Our oceans carry us. They give us oxygen and they trap carbon dioxide. They feed us and secure wages for 40 million people around the world. They bring us joy and they show us beauty.
But we don’t get our oceans in return. We take more from them than can be replenished. We destroyed half of all coral reefs. 90% of large fish populations are depleted when a billion people depend on the oceans for their main source of protein. What can we do when time is running out?
For World Ocean Day on June 8ththe, we brought together four experts from Scotland, Nova Scotia, Oslo and New York to discuss an important way to reduce pressure on the oceans: technology-driven fish farming. I hosted an inspiring session where the speakers – everyone an ocean lover – shared their vision for sustainable aquaculture, the technologies they are using to make this possible, and the barriers that need to be overcome.
World Ocean Day: Starting signal for a decade full of opportunities
“World Ocean Day celebrates how amazing and fantastic the oceans are, but it is also a rallying point for action to protect our oceans,” said Mhairi McCann, Founder and CEO of Youth STEM 2030 and member of the World Ocean Day Youth Council. At the start of the UN Decade of Marine Sciences, “we are at a crucial point in making the difference we need to protect this valuable resource for generations to come”.
Changing the reputation of aquaculture
Given its mixed reputation and calls from some quarters to avoid fish altogether, is aquaculture really the way to go? Jonathan Grant, professor in the Department of Oceanography at Dalhousie University, Canada, recognizes that negative, misinformed public opinion about aquaculture is an obstacle. “The idea that we cannot sustainably breed animals in the ocean is just not right,” he said. Quoting the 50% of people in developing countries for whom fish is a major source of protein, Mhairi McCann said that any attempt to discourage them from sourcing fish would be disproportionately unfair.
No sustainability without transparency
For Steinar Sønsteby, CEO of Atea, transparency is the basis for every sustainability initiative. Atea has partnered with the Norwegian Seafood Association and used it Blockchain to provide partners on its journey with information about the life history of the Norwegian salmon: from Industry Buyers to customs authorities and finally to guests in restaurants. Donna Lanzetta, CEO of Manna Fish Farms, believes, “As a marine producer, we have to take responsibility. Going out to sea is a privilege … and it has to be made transparent in order to engage with society. “
Technical innovation along the entire value chain
In view of the urgent need for action, which technology options can already be used in aquaculture today?
- Jon Grant made breakthroughs in Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), which he describes as “resolving conflicts between different users of the ocean so that everyone can use the ocean sustainably”. MSP is similar to land zone planning, but is much more complex in the underwater and lesser-known ocean environment. Manna Farms uses MSP to “identify any type of marine habitat reef or potential life and design our farm in a location with the least impact,” said Donna Lanzetta.
- Jon has also joined a broad group of industrial and academic partners on an EU-funded project called. connected GAIN (Green aquaculture intensification in Europe). Among other things, GAIN embeds sensors and monitors in fish and fish farms, and analysis and machine learning technologies are applied to the collected data. The results help farmers make real-time decisions, prevent environmentally harmful activities such as excess feed and fish leakage, and predict the effects of various circumstances on the surrounding waters and on the welfare of the fish themselves.
- The data collected in the aforementioned blockchain project for Norwegian salmon is useful for the entire value chain – from Governments to customers to suppliers. In an industry in which the bad practices of some actors lead to doubts about their true origin and sustainability von Fischen “The nice thing about the blockchain is that data cannot be manipulated after it has been stored there,” said Steinar Sønsteby. Before long, people in restaurants will be able to put the life story of the Norwegian salmon on the menu using a QR code.
- Fish farming data captured on the blockchain could also be used as evidence of obtaining official sustainability certifications, which are becoming increasingly important for traders and buyers of fish.
The challenges of accessibility, education and inclusion
strives to involve smallholders in our initiatives to develop sustainable agriculture. The same should be true for aquaculture. Steiner Sønsteby pointed out the challenge that many fish farms are neither digitized nor are their owners digitally savvy. Atea had to convince and educate an entire industry of data and Blockchain. As technologies move forward rapidly, small players in aquaculture need to know what solutions available and how to use them.
Donna Lanzetta called for the public to become more “sea-savvy” in order to interpret the available data and understand the importance of certification. “Please make sure the young people’s voices are heard,” said Mhairi McCann. Even if they are not tech savvy – or sometimes lack access to technology – young people care about oceans and they need the opportunities and support to make a difference.
We are at this point …
World Ocean Day is an important time to pause and think about what the ocean has to offer and how we can use technology to give back. I really believe we have got to this crucial point where individuals, nations, companies and organizations are starting to develop sustainability through the aquaculture value chain. It was enlightening to have such an open conversation with Mhairi, Steinar, Donna and Jon about their experiences and their vision of using technology to improve our oceans.
Click here to see the entire panel (60 minutes).
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