Regulation of seaweed farming in South Australia

24 November 2021

Regulation of seaweed farming in South Australia

The push for net zero and reducing carbon emissions have businesses around the world, including agricultural businesses, discussing methods to reduce their methane production.  An emerging South Australian industry focusing on this is the commercial seaweed industry, whereby a specific species of seaweed is grown and dried to then be fed to cattle, resulting in a reduction of methane emissions from the cattle by up to 90%.

Australian researchers at the CSIRO and James Cook University have thoroughly researched this topic, and have established that introducing small amounts of a red seaweed known as asparagopsis into a ruminant’s diet results in a vast drop in methane emissions.  Given Australia has thousands of kilometres of undisturbed coastlines, it is well positioned to host a robust seaweed industry.

One of the immediate barriers to the growth of Australia’s commercial seaweed industry is securing the large ocean leases required for commercial scale seaweed cultivation.


Lease and licence requirements

Seaweed farming in South Australia is regulated by the Department of Primary Industries and Region, through the Aquaculture Act 2001 (SA).  In order to grow and harvest seaweed within the state waters of South Australia, a person must apply for an aquaculture lease and corresponding licence.


The lease and licence requirements vary depending on whether the cultivation is operated within an aquaculture zone or outside an aquaculture zone.

  • Within an aquaculture zone, a person must apply for an aquaculture production lease and corresponding licence. The lease provides access to an area of water for aquaculture purposes, while the corresponding licence provides the authority to undertake specific aquaculture activities.
  • Outside an aquaculture zone, a person must apply for a pilot lease and corresponding licence. Applications for a pilot lease undergo a comprehensive assessment process given they are outside zone policy areas.  Proponents of pilot lease and licence applications must obtain development approval for the proposal, which is a separate application requiring assessment by the State Commission Assessment Panel. 


It is important to note that a person must not carry-on aquaculture unless authorised to do so by an aquaculture licence.  Failure to comply with the requirement to hold a licence may result in a maximum penalty of $35,000.


What is in it for the cattle farmer?

The feeding of asparagopsis offers farmers benefits that extend beyond those of methane reduction.

Farmers that feed asparagopsis to their cattle may be able to obtain carbon credits for their reduction of methane and a premium for milk and beef produced by low carbon-cattle.

It is further likely to enhance feeding efficiencies which will result in cost reductions as less feed will be required for the same level of productivity.  


Future of seaweed farming

As there is currently no large-scale commercial cultivation of this seaweed anywhere in the world, there is now a global race to begin large scale farming.

South Australia has been identified as a primary market for cultivation, with an international company working to commence production of asparagopsis as soon as possible, with predictions to be starting in early 2022.

It is timely that one solution to significantly reduce methane in cattle farming is hitting the market when climate change is at the forefront of the public realm and the IPCC is reporting that methane levels are at an all-time high.  We are expecting increasing pressure on the agriculture sector to improve its methane output, making the importance of embracing new technology especially important. 


This article provides general commentary only.  It is not legal advice.  Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this article, seek professional advice.



Georgia Kramm, Lawyer in our Corporate Team

Direct Telephone:  +61 8 8210 2224