

  • What do macroalgae biomass production businesses expect from government regulation and from the licencing authorities?
  • What do government regulators and licencing authorities expect from the macroalgae biomass production businesses?

Implementation Context:

The global macroalgal was estimated to be worth 8.45 billion USD in 2018 and projected to grow at an annual rate of 8% (Macroalgae Market, 2019). Asian countries lead macroalgae production, accounting for 99% of the global cultivated production. Wild harvesting has traditionally been more dispersed globally. Chile, China, and Norway are the three countries with the largest naturally growing harvest. Macroalgae industry in Europe is small but emerging, with 150 companies mostly located in Spain, France, Ireland, Norway, United Kingdom, and Denmark. A specific regulatory framework on macroalgae harvesting or cultivation is lacking in most countries. In the EU, the main regulations are the Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive 2014/89/EU, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive 2008/56/EC, the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC, the Alien Species Regulations 1143/2014/EU and 708/2007/EC, and the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive 2011/92/EU. The Organic Food Regulation 2018/848/EU has specific rules for the cultivation of organic algae (Part III: Production rules for algae and aquaculture animals, 2. Requirements for algae).

A barrier to aquaculture growth in general, and to the emerging European macroalgae industry in particular, is social acceptability, also known as the social licence to operate. The macroalgae industry often mentions legal barriers as a limiting factor for its development.

Aspects / Objectives:

The study investigates macroalgae production licencing in Northern European countries, including countries from the Baltic Sea and the North Atlantic regions. The study aims to identify the specific issues that cause the challenges or difficulties in macroalgae legal licencing.


The study conducted a literature review on different case studies (Finland, Estonia, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Scotland), gathered the information, contacted relevant actors by mail and circulated a survey, ran Interviews and performed a data analysis per case study, comparing the results with the literature review.

Main Outputs / Results:

All companies observed the same challenges: non-specific regulation and a complex licencing process, including several authorities involved in granting the macroalgae cultivation licence. Macroalgae biomass production, and particularly its cultivation, is lacking specific regulation in the Northern European countries. In addition to legal barriers, some companies recognise broader social-economical barriers, e.g. high production cost, funding problems and lack of social acceptance.

The authors recommend Incorporating macroalgae cultivation in the national MSPs to facilitate long-term planning and streamline and simplify the licencing process by defining one-step and specific macroalgae permits, without the need to contact several different authorities.


This approach is repeatable to assess the barriers hampering the development of emerging sectors which are active in the marine space.

Responsible Entity:

Finnish Environment Institute, Marine Research Center, Agnes Sj¨obergin katu 2, 00790 Helsinki, Finland

Costs / Funding Source:

Finnish Environment Institute, Marine Research Center, Agnes Sj¨obergin katu 2, 00790 Helsinki, Finland

Contact person:

E-mail addresses: (teresa[dot]camarenagomez[at]syke[dot]fi) (M.T. Camarena-G´omez), (anu[dot]lahteenmaki-uutela[at]syke[dot]fi) (A. L¨ahteenm¨aki-Uutela), (kristian[dot]spilling[at]syke[dot]fi)