Friday 7. April 2017

Innovation in Aquaculture course ends with project presentations

The University Centre of the Westfjords has recently concluded its weeklong course on innovation in aquaculture in the southern Westfjords, where participants were introduced to aquaculture through visits to companies, and also worked on innovation projects. The course made full use of its proximity to local companies and the group of students was warmly welcomed by all the businesses.

Company Visits

Visits were made to the ArcticSmolt fish hatchery, and to Arnarlax in Tálknafjörður, where staff took the students along on their regular monitoring trip to the sea cages on Wednesday. After returning to base in Bíldudalur, the group split in half and got to see Arnarlax’s fish processing and feeding solution, which is at the simultaneously very technical and trusts technology only in moderation, as teams work in two shifts to manage the sophisticated systems.

The students were given a good insight into the scale of the industry and to better understand the industry’s importance to coastal zone management; as most of the students are enrolled on that master’s program. Valgeir Ægir Ingólfsson, from the AtVest regional economic development agency, was invited to come and talk about aquaculture developments overall in the southern Westfjords and Indriði Indriðason, the mayor of Tálknafjarðarhreppur, was called into the classroom to describe the experience of small municipalities going through such development.

As the students worked on their own innovation projects in the evenings, they found the visit from brothers Freymar Gauti and Ragnar Þór Marínóson from Tungusilungur Trout, who are the third generation in their family fish farming business in Tálknafjörður, no less interesting and constructive; as the scale of their company was closer to the scale of projects that students worked on during the week. Most student projects centred on ideas that are easier to keep track of than the large-scale development currently taking place in the Westfjords.

The Innovation Porjects

Three students came up with a plan to establish an aquaculture consulting firm, which would serve the companies, as well as taking care of paperwork connected to licencing, maintenance and environmental certification monitoring.

Another group, which included participants from Baltic agricultural universities, worked on that which is a priority for them: the production of biodiesel or other fuel from waste, which would be achievable with the use of cultivated seaweed or other marine plants. This they believed would be realistic for island communities without mains electric, or those which depend on fossil fuels, like Grímsey.

The third group calculated the potential economic benefits of cultivating ocean quahog, which is called the Iceland clam in many languages. The name of the species alone should give some great opportunities for marketing and advertisement.

Two other groups took a tourism-based approach to the projects. One being whole or half-day food tours to aquaculture producers, whether fish, shellfish, or plants. The self-styled Seaside Village of Suðureyri seems to be the inspiration, and the students thought it not at all strange to market aquaculture to tourists. The other project that looked at tourists was for the production of seaweed to make seasoning, tea, supplements, and market these goods in small packs, mainly to tourists. On a similar course two years ago, representatives of Urta Islandica were participants, so this is partly already happening. What appears remarkable is that young students believe kelp and seaweed to be a fashionable food of the future.

The final group closely analysed whether combined aquaculture and agriculture, or aquaponics, could be profitable. To maximise yields and make the project sustainable, the students settled on the production of Russian sturgeon and black tomatoes. The biggest benefits of this approach probably lie on the reduced demand for fertiliser and the cleaner water left over from such production, which could prove difficult to put a price tag on.

Make a job, don’t take a job

The goal of the course was to stimulate interest in the innovation requirements and innovation possibilities in the industry. Previously, most participants have taken a two-week course on fish farming, and though Coastal and Marine Management students will not necessarily become aquaculture experts, they should understand the requirements of the industry, which is in many places around the North Atlantic becoming a key coastal stakeholder, as part of their master of resource management qualifications. It could certainly be said that the choice of projects, which were made right at the beginning of the course, reflect more academic ideas than the practical needs of large companies, but the visits to these companies have opened the students’ eyes to the demand for innovation within companies.

This course is one of few special courses offered in the individually-tailored master’s program in Marine Innovation, which is offered by the University Centre of the Westfjords. Methods used on this course reflect the program’s ideology: Make a job, don’t take a job.

Students visiting the ArcticSmolt fish hatchery
Students visiting the ArcticSmolt fish hatchery