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Marine / Seafood industry determined to take the lead on sustainability narrative

‘Taking ownership of the sustainability narrative’ – chair of the Centre for Sustainable Seafood stakeholder body John Goodlad (left) and professor Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

THE NEW Centre for Sustainable Seafood, launched at the Scalloway campus of the University of the Highlands and Islands, aims to become more than just a centre for scientific excellence with a national and international reach.

Judging by the speeches held during the opening event on Monday there is also a clear political dimension in trying to win back the narrative on what the term ‘sustainability’ actually stands for.

Welcoming around 60 invited guests to the Scalloway auditorium, chair of the new institute’s stakeholder group, John Goodlad, said that on too many occasions in the past the seafood industry had been caught on the backfoot by environmental campaigners.

That, he said, is about to change, and the research to be conducted by the new institute is set to play a major part in winning the argument.

“Faced with all the attacks over the years, all the seafood industry has been able to do was to react after the event,” he said.

“Today, that will change; the seafood industry will become more proactive and start to take ownership of the sustainability narrative.

“This centre will undertake independent research on a whole range of sustainability issues crucial for the future of fishing and fish farming.”

The research institute was officially opened by marine scientist professor Ray Hilborn from the University of Washington who specialises on research on how best to manage fisheries to provide sustainable benefits to human society.

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He also spoke about the threat to the legitimate role of fishing and aquaculture in modern western society coming from “urban residents who somehow believe that food comes from the grocery store and appears there without any environmental impact at all”.

“There is no question producing blue foods [fishing and fish farming] in the ocean causes changes, many of which we would like to avoid particularly overfishing, by-catch and habitat alteration,” he said.

“And the role of scientists at UHI and elsewhere is to use evidence-based research to evaluate the impact of blue foods and to find ways to reduce the undesirable consequences wherever possible.”

Work on establishing the Centre for Sustainable Seafood has been ongoing “below the radar” for some time involving a stakeholder group that brings together all the relevant national representative bodies such as the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) and Salmon Scotland.

It also includes the two main accreditation organisations, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), as well as the Fishmongers Company, the WWF and NatureScot.

As such, the creation of the Centre for Sustainable Seafood as part of the wider UHI network is much more than a rebranding exercise of the UHI Scalloway campus, better known locally as the fisheries college or the NAFC Marine Centre.

UHI Shetland principal professor Jane Lewis said the new research institute will be “pulling all the research that is going on in marine science into one centre as part of the UHI” and “reshape what they were doing in a different way”.

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott.

And while much of what was said on Monday was still more of an aspiration of what might be happening in the future, the simple fact that the centre was in the process of being created with industry backing has already helped the UHI attracting some additional government funding, including almost £140,000 towards an upgrade its maritime bridge simulator.

Representing one of the main stakeholders, former isles MSP and now chief executive trades body Salmon Scotland, Tavish Scott, said the new institute is unique in its approach and outlook.

“What the Centre for Sustainable Seafood can be is a mechanism to bring industry together with in this case UHI, and allowing the argument to be made to government and to other external audiences as to why feeding the world from the sea has never been more important.”

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