Monday, April 25, 2016

Diversification, is that the key?

Fisheries are currently an economic sector in crisis. There are many to blame for that, including fishers themselves for overfishing. But part of this crisis is also due to factors such as changes in the marine biodiversity associated to climate change, fluctuating consumer demands, and unexpected evolution of regulatory systems imposing new constraints, among others. Turnovers are falling or maintained at sensitive conditions, threatening many businesses. In such conditions and given what we already know, increasing fishing effort is no longer an effective or acceptable response to deal with decreasing profits.
However, the concept of multifunctionality of fisheries is slowly emerging through the diversification of activities. Fishers are learning to resort to new alternatives in order to sustain their livelihoods. They do so by interacting in new ways with the environment, institutional players, scientists, local stakeholders and customers, in addition to their regular activity. 

Fishing-tourism, guided visits to aquaculture sites, diving activities managed directly by fishers, support of local fish restaurants and accommodation provided by fishers and their families, are only some of these examples ( There are also those dare a little further and create new products:

  • A Plouguerneau, Brittany, Sten Mark has refined a new cheese using an innovative technique: he ripens the cheese under water (10 meters) to produce the Blue Iroise, the underwater cheese.

  •   Mr Adam Jakubiak owns one of over 70 fishing boats in the city of Ustka, one of the oldest and largest coastal fishing ports in Poland. In order to diversify his fisheries activity and gain additional income for his family, he decided to open a stylish cafeteria with a small traditional, hand-made candy factory. The sweets made in the factory use a novel ingredient - the valuable Omega 3 fatty acids produced from fish.

  • Jesper Pedersen, son of a fisherman that lives in Denmark, created a new business called “Havets spisekammer”, literally the “dining room of the sea”, which develops and sells different food products (spread, salad and flavored salt) . In common, they all use seaweed as an ingredient. Seaweed was also successfully used as a condiment in meat dishes, pasta, bread and ham.

  • In Finland, fisherwomen started the Tanning of Fish Skin project to create new products using fish skin. They trained a total of 15 people and produced a manual for fishermen on how to handle fish skin in order to preserve the quality necessary for it to be used as a raw material for leather.

  • In Portugal, the “caranguejo pilado”, or Henslow’s swimming crab, is an abundant species, commonly caught in the nets of seine fishermen but subsequently discarded as it holds no commercial value. The Polytechnic Institute of Leiria has set up a pilot study in partnership with fishermen, bio-medical companies (CERAMED/ALTAKITIN) and other research institutes, to assess the potential of the species as a source of biological compounds, such as chitin and astaxantin. The study defined how to extract such substance and put them in the market, taking advantage of this resource, while ensuring the involvement of all relevant stakeholders.

Behind these projects there was the financial help of the European Commission and the project FARNET (, but these are all reproducible examples, as long as governments or NGOs give a little hand to fishing communities. By doing so, we could support the total or partial replacement of marine fish and seafood by more sustainable alternatives without forgetting the families that depend on the sea.

By Maria Grazia Pennino