Ecosystem-based management of seaweed harvesting
Harvesting wild seaweeds has a long history and is still relevant today, even though aquaculture now supplies >96% of global seaweed production. Current wild harvests mostly target canopy-forming kelp, rockweed and red macroalgae that provide important ecosystem roles, including primary production, carbon storage, nutrient cycling, habitat provision, biodiversity and fisheries support. Harvest methods range from selective hand-cutting to bottom trawling. Resulting ecosystem impacts depend on extraction method and scale, ranging from changes in primary production to habitat disruption, fragmentation, food-web alterations and bycatch of non-target species. Current management often aims for sustainable harvesting in a single-species context, although some agencies acknowledge the wider ecosystem structure, functions and services seaweeds provide. We outline potential ecosystem-based management approaches that would help sustain productive and diverse seaweed-based ecosystems. These include maintaining high canopy biomass, recovery potential, habitat structure and connectivity, limiting bycatch and discards, while incorporating seasonal closures and harvest-exclusion zones into spatial management plans. Other sustainability considerations concern monitoring, enforcement and certification standards, a shift to aquaculture, and addressing cumulative human impacts, invasive species and climate change. Our review provides a concise overview on how to define and operationalize ecosystem-based management of seaweed harvesting that can inform ongoing management and conservation efforts.