Growth in the blue bioeconomy of the North

The communities in the North Atlantic region are all characterised by their dependency on fisheries and other marine resources as a source of food, employment and export income. Innovative and sustainable use of these resources is at the core of a new flagship project, Growth in Blue Bioeconomy in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic. The project, which is led by the Faroe Islands, is part of the Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

By Páll Tómas Finnsson

Circular bioeconomy based on marine resources
Growth, welfare and values are the overall themes of the 2015 Danish Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers. It will continue to explore the innovation and growth potential of the circular bioeconomy, which was also a key feature of Iceland’s presidency project, NordBio, launched in 2014.

Growth in Blue Bioeconomy has been set up to seek ways to create more value from products and services that originate from or are otherwise linked to the marine ecosystems in the Northeast Atlantic and Arctic. The programme will focus on five elements of the marine economy: the pelagic industry, whitefish fisheries, salmon aquaculture, seaweed and biotechnology, and governance.

All efforts to grow the blue bioeconomy should naturally be aimed at ensuring balanced and sustainable use of the ocean’s resources. The programme emphasises optimised utilisation of already exploited marine resources, innovative use of underutilised resources and residual biomass, as well as innovation across value chains, such as fisheries and tourism.

Political framework should encourage bioeconomy innovation
An international conference on the political aspects of a well-functioning blue bioeconomy will be held in the Faroe Islands on 2-3 June 2015. The Growth in Blue Bioeconomy Conference will be organised by the Nordic Marine Think Tank, in cooperation with the Fisheries Cooperation, the OECD and the FAO.

“This conference will look at the political challenges in establishing the appropriate conditions for growth in the blue bioeconomy,” says Ásmundur Guðjónsson, Senior Advisor at the Faroese Ministry of Fisheries. The Faroe Islands hold the presidency of the Fisheries cooperation under the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2015.

The conference will address three key topics from a policy perspective: blue growth at the global and regional level, potential growth in marine industries, and structures hindering or promoting blue growth.

“Differences in political frameworks, like trade and employment policies, production traditions and subsidies, challenge a level playing field for competition, and may introduce market barriers for marine industries,” says Guðjónsson. “Our ambition is to take political measures to facilitate blue bioeconomy cooperation, innovation and growth.”

In addition, the flagship project will allocate a budget of MDKK 4.5 million in the next three years for projects looking to develop the region’s blue bioeconomy.

Residual biomass as a resource
Strategies to prevent discard of catch are a good example of ambitious policy initiatives that have contributed to the sustainability of fisheries. Discard has been prohibited in the North Atlantic for many years, and the EU is now gradually implementing a similar ban. However, these discard bans only apply to unwanted catches, which are discarded because of size, quotas or catch composition rules, but do not cover the residual biomass that could be used to create value in the bioeconomy.

Iceland and the Faroe Islands have taken measures to ensure that all catch is landed as whole fish, but many factory ships, for instance fishing in the Barents Sea, still throw almost two-thirds of the fish, including heads, intestines and bones, back into the ocean.

“We want to take this discussion a step further,” Guðjónsson says. “Our opinion is that everything should be kept on board, landed, and ultimately processed to create value.”

He emphasises that a transformation towards a blue bioeconomy will not happen overnight. This new approach to utilising marine resources calls for a change of mindset in an entire industry, and will in some cases require significant changes to the fishing fleet and processing facilities.

“Therefore, industry actors need to be advised in a timely manner,” says Guðjónsson. “One option would be to place conditions on future fisheries licences and quotas for better use of marine resources. This would allow the industry to adjust its equipment and processing methods to new requirements.”

A broad approach to value creation in the blue bioeconomy
Throughout 2015, the Nordic Fisheries Cooperation will promote the many different ways of generating growth in the blue bioeconomy. As there are limits to how much of this growth can derive from traditional exploitation, new and innovative concepts will be prominent.

One of the activities focusing on new ways of using biological resources from the sea is called The Ocean’s Vegetarian Buffet. The objective is to introduce people in the region to seaweed – a widely available but underutilised Nordic resource – as an integrated part of their diet and gastronomy. Three events will be organised, in Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland respectively, where local chefs and seaweed enthusiasts will introduce this healthy raw material to guests.

Combining coastal fisheries and tourism is another interesting way of creating value founded in the blue bioeconomy, while offering tourists a unique nature experience at sea.

“Coastal fisheries are facing difficulties all around the Nordic region, and we believe that combining these two value chains could be a part of the solution,” says Guðjónsson. “The coastal fishermen’s knowledge on fishing techniques and traditions would be very valuable in tourism.”

Other activities include a conference on recirculation techniques in salmon aquaculture, dialogue about increased cooperation between marine research institutions and the fisheries industry, and a study of salaries and employment conditions in Nordic fisheries.

West Nordic fisheries presented in Europe
Furthermore, the Nordic Fisheries Cooperation will participate in promotion activities targeted at the European Parliament and at an FAO event in Vigo, Spain, the latter on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. These events provides an opportunity to highlight the Nordic region’s commitment to sustainable use of marine resources. According to Guðjónsson, North Atlantic fisheries could serve as a model for fisheries management in Europe.

“Neither Greenland, Iceland nor the Faroe Islands subsidise their fisheries industry. We’re proof that it’s possible to achieve a sustainable and profitable fisheries industry without subsidies.”

“North Atlantic fisheries could serve as a model for fisheries management in Europe”

Development Indicators

Sustainability of fish stocks in the
Nordic, Baltic and Arctic regions
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“Combining coastal fisheries and tourism is another interesting way of creating value founded in the blue bioeconomy”

The Website of the Faroese chairmanship of the Nordic Council of Ministers fisheries programme for 2015
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