Towards a sustainable ocean economy: An interview with Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Seafood, Harald T Nesvik.

9 minutes read

The OECD predicts that the ocean economy will double in size by 2030. This will mean more jobs, more food on the table, more energy and improved welfare for many. However, these gains will be short-lived unless the ocean economy is developed sustainably.

At the Our Ocean 2019 conference in Norway, recently, Tana Lala-Pritchard, Director, Communications and Marketing, WorldFish, caught up with Harald T. Nesvik, Norway’s Minister of Fisheries and Seafood, to find out more how the country views the importance of aquatic foods to achieving global goals on nutrition and poverty alleviation, and how partnerships and scientific research are already contributing to the emergence of a sustainable ocean economy.

As a country with rich fisheries and aquaculture resources, as well as advanced knowledge and technologies, how is Norway sharing its expertise and experiences to support sustainable management of fisheries and aquaculture in developing countries?

Norway has expertise and experience related to sustainable fisheries, sustainable aquaculture, and safe and healthy seafood. Hence we have a particular responsibility to put important issues related to sustainable food from the ocean for food security and nutrition on the agenda. We support developing countries through initiatives such as the Fish for Development program and the Oceans for Development program. The EAF-Nansen Programme also provides an opportunity for developing countries to assess and manage their fisheries for sustainable use of the oceans. The program is executed by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in close collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Bergen, Norway, and funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). The EAF-Nansen programme also includes the theme Nutrition and food safety. Norway attaches great importance to research and knowledge-based actions. By using our own best national experience from fisheries and aquaculture management, we introduce relevant elements to FAO and other UN-related work, such as the UN Resolution on Sustainable Fisheries and the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition.

Fish and aquatic foods are an important source of micronutrients, but they are generally overlooked in the global public discourse on food and nutrition security. How is Norway influencing the global discourse in this regard? And how it using its power and influence to help build a more inclusive global seafood industry and blue economy?

Aquatic foods are more than just a protein source with a small environmental footprint. They contain nutrients that are of great importance to public health, such as vitamins A, D and B12, iron, iodine, calcium and zinc. As well as a source of important nutrients, they also contribute to incomes and livelihoods. With scarcely any areas left on land, we must look to the ocean to reach the UN’s “zero hunger” goal. But food from oceans and inland waters is often left out of discussions on food and nutrition policy. Norway has closely followed the discussions relevant to sustainable aquatic foods in the context of global food security and nutrition. If sustainably produced they will contribute to several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The important role of aquatic foods in meeting the nutritional needs of the growing world population has been neglected for a long time. The Rio Declaration, "The future we want", in 2012 was a turning point: The world's leaders underscored the crucial role of healthy marine ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and sustainable aquaculture for food security and nutrition and in providing for the livelihoods of millions of people. In 2014, the Committee on World Food Security’s High Level Panel of Experts (CFS HLPE) confirmed this important role in a report. Based on this report the CFS included several recommendations related to fisheries, aquaculture, food security and nutrition in its Global strategy. Thus, in line with the CFS recommendations, Norway finds it important to highlight this in all relevant work. We have also initiated a Global Action Network on Sustainable Food from the Ocean and Inland Waters for Food Security and Nutrition. This will mobilize action to include aquatic foods as a key food source for achieving food security and improved nutrition during the UN Decade of Action on Nutrition (2016-2025), and in line with the SDGs. This informal network provides a platform to link, learn and take action. Challenges are identified, knowledge and possible actions are shared to generate sufficient, safe and nutritious aquatic foods, which meet dietary needs and food preferences for all. We appreciate WorldFish support in this work.

organize that inland waters

Why is it important for us to recognize that inland waters are just as important as oceans when it comes production and consumption of aquatic foods?

Aquatic foods come from both oceans and inland waters. In Norway, most aquatic foods come from the oceans, but globally, a large proportion come from inland waters. Many small-scale fisheries are located inland and a lot of what they produce is consumed locally. Thus, food from inland waters can play an important role in achieving SDGs 1 (No Poverty) and 2 (Zero Hunger).

Making aquatic foods a critical pathway to achieving global food security and improved nutrition by 2030 requires strong cross-sector and multidisciplinary collaboration beyond the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. What are some of the challenges that the Global Action Network faces in this regard and what strategies and actions is it considering to overcome some of these?

