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World Congress on Cephalopods: Sustainability and Innovation

28/10/2016

About 370 participants gathered in Vigo, Spain, for the one-day conference on cephalopods on 3 October 2016. This was the fifth time that Conxemar, in cooperation with FAO, organized this conference.

In the first part of the conference, the focus was on production and trade of cephalopods in the most important supplier countries, like Argentina, Chile, Peru, Mauritania, and China.
The second part was focusing more on general issues, including sustainability, the EU fleet, and innovation.


Sustainability

John Connelly of the National Fisheries Institute (USA) gave a presentation on sustainability, focusing to a large extent on how the industry is unable to communicate its views and realities about the situation.

In general, the industry seems to leave the initiative the various NGOs, which have their own agendas, often in conflict with the industry. Many of these actually set the agenda for the debate, and in general they present the industry in a negative light. Often it is a matter of how facts and figures are presented and interpreted. What the industry is doing wrong, is allowing NGOs and a negative press to present and interpret the facts in such a way that the industry comes out as the villain.

John Sackton of Seafoodnews.com elaborated further on this. He showed how NGOs have focused their criticism on overfishing, wasteful practices, and diminishing stocks. But as the industry and authorities have changed their practices, introduced certification systems and ecolabels, the NGOs have had to change their tactics. Now they can no longer claim that the industry is irresponsible or unsustainable, so they focus instead on social issues such as labour conditions, child labour and the like. But the industry is increasingly addressing these issues also and making changes in such a way that NGOs will not be able to attach it on these grounds, either. However, NGOs tend to ignore the positive achievements of the industry.

An example of a regional certification programme was given by Jeff Regnant of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI). ASMI has developed their own certification scheme, and have been successful in promoting its industry as responsible and sustainable. Another example presented was the Marine Eco-Label Japan (MEL Japan), which was developed to certify Japanese fisheries and fishing companies.

EU fleet

Angel Calvo Santos of the European Commission presented the 2014 Annual Economic Report on the EU Fleets. This reports contains the main economic results of the EU fishing fleet based on an impressive amount of data collected by the Commission.

In short, the results show that the top countries for fisheries jobs (employment in fisheries) were Spain (23 per cent), Italy (19 per cent), and Greece (18 per cent), while the top countries with regard to the value of landigs were Spain, France, and the UK. The composition of the EU fleet consisted of a total of 86 283 vessels, of which 74 per cent were classified as small-scale, coastal vessels, 25 per cent as large-scale vessels, and 1 per cent as distant- water vessels.

In 2014, the EU fishing fleet continued to improve its performance. Landings per sea day increased to 156 per cent of what it was in 2002, while Gross Value Added (GVA) per sea day increased to 110 per cent of the 2002 value.

Progress in fuel efficiency was also registered. The number of sustainable fish stocks increased, as did the landings per sea day. Fish prices increased, although not for all fleets or all species. There was room for improvement with regard to marketing measures, certification, innovation, value addition, quality etc.

However, there were regional differences. The economic performance of most EU fleets in the Mediterranean region continued to stagnate. In general, the economic performance of the northern EU fleets was significantly better than the performance of the southern fleets.

The economic performance of several small-scale coastal fleets continued to deteriorate, while that of the large-scale fleet was improving. Employment in some EU fleets continued to decline.

Innovation: turning a problem into an opportunity

In the final presentation of the conference, the focus was on innovation, and Brian Takeda of Urchinomics AS in Norway presented how his company is addressing a serious ecological problem and turning it into a commercial opportunity.

The problem is the disappearance of marine vegetation. Kelp forests, which constitute the foundation of the marine ecosystem and serves as a nursery for many fish and cephalopods, is disappearing.

There are several reasons for this, including industrial overfishing, climate change, coastal pollution, etc. But one of the main reasons is the exploding populations of sea urchins. This animal has no brain, no heart or lungs, but extremely strong teeth that can eat through most things, including rock. When they attack the kelp forest, they leave nothing behind except a barren oceanbed desert. This is, paradoxically, also the cause of their own demise, since they find no food in these barren seabeds, and they end up empty and without any commercial value, as opposed to when they are full of roe and worth their weight in gold on some markets.

It is estimated that in Norway alone, sea urchins are responsible for the loss of over 17 million tonnes of kelp. The resulting loss of fish biomass is estimated at about 300 000 tonnes annually. Urchinomics has addressed this problem by consulting with top scientists about where the patches of sea urchins are. They then pick these empty urchins and place them in specially built holding baskets, and return them to the sea. While in the sea, the urchins are fed a specially formulated feed for 12 weeks, during which time they recover and become full of roe again. They are then harvested and sold to markets in Asia for over EUR 120 per kg.

In other words, within the 12 week period, the empty, valueless animals are turned into highly priced products of luxury seafood. At the same time, the urchins are removed from the seabed, and the kelp forests recover to provide the nursery ground for fish and cephalopods again. With the kelp, microorganisms are brought back, and with the microorganisms come the fish.

Urchinomics is cooperating with large corporations around the globe, first and foremost in Japan, where the main market for sea urchins is found, but also in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Several examples of how this method has led to recovery of kelp forests, i.a. in Japan after the tsunami in March 2011, were presented.

 

Read more about the conference:

World Congress on Cephalopods: Overview on Supplies

World Congress on Cephalopods: Markets and Trade

Announcement: #Vigo16: A consolidated yearly appointment for fisheries stakeholders

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