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Growth in the blue bioeconomy

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This article originally appeared in The Circle 04.16. Read all Circle issues here.

The Nordic Council of Ministers (NCM) has highlighted bioeconomy as a key priority for sustainable development in the region. In the North Atlantic part of the Nordic region, the economy is largely based on the ocean and its marine resources, and as Ásmundur Guðjónsson writes, there is an increasing focus on optimising the utilisation of marine resources.

WHEN DENMARK assumed the NCM presidency in 2015 (the presidency rotates between the Nordic countries annually) the Faroese government took responsibility for fisheries and aquaculture and launched the Growth in the Blue Bioeconomy programme. Although the presidency lasted just one year, it implemented three-year programmes to ensure continuity, and some of the projects will continue throughout 2017.

One main project was Everything Ashore (site, in Danish), a feasibility study exploring how to use the whole catch in the fisheries sector and add the highest possible value to the biomass. Analysing fisheries in the Barents Sea, Faroese and Greenlandic waters, the report used a value chain analysis comprising of: calculating the available biomass; calculating the value chain of the existing landings and discard; and calculating the potential value chain of the discarded biomass.

The study concludes that the potential increase in Gross Value Added from bringing the entire biomass ashore ranges from DKK 833 million for silage solution (liquefying the biomass using acid) to DKK 1.142 million for sorting the biomass on-board. This represents an increase of 14 % and 20 % respectively.

In terms of technical and economic feasibility, the study concludes that it is feasible for vessels to bring everything ashore in the Barents Sea and the Faroe Islands, but due to distances and cost of transport, the challenges are greater in Greenland. It also concludes that it is economically feasible to bring everything ashore, but not as profitable as with their current activity. However, since the added value will be created later in the value chain, bringing the entire biomass ashore can enable value creation on land. The greatest Gross Value Added comes from sorting the biomass on-board, which would require time for the fishing vessels to adapt.

Everything Ashore identifies four possible implementation approaches. One is to leave it to the market, which could be insufficient. Another could be vertical integration in the fisheries sector, which has been deemed a key success factor in increasing the utilisation rate in Iceland. Removing barriers to integration between fisheries and on-land value chains could help make it more attractive for vessels to bring everything ashore. The third option is providing various incentives, such as increased quotas, tax incentives, and subsidies or funding, to make it more attractive to land the entire biomass. The fourth option is a legal obligation, which was not recommended by the stakeholders during the project, but which some acknowledged might be necessary.

It is clear that bringing everything ashore could provide significant benefits for the economies of the small coastal communities in the Nordic Atlantic, but different stakeholders expressed differing views towards the concept during the stakeholder analysis of the project. Government officials and Research and Development institutions were more enthusiastic about bringing everything ashore than stakeholders in the fisheries industry. The decision to bring everything ashore is a political, ethical and societal one. To get everything ashore, the project report recommends that authorities must set clear goals for the blue bioeconomy, secure both national and international funding, strengthen industry and research cooperation, and invest in human capital.

Fish skin has a long history as a textile. Mittens made from humpback salmon, Amur catfish, and Amur carp skin. Amur river basin, Russia. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0Fish skin has a long history as a textile. Mittens made from humpback salmon, Amur catfish, and Amur carp skin. Amur river basin, Russia. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0

FISH AND FASHION

I worked at the Faroese Ministry of Fisheries when the programme launched, before I became director at NORA, a Nordic organisation based in the Faroe Islands. NORA implements the two last projects of the programme on behalf of the Faroese government, based on recommendations from the Growth in the Blue Bioeconomy conference held in June 2015. One focuses on blue bioeconomy cooperation between northern small islands and small islands from the Caribbean, the Pacific and Indian oceans etc. A Small Islands forum for sharing practical, policy-oriented experiences in blue bioeconomic growth will be organised together with Commonwealth and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The other project, Fish and Fashion, focuses on marine resources in the fashion industry. Some marine materials are already being used, but the use of marine materials by fashion designers could be expanded. The project will consist of a master class where Nordic designers will be exposed to marine materials such as fish skin, sealskin and textiles made with North Atlantic seaweed. In connection with the master class, there will also be a symposium on sustainable textiles in the fashion industry.

The blue bioeconomy continues to be a priority in the Finnish and Norwegian presidencies, for NORA and for the fisheries and aquaculture sector. These projects and others will help the Nordic Atlantic region optimise the utilisation of its most important resources.

ÁSMUNDUR GUÐJÓNSSON is Director of the Nordic Atlantic Cooperation (NORA).

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