The commercial exploitation of seaweeds for use as food and for the production of agar, alginate and carrageenan is outlined. The quantities of seaweed harvested for each purpose are tabulated and discussed. Seaweeds for food are derived chiefly from China, Japan and Korea, with almost 94% obtained by cultivation. Alginophytes are collected in 15 countries but six of these account for more than 80% of the total harvest; all are from natural stocks except for a large quantity of Laminaria cultivated in China. Natural carrageenophytes, from 12 countries, now account for only 20% of the total harvest; the remainder is cultivated Eucheuma species, 99% of which is produced in only two countries, the Philippines and Indonesia. Of the four categories of commercial resources of seaweeds considered, agarophytes are spread more evenly over a greater number of countries; they come from 20 countries and only five of these are minor contributors to the total. Gelidium species are particularly important because of the high quality agar they yield; their distribution and location are discussed.