It is important to include the ocean in the overall work on food security and nutrition. In order to achieve sustainable food production and global food security, knowledge-based action is needed, both at land and sea. My concern as Minister of Fisheries and Seafood is to be sure that the important role of food from the ocean is adequately taken into consideration. Documenting and circulating evidence on the value of food from the ocean is important for the inclusion of  aquatic foods in work on food security and nutrition, and for integrating food security and nutrition concerns into the work on oceans, fisheries and aquaculture. Solutions that consider food systems in an integrated way are also important. Traditionally, issues related to “blue” (aquatic) and “green” (land-based) food production have been discussed separately, in silos. However, blue and green foods eventually meet on the plate and should be eaten as part of a healthy diet. We must therefore make sure that aquatic foods are part of the overall discussion on food security and nutrition, which today is dominated by issues about agriculture.

To secure the contribution of sustainable aquatic foods, we must also take a holistic approach throughout the food chain, starting with healthy oceans and inland waters, and moving on to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. After harvest we must make sure that safe and healthy aquatic foods make it all the way to people’s plates and are consumed as part of a healthy diet.

To reach our common goals we also must work together. Governments, the private sector, civil society - including academic institutions, and regional and intergovernmental organizations - all play important roles in realizing the potential of aquatic foods and their contribution to food security and nutrition. Meetings in the Global Action Network have so far brought together a broad range of people. The Network seeks to involve cross-sectoral expertise by focusing on all the important elements for food security along the food chain. It is important to invite the different actors to be actively involved in the development of the Network.

scientific research role

What role can scientific research institutions like WorldFish play in enabling the Network to identify and prioritize aquatic food solutions in policy, investment, research, and action?

Actions should be based on knowledge. We must listen carefully to scientific advice and put this knowledge into practice. Scientific research institutions like WorldFish are important to putting aquatic foods on the global research and development agenda. In the developing world in particular, aquatic foods offer untapped potential. The work of WorldFish on nutrition-sensitive food systems is important, and highlights the role of aquatic food for food security and nutrition. WorldFish expertise and experience from working in low income countries, setting up research projects, assisting with capacity building and advising governments is also of great value to the Network. WorldFish contributes to the development of the network framework, identifying important issues and sharing knowledge.

How is Norway helping boost trade and market access for fish and aquatic foods in developing countries?

Norway has collaborated with developing countries in the areas of fisheries and aquaculture for many years. The Norwegian research vessel, RV Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, has been supporting countries with stock assessments of fisheries and data on marine resources for more than 40 years, mainly in Africa. There has also been bilateral cooperation in many countries, and since 2015 Norway has had the Fish for Development programme (FfD) which supports developing countries in fisheries management, including illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and fisheries-related crimes; research and education; and private sector development and aquaculture. The collaboration is based on requests from and need in countries in the global south, and the interface where Norwegian technical institutions (i.e. the Institute of Marine Research and the Directorate of Fisheries) have core competence. Colombia, Ghana and Myanmar have been selected as the first “main countries” in FfD. Norway has assisted some countries to improve their systems and regulations in order to improve trade and market access. However, we also need to note that fish and other marine resources are important as local food and nutrition resources, and for food security.

Norway has been one of the main supporters of FAO in the development of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-scale Fisheries (SSF Guidelines). Through Norad, Norway is now supporting FAO’s global program on the implementation of these guidelines. At the Our Ocean conference 2019, Norway pledged NOK 100 million (approx. USD 11 million) for  “Food from the Oceans”. At present, Norad supports FAO in the development of a five-year project nested in FAO’s global program in support of the SSF Guidelines that will put emphasis on the post-harvest sector in five countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The focus will be on women in the small-scale fisheries sector working on processing and trade, food security and nutrition. The countries will be based on several criteria. The consumption of fish is low in most African countries, in East Africa for example, the per capita consumption is  only a third of the world average. Climate change, IUU fishing and postharvest losses of 20-30 per cent already threaten food security and nutrition in many developing countries.

boat in ocean

How does Norway’s Oceans for Development program differ from its Fish for Development program? Which are the target partner countries and areas of focus?

The overall aim of the Oceans for Development program is to promote a strengthened, sustainable and inclusive ocean economy in partner countries. The program will strengthen and supplement other existing Norwegian ocean-related program such as FfD and Oil for Development, and offers a broader cross-sectoral focus as well as a regional perspective. Three outcomes constitute the core of the program: 1) Strengthened frameworks for integrated and sustainable ocean governance; 2) Authorities with the capacity to fulfil their responsibilities and ensure responsible ocean management; and 3) Strengthened ocean economy opportunities. One of the key activities will be capacity development through institutional cooperation between Norwegian public institutions and government institutions in partner countries. Where relevant, this will be supplemented by partnerships with multilateral organizations, academia, enterprises and civil society organizations. The program is still under establishment, and pilot countries have not yet been defined.

Thank you very much for your time and insights, and we wish you every success best with the new Oceans for Development program!