The new food beneath the surface

09 February, 2022

Due to overfishing, the populations of our most popular food fish are declining both globally and nationally. At the same time, there are many species in the ocean that we traditionally do not eat, but which have great potential to meet the growing need for food. At Tjärnö Marine Laboratory in Strömstad, a concept for small-scale and sustainable cultivation of new food from the sea is being tested.

Maria Bodin with seaweed
Maria Bodin with seaweed. Photo: Susanne Liljenström

“As well as having a spice garden on land, you could have it in the sea. Either at your own pier if you have any, or through “together farms”. Just like an allotment area on land, stuck in the sea!

Maria Bodin is a marine biologist at Tjärnö Marine Laboratory and project manager for the work on marine allotments in Sweden. The purpose is, among other things, to investigate how a marine allotment can be constructed, what tools and methods are suitable and which species can be cultivated.

“What we have done is a simple pilot plant and connected barriers to an existing jetty that already had a beach protection dispensary. Then we hung out ribbons to look at what species are in the water, which have larvae right here.

An important aspect of offshore farming is that it is adapted to local conditions. If species are introduced that do not really belong in the place in question, the ecosystem risks being disturbed. At the jetty on Tjärnö, which belongs to the species-rich Koster Sea, blue mussels, oysters, sea squirts and barnacles turned out to be particularly pleasant. Ropes with shoots of the algae sea lettuce and sugar seaweed have also been placed.

sea squirts
Sea squirts. Photo: Susanne Liljenström

Multipurpose

One advantage of offshore farming is that it requires less resources than traditional cultivation on land. In addition, it does not have to compete for arable land. In addition to the food-producing function, there are also environmental benefits of cultivation in marine allotments.

“You don’t have to add anything to the sea, neither water nor nutrients. And algae take up nitrogen and phosphorus, so they benefit the ocean by being ecosystem service providers. When you harvest algae, you actually pick up substances that could be eutrophicative.

Another purpose of marine allotments is to create a platform for learning about the sustainable use of the sea and its resources. Bodin explains, for example, that for many people it is not a matter of course that algae can be used in cooking and how it is done. By engaging, for example, tourists, schools and restaurants, a meeting place can be created for the dissemination of such knowledge.

allotment at Tjärnö
An allotment is located at tjärnö marine laboratory. Photo: Anna Axelsson

Complicated permit processes

So how do you go about starting your own marine allotment? The first step is to identify a suitable place for its cultivation. Next, you need to examine what permits are required for growing on the site in question. And there, Sweden has some way to go in development, compared to other Nordic countries.

“We would like to invest more in blue and sustainable food, and then the ocean’s resources are quite untapped. But the legislation is pretty tricky as it is now.

One country that has come a long way in the development of marine allotments is Denmark. Inom ramen för projektet Havhøst har ett 20-tal odlingar startat runt om i landet. The success factor there, Bodin describes, is an early and functioning dialogue with authorities. In this way, the permit process has been adapted to the scale of the cultivation. According to Swedish regulations, on the other hand, it does not matter if the cultivation is to take place on a single line or several hectares – everyone must go through the same process. An application is also not enough.

” In Sweden, as a private person, it can be difficult to sort out how the application process works, as a myriad of different authorities are involved. And that’s really tricky – it costs a lot of money with all the permits, but it also takes time and you don’t even know what the answer is. So there is a need for improvement, these issues need to be raised.

Municipalities are particularly important players in the establishment of marine allotments, as they are responsible for the spatial planning of both land and water areas. The fact that this type of cultivation is included in the coastal municipalities’ master plans is important for implementation to take place in a way that is ecologically, economically and socially sustainable, and for it not to outcompete other interests.

“I really believe that this is the future, but you have to do it in a sustainable way. Both environmentally, but also what it costs for each individual person or company to start a farm.

menue
Photo: Anna Axelsson

Prospects

In five years, Bodin hopes that the permit process for establishing a marine allotment will have been simplified, but also that the cultivation brings with it some responsibility. For example, it is important that the grower has knowledge of their local environment to avoid negative impact on the sea.

” That you have an obligation and take responsibility for what you grow. That it is relatively easy to obtain a permit, but also that you have an obligation to monitor how cultivation affects the environment.

The concept’s impact also requires a willingness to adopt new behaviours, habits and thought patterns on the part of the public.

“We have to think in a different way. We can’t just eat red meat but need to think more green and blue proteins.

Text: Anna Axelsson
Photo: Susanne Liljenström, Anna Axelsson

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