* Red Asian seaweed is trouble for fishing industry
* Came from Japan, Korea via Europe
By Jason McLure
LITTLETON, N.H., Nov 30 An invasive Asian
seaweed that likely was brought to the New England coast from
Europe has spread across more than 400 miles (645 km) of
Atlantic coastline since it was first discovered in U.S. waters
off Rhode Island in 2009, biologists say.
The Red Asian seaweed is creating problems for the fishing
industry as it gums lobster traps and fishing pots while
displacing marine creatures that feed on native seaweed
"It's outcompeting them," said Matt Bracken, a Northeastern
University biologist who is studying the spread of the plant
known scientifically as heterosiphonia japonica.
"It's better at taking up nutrients, it grows more readily
and is not eaten as readily by animals like snails and small
crustaceans," he said in an interview on Friday.
High school students in Maine recently collected Red Asian
seaweed off the coast of Cape Elizabeth, near Portland, Maine,
the farthest north it has yet been found. It has been sighted as
far south as New York's Long Island. Some New England beaches
have been blanketed with the seaweed, which emits a bad smell
when it dries out.
Red seaweed is native to the waters around Japan and the
Korean peninsula and scientists believe it arrived in Europe in
the early 1980s, probably in France in a load of live baby
oysters that were grown in aquaculture farms.
It has since spread as far south and east as Venice, Italy,
on the Adriatic Sea and as far north as upper Scandinavia.
It likely spread from Europe to Rhode Island in the seawater
used as ballast for cargo ships, scientists said.
Craig Schneider, who studies seaweed at Trinity College in
Connecticut, first identified the red seaweed while walking the
beach in Charlestown, Rhode Island in 2009. "I saw this plant
and said, 'I don't know this, I don't know what this is,'" he
"I brought it back to the lab and I knew in five seconds
after looking under the microscope: oh no, this probably came
The seaweed is likely to rapidly spread as far north as
Newfoundland and as far south as North Carolina, Bracken said.
In Norway researchers found that the seaweed, which clones
itself asexually, extended its range up the coast by 500 miles
(8000 km) in five years, he said.
Halting the red seaweed's spread in the ocean will be
difficult. Bracken said sea urchins, which are voracious seaweed
eaters, could help contain the species. However, sea urchin
levels have declined sharply in the North Atlantic after
fishermen began harvesting the species in recent years to sell
urchins to Asian consumers, he said.
(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Bill Trott)