There is a push for transition to sustainable blue food systems in the High North. An interdisciplinary group of Fram Centre researchers have looked closer at the drivers motivating the transition and identified a set of barriers to sustainable blue food systems in northern Norway.
By: Zina Kebir, Tamer Abu-Alam, Lena Schøning and Vera Hausner // UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Charlotte Weber // Akvaplan-niva, Cristina-Maria Iordan // SINTEF, Sigrid Engen // Norwegian Institute for Nature Research
The oceans and the seas are playing an increasingly important role in the transition to a sustainable food system. Blue foods refer to wild-caught or cultivated aquatic animals, plants and algae in freshwater and marine environments. Blue foods provide people with nutrition worldwide, are important for local culture, economies, and livelihoods, and can under certain circumstances provide an environmentally sustainable alternative to land-based food which tends to have a higher environmental footprint.
In the first year of the Fram Centre research programme “CoastShift” (2022–2026), researchers have identified some critical factors for the transition to sustainable blue food in northern Norway.
The factors were identified through synthesis of literature and contributions from key stakeholders such as representatives from fishery, aquaculture, oil and gas, green energy, agriculture, NGOs, business development, academia, and the public. The team identified 25 factors as driving the transition and 43 factors as barriers that need to be addressed to enable a sustainable transition. The factors were classified according to their political, economic, social, technological, legal, or environmental characteristics following the PESTLE framework. The research team then performed a cross-impact analysis to understand the potential links between the factors, and thereby each factor’s role and importance for a transition to sustainability.
Multiple expert workshops with long and rich discussions were conducted to identify and rank critical factors driving the transition in northern Norway. The analysis reveals that the potential drivers are dominated by economic and social factors. The main drivers motivating change are (perhaps not surprisingly) attitudes to sustainability that are closely linked to knowledge and a willingness to engage in the transition.
This also includes the recognition of the value of healthy ecosystems: that conserving and restoring biological diversity is necessary for a resilient food system. Economic factors such as access to cheap and renewable energy and resource efficiency are influenced by such social factors and in part by involvement of responsible and conscientious politicians, who also share long-term, realistic political goals for society.
Other economic drivers include growing consumer demand for sustainable goods and services and shrinking demand for fossil fuel products. A transition to sustainable blue food is also seen as promising local value creation.
Similar workshops were conducted to identify the critical factors challenging the transition to sustainable blue food. Again, we found social factors – such as lack of collaboration, lack of communication, and lack of common understanding between sectors and actors – to be among the most important barriers. In the Norwegian fossil fuel mindset, oil and gas play an important cultural and socioeconomic role which cannot easily be replaced. Moreover, many Norwegians have an economically negative perception of the transition.
Other important barriers to the blue food transition include: a weak and contradictory political governance; the policy paradox of Norway aiming to be a climate leader yet continuing to produce oil and gas; the lack of awareness about environmental change and emergency preparedness among the public at local and national levels; the focus of research and innovation on reducing the impact of the oil and gas industry rather than on sustainability; the lack of private and public funding for the transition; and the fragmented, insufficient nature of existing policies and legislation.
What is next?
Sustainability is a concept that covers a broad range of domains, making it quite challenging to grasp. A transition to sustainability requires a change in the way we think of our lives, our economy and our production systems. The EU has developed a framework for classifying activities that can be considered as environmentally sustainable. This framework, called the EU taxonomy, could also have implications for the transition towards sustainable blue food systems in northern Norway.
The taxonomy relies upon six environmental objectives that are used to classify activities as sustainable: (i) climate mitigation; (ii) climate change adaptation; (iii) the sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources; (iv) the transition to a circular economy; (v) pollution prevention and control; and (vi) the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.
A sustainable activity should contribute to at least one of these objectives without being harmful to any of the others. We are currently developing indicators to capture sustainable transition of blue food systems based on the EU taxonomy, but we are also recognising the diverse interpretations of the concept “sustainability” as illustrated by our stakeholders’ own definitions (see text box). Research to be continued!