Food from the Oceans: a public debate in Bergen

Food from the Oceans: a public debate in Bergen

Panellists at the debate

As part of the public event organised to mark UNESCO Sustainable Gastronomy Day (18th June), the Academia Europaea Bergen Hub hosted an open debate on the theme of Food from the Oceans. Food from the Oceans is a current topic within the European Scientific Advice Mechanism, with an evidence review report due by the end of the year.  The work is led by SAPEA (Scientific Advice for Policy by European Academies) and is coordinated by the Cardiff AE Hub.

The debate was opened by Dr Matthias Kaiser of the University of Bergen. He set the scene by reminding the audience of the challenge we face of feeding a growing human population, estimated at nearly 10 million by 2050.  The oceans can appear to offer a rich and endless resource.  Yet, we are already overfishing and wasting far too much food. Since 1945, we have acted irresponsibly.  New technology might be seen as a ‘quick fix’ but scientific progress has to be matched by moral and ethical progress too.

Climate change has meant that particular species are thriving as never before. It means we could be eating new types of seafood, like jellyfish.

Inger Elisabeth Måren holds a new UNESCO Chair at the University of Bergen. She highlighted food as a global development challenge, particularly in the context of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Professor Røgnvaldur Hannesson of the Norwegian School of Economics contested the view of previous speakers. Fisheries are in good health, aquaculture is growing and we have been very well fed since 1945.  The rate of population growth is slowing and stabilising, thanks to economic growth and the emancipation of women.  Sustainability is a process that is changing constantly.

Ian Kinsey, a fisherman born in Wales and now living in Norway, agreed that sustainability is relative. The affordability of food is crucial and we have been too precautionary in our approach.

Amund Måge is the new marine director at the University of Bergen. He urged that it is too early to discard sustainability concepts like the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Only 2% of food comes from the ocean but it accounts for 50% of photosynthesis.  Population growth continues in absolute terms.  We will therefore need to go down the trophic levels to meet our requirement for food.  Aquaculture can increase but fish feed should not be taken from the land.  Ethics depend on good science.

Matthias Kaiser responded that he is not anti-science but ‘ethical scientists’ are essential, along with entrepreneurs with a strong sense of responsibility. Simplistic technological solutions do not work.  There are costs upon nature and we should examine more broadly how systems interact.  After all, humanity is part of these systems.

Inger Elisabeth Måren also criticised what she saw as the anthropocentric view adopted by some of the panellists. Biodiversity matters, she claimed.

Røgnvaldur Hannesson, in contrast, believed genetic engineering would be the next ‘green revolution’, giving us increased crop yields.

Matthias Kaiser responded that we must reduce our consumption of red meat and instead rely on a simpler diet from lower trophic levels. Aquaculture could also help, if managed properly.   Ian Kinsey, however, did not believe in the aquaculture solution.  Dr Arne Duinker of the University of Bergen spoke of the importance of sea plants.  Kelp farming is just starting in Norway, for example.

In conclusion, a local councillor received a positive response from the audience for his intervention. Local politicians are looking at new job creation for their communities, he said.  Scientists, for their part, should be humble and recognise that they should not take risks that could have largescale global impact.  Matthias Kaiser reminded the audience that academics are always happy to take part in important public discussions such as this.