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Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way
WEB MAGAZINE - September 2018

Consistent innovation delivers higher value in the blue bioeconomy

Sustainable resource management is key

“Developing a strong and global blue bioeconomy is extremely important,” says Árni Mathiesen, Assistant Director General of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department and former Minister of Fisheries in Iceland. “Fish consumption has increased significantly around the world, and we’ve demonstrated that it’s possible to manage sustainable and profitable fisheries.”

He emphasises that the entire blue bioeconomy approach must be based on sustainable resource management, an area in which Iceland and Norway in particular have achieved excellent results.

“There’s been a determined effort in the Nordic Region to improve utilisation of marine raw material, obtain higher prices for the products, and identify new and more diverse ways in which to use the raw material,” Mathiesen says. “The aim is to maximise the value of the traditional use of the catch and then add value to the residue. For instance, the added value of using more of the marine raw material for food, rather than for production of feed, is five- to tenfold.”

Using the harvested biomass in its entirety

Fisheries and aquaculture are important contributors to the economy in each of the Nordic countries. These new and often highly specialised bio-based industries not only improve resource efficiency but also create jobs and livelihoods in even the most remote parts of the region. Since 2014, the blue bioeconomy has therefore featured prominently on the Nordic agenda.

“Optimising the quality of our traditional fisheries and aquaculture products remains a key focus,” says Geir Oddsson, Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland. “However, it’s also time to rethink the way we want to grow these industries, because we cannot take more out of the ocean than the natural systems can replenish. Innovation in the Nordic blue bioeconomy aims to utilise as much of the harvested biomass as possible… and preferably all of it.”

Oddsson is finalising the programme for Iceland’s Presidency of the Nordic Council of Ministers in 2019, which will focus on youth in the Nordics, sustainable tourism and blue growth, with special emphasis on improving the livelihoods of people and communities in remote areas.

"Optimising the quality of our traditional fisheries and aquaculture products remains a key focus. However, it’s also time to rethink the way we want to grow these industries"

Geir Oddsson
Senior Adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iceland

Crossovers with high-tech industries

Previous presidency programmes have addressed everything from the impact of microbeads and other marine plastic litter on bio-based industries to replacing petroleum-based products with marine biomass. The common thread is to develop high-value products through crossover innovation between the primary sector and various high-tech industries.

“This is where the blue bioeconomy concept comes in, focusing on increasing value through methodologies such as biotech and blue biorefineries,” says Oddsson. “We’ve already seen products and services that target entirely different markets, such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and the health industry. One example is Icelandic Keresis, which has developed extremely valuable markets by using fish-skin products to heal human wounds and tissue damage.”

Mathiesen and Oddsson also highlight the textile industry’s use of seaweed and fish skin as an example of new and innovative ways of using marine resources. Apart from being an interesting ingredient for cosmetics and medicine, seaweed is rich in fibres and can be used in sustainable textiles for the fashion industry.

“The use of seaweed and fish skin in textiles provides a new venue and an audience that is very different from traditional innovation in the marine sector,” Oddsson says. “Seaweed and kelp are already significant value creators in the Nordic blue bioeconomy.”

Aquaculture has an important role to play

In the Nordic Roadmap for the Blue Bioeconomy from 2016, increased cooperation on aquaculture was highlighted as an area of Nordic added value that could also contribute to the enormous challenge of feeding the growing world population. In 2017, Norway’s aquaculture industry produced 1.3 million tonnes of fish for food, mainly salmon, making the country the biggest producer in Europe. Drawing on experience from this production, Norway and FAO have joined forces on developing methods to increase food production in aquaculture around the world.

“We cannot meet the increased demand for fish by increasing fisheries from the ocean,” explains Mathiesen. “If the world population grows as fast as expected, the increase must come from aquaculture. We’re well aware that we won’t feed the world on salmon alone, but there’s considerable potential for transferring know-how and technology to farming of other species.”

Active innovation in a widely dispersed industry

This year’s edition of State of the Nordic Region, an annual publication by the research centre Nordregio, includes a map showing landings of fish and aquaculture production sites in the Nordics.

“The map shows that fisheries and aquaculture are widely distributed across the region,” says Oddsson. “This means that the innovation and growth potential in the blue bioeconomy can be crucial in supporting local and regional development and growth. This also applies to other related industries such as ocean-based tourism, which has increased considerably in recent years.”

“There’s significant investment being made in these new growth potentials,” he adds. “You’d be hard pressed to find a port or landing place that’s not actively involved in innovation, whether within established companies, clusters or innovative blue bioeconomy start-ups.”

Crossing the line

As the Nordic Bioeconomy Programme released 15 action points to boost the transition towards a sustainable bioeconomy, a new campaign came to life to tell the stories of the people behind some of the most visible solutions in Nordic & Baltic states.

Dr. Tim Staufenberger is proudly developing a local mussel and algae farm in Kiel, Germany, selling his products not only for food but also to a high-end cosmetics brand. By taking up nutrients from the sea, his business is fighting eutrophication – a major problem in the region due to the run-off of nutrients and minerals from land activities. To see his algae turned into cosmetics, Tim had to transcend sectors and adapt to new requirements and product specifications.


Photo and video: Camille Duran/Green Exchange