maanantai 2. lokakuuta 2017

Fish farming and the bioeconomy

Finnish fish farming operates in a controversial business environment. Earlier environmental harms still affect the industries reputation, and the current environmental regulation makes it hard to initiate or scale up production. Yet consumers, following environmentally sound dietary recommendations, would like to have more domestic fish on their plate. The current supply of domestic farmed fish does not meet the demand for it.
Recent conceptual innovations may help to reconcile this gap between domestic supply and demand. The circular economy and the bioeconomy are popular concepts that may have significant potential in this regard. In a circular economy, the production of goods, services and value becomes a continuum where waste, side-streams and emerging positive and negative potential (risks) are transformed back into production, i.e. the life-cycles of several materials and processes are embedded. The circular economy utilises its own waste products and feeds itself.
In Finland, several recent institutional innovations are encouraging fish farming towards a circular economy model. With the use of Baltic Sea Feed, the environmental load of fish farming is compensated by producing feed from lower value fish harvested from the Baltic. Also, with the Spatial Location Plan, fish farming facilities are located in areas where the environmental condition of the water is most suitable and the technical-economic preconditions are met. These innovations mean that the level of production can increase while the environmental load decreases. The environment, fishers, fish farmers and the domestic fish market benefit.
The bioeconomy is a parallel concept to the circular economy. Renewable natural resources are used to produce food, energy, and other products and services. The bioeconomy decouples the dependence of the economy from fossil fuels and other non-renewable resources. This helps to prevent the decrease of biological diversity and promotes economic growth in sync with the principles of sustainable development. In the bioeconomy, natural resources are not wasted either, they are used responsibly and are effectively recycled.
However, the circular economy and the bioeconomy do have their differences. The circular economy uses engineering science to measure flows of materials and energy, and seeks to identify technological, social and institutional bottlenecks, as well as barriers and path-dependencies that must be overcome. The bioeconomy on the other hand is a wider concept. If one wants to characterise the bioeconomy with a flow-metaphor, it is a river that flows upstream. The growth of the bioeconomy builds on dissipative structures, i.e. actual and potential arrangements that sustain and develop themselves according to the invested energy and work. The bioeconomy is always an open system, far from equilibrium, which is not necessarily true of the circular economy.

In the bioeconomy, new arrangements are always co-created between different actors. For example, pre-negotiations between a (start-up) fish farmer and environmental permit administrator about the requirements of environmental assessment is a step towards the co-created bioeconomy. Entrepreneurial activities and the permit administration both benefit from such reflexive practices in business governance. Recently developed local co-operation groups are another example where good governance, fish farming activities and the environmental quality control may meet. It is hoped that these groups can co-create long-term solutions to mitigate the effects of aquaculture on the Great Cormorant populations in coastal areas in Finland.
Quite obviously, market-based solutions do not necessarily support the bioeconomy. For example, in the fisheries sector, vessel-specific fishing rights provide an opportunity for negotiation between fishing enterprises, but the can also affect small-scale artisanal fishing and harmfully impact fishing culture and social cohesion. However, the use of Baltic Sea Feed in fish farming may have positive synergies and benefit coastal cultures. Perhaps it is best to consider the bioeconomy as a multidimensional material and immaterial growth process, aiming to produce plural economies, protect nature and ensure benefits and costs are equitably shared.

Long-term bioeconomic solutions require upstream, bottom-up activism, that produces innovative structural and functional architectures for individual, social and collective action. As we have witnessed in Finland, the recent developments in fish farming are built on a combination of business, environmental, social and policy entrepreneurial creativity. The government is not an outsider to these developments. It has taken an active role in supporting the testing of novel arrangements in order to find those that work best. The blue bioeconomy and its governance are now poised to co-evolve towards a sustainable future.
Originally: ESEE Autumn 2017 newsletter – Hot Topic by Juha Hiedanpää
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