Can we make food for a growing global population in a sustainable way?

Perhaps the answer lies in the use of marine resources from lower trophic levels. Mathilde Morel who is a PhD research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea is writing her dissertation on the subject.

Mathilde Morel, doctoral research fellow holding a fish.
Mathilde Morel, doctoral research fellow holding a fish. Photo: Private

Although it may seem so based on the headline, you have not strayed into the websites of the Faculty of Biosciences, Fisheries and Economics. We have met Mathilde Morel who is a lawyer and PhD research fellow at the Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea, where she researches legal issues related to increased use of marine resources from lower trophic levels in the Norwegian aquaculture industry.

With her doctoral project, Mathilde wants to contribute with legal research that can make the aquaculture industry better equipped to handle climate and environmental challenges.

Together with researcher Margherita Paola Poto, she is one of two lawyers associated with the research project Novel Marine Resources for Food Security and Food Safety (SECURE).  The project, led by Edel O. Elvevoll, Professor of Industrial Food Sciences, has approximately twenty-five affiliated researchers who are trying to find out how to sustainably utilize new marine resources to feed a growing world population.

What is meant by trophic levels you may ask?

Mathilde explains that the term "trophic level" describes the level in a food chain where an organism resides. In any food chain, the lowest trophic level is occupied by the primary producers. In the ocean, these are marine algae and photosynthetic bacteria. The next level consists of those who eat the primary producers, such as small zooplankton and fish larvae, Mathilde explains.

Low-trophic resources have a large and untapped potential, and can be used for both human food, raw materials for animal feed, health products and supplements, biofuels and more. Even though Norway has a long coastal zone and large sea areas, access to marine areas will still be a key challenge in the forthcoming time.

If Norway is to increase the production volume of low-trophic marine species (for example, the farming of seaweed, kelp, sea cucumbers, sea urchins and various forms of mussels) as part of the green shift, it will have to compete for areas with both new activities such as offshore wind, but also with existing activities such as shipping, tourism, mineral extraction on the seabed and fishing. These are challenges that cannot easily be solved without a good framework for ocean management, she explains.

Another challenge is that current regulations are mainly adapted to the traditional aquaculture farming types such as salmon and trout. For example, there are no adapted solutions for multitrophic aquaculture, where different species are cultivated together. The idea is that such facilities can both reduce waste and create added value by allowing waste consumers to be used, for example for animal feed.

Research, technology, and innovation are evolving at a faster pace than regulation. The challenge is to develop a set of rules that at the same time enables both innovation and sustainable growth, but this is, as you probably understand, easier said than done. Therefore, it is important that also jurisprudence is produced in this field, she states.

Most of the greenhouse gas footprint of salmon farming comes from feed.

Mathilde is writing an article-based dissertation and is currently working on her first article, which she is writing together with Andreas Langdal, a PhD research fellow at the Norwegian College of Fishery Science and part of the SECURE project. Together, the two have looked at legal measures to reduce the climate footprint of salmon farming.

Most of the greenhouse gas footprint of salmon farming comes from feed, where in particular the use of soy protein imported from Brazil contributes to the destruction of forest areas to expand the agricultural industry.

Although those engaged in aquaculture are subject to many and detailed requirements, there are few legally binding mechanisms in place that make demands on or hold feed producers accountable, either at international or national level. This is a major challenge when it comes to reducing emissions, she points out.

- We are already in the process of a green shift. As part of this, we must change our diets and the types of feed ingredients used in food production. Low-trophic farming can contribute to the production of more sustainable food, at the same time as relieving the pressure on fish stocks that are currently overfished and may in the long term replace the use of soy as feed, Mathilde states.

- To ensure that such sustainable solutions in the aquaculture industry and society in general can have the best possible growth conditions, it is crucial to have the right management tools and regulatory processes in place, she concludes.

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Sist oppdatert: 24.03.2022 10:30