2.1 Review of seaweed use
2.2 Review of harvesting regulations
2.1.1 Domestic use
2.1.2 Industrial use
Seaweed harvesting is an age-old activity in the Western world. Seaweed has two uses: domestic and industrial.
Prior to World War II, seaweed was dried to be used as fuel during the winter. On Batz Island, shore weeds gathered in September were reserved for this purpose. This seaweed was sometimes ground and combined with cow manure. The resulting mixture, or "glaouad", was formed into flat cakes, stuck to the walls of houses, and left to dry.
126.96.36.199 Food for human consumption
In general, authors who write of seaweed as food for human consumption refer to use by northern populations (British Isles, Iceland, Scandinavia). In Brittany, human consumption of seaweed is restricted to a very particular use. Chondrus crispus, dried and bleached, is boiled in milk. As it cools, it jellifies and is similar to flan or custard.
188.8.131.52 Animal feed
Palmaria palmata bears the Breton name "bijin-saout", or "cattle-weed". These seaweeds were widely used as feed for livestock. According to Dizerbo (1974), cows roaming on Batz Island and Sein Island sought out this seaweed to graze on. Sauvageau also observed this in 1920 and remarked that the inhabitants of Ouessant even created paths through the rocks so that their animals could reach the seaweed without the risk of breaking their legs. Palmaria is even used as food in the stables of Sein (Richard, 1958).
These practices are widespread on the Scottish island of Lewis (Hendrick, 1916), in Iceland and the Scandinavian countries.
During World War I, military authorities hoped to use dried seaweed to replace oats and fodder, then in scarce supply. Experiments showed that Fucus could indeed be used, just as we add seaweed meal to livestock feed as a source of vegetable protein today.
In the past, because farmers kept few animals and were unable to accumulate large quantities of manure, it became customary to use seaweed as a fertilizer. Seaweed of the genus Fucus were most highly prized. Agricultural use of seaweed is recorded as early as the 14th century. In the 19th century, collection of shore seaweed gave rise to a veritable industry, strengthened by the 20th century appearance of railroads in the Saint-Politaine region. Seaweed arrived from every coastal area to provide fertilizer for local agriculture. The development of chemical fertilizers, however, caused this industry to decline.
184.108.40.206 Glass production
Soda is one of the ingredients used in the synthesis of glass. Wood ash was gradually replaced as a source of soda by the ash of certain coastal plants of the Salicaceae family. By the end of the 17th century, glassmakers in the Cherbourg region replaced these plants with seaweed ash. Not until after 1790 were these products replaced by the industrial soda produced by the new process perfected by LeBlanc.
In 1812, an army chemist by the name of Courtois, experimenting with seaweed ash in the processing of saltpeter, discovered a new substance which he named iodine. Its therapeutic uses were soon discovered. The chemical industry became involved and, as early as 1825, the Couturier factory of Cherbourg was producing 400 kg of iodine per year. The first factory specializing in the production of iodine from seaweed ash was founded in 1829 at Conquet. After 1860, there were a dozen factories producing 60 to 70 tons of iodine per year. Production then stabilized and has remained at this level.
Although Stanford first isolated algin in 1883, it was not until the early 20th century that a small-scale algin industry was created at Pleubian in the Côtes-du-Nord region. This industry was relatively unimportant until the disappearance of iodine factories around 1955-1960. French algin production (1,000 tons annually) has a great deal of competition on the world market at present.
Carrageens, like alginates, are colloidal substances which appeared on the market after 1885-1890. The current reduced harvest of seaweed cannot meet the needs of the carrageen industry, which now relies on imports.
Desouches (1962) informs us that the seacoast was defined as royal property under Charlemagne, although the principle of royal sovereignty over the coastline was not applied everywhere. In Brittany, Article 8 of the "Laws and Customs of the Principality of the Léon" specified that residents of coastal parishes had the right to collect both driftweed and shoreweed (Hevin, 1693).
In 1681, Colbert issued the important Marine Ordinance, intended to promote the organization of a French Merchant Marine, the development of the fleet and port system, and to define the status of French seamen. The Ordinance is composed of five Books. Title X of the fourth Book contains a special passage concerning seaweeds.
Title X of the Ordinance:
Pertaining to the harvesting of seaweed
Article I - The Inhabitants of coastal parishes will assemble on the first Sunday of the month of January of each year, following the parish mass, in order to determine the opening and closing dates of the annual harvest of the seaweed found in the sea adjoining their territory.
Article II - The assembly will be convoked by the church wardens or parish treasurers, and the decision of the assembly will be posted at the principal door of the church. Failure to do so will result in a fine of 10 livres (pounds).
Article III - The inhabitants are forbidden: to cut the seaweed during the night and at times other than those determined by the community, to cut the seaweed elsewhere than along the length of the coast of their parish, or to transport it to other territories, failure resulting in a fine of 50 pounds and confiscation of their horses and harnesses.
Article IV - It is forbidden to all lords of coastal properties to appropriate for themselves any portion of the rocks where seaweed grows, to prevent their vassals from gathering it during the open season, to demand anything of them in return for the right to gather it, or to allow non-residents of the parish to participate, failure resulting in punishment for misappropriation.
Article V - The right to gather any and all seaweed cast upon the shore by the tides, and to transport it where they will, is granted to all.
Subsequent changes in regulations are many. Laws regulating the actual harvesting of seaweed (see Appendix) evolved gradually, often in response to the demands of those concerned. Although the open season was sometimes determined arbitrarily (as in 1731), the need was recognized for a more flexible system which would allow the municipalities themselves to determine the dates best suited to local conditions. As the Revolution abolished privilege, the revolutionary governments decided that seaweed was a public resource which should be accessible to all. This position was later abandoned, however, and seaweed once again became the property of coastal populations only (Decree of 18 Thermidor, Year 10).
Among the measures which should be mentioned are the allocation of bottom weed to registered sailors (1853) and the official definition of a coastal resident (1890).