The Blue Economy refers to all economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. Crucially sustainability is at its core. It is an emerging concept which encourages better stewardship of our ocean or ‘blue’ resources. FrontM has partnered with one of UK’s leading blue economy consultancies, NLAI International to develop Blue Economy Messenger (BeM), a communications platform to meet a number of needs of the fishing industry.
Mercedes Rosello, associate director of NLAI, walks us through the concept of the blue economy, the key areas of advancements in the marine industry and how BeM is bringing a change in the way fisheries communicate, collect data and adhere to regulatory compliance.
What challenges is NLA looking to solve?
We are here to help the environment and promote cleaner, more productive and healthier oceans. If the ocean is healthier then it’s for the benefit of people, especially those who most depend on marine resources. We want to create a balance – helping countries and communities work in harmony with the sea but also helping them become more productive and more sustainable in their business approaches.
With offices in UK, Ireland and Malaysia we look at the blue economy in a holistic way. We don’t just work in individual sectors like fisheries or engineering – we try to take a 360-degree approach to address problems that concern the marine environment.
What are the key areas associated with blue economy?
There are several key areas associated with improving the sustainability of the blue economy. One is sustainable seafood production via aquaculture and fisheries, and another is prevention and removal of marine pollution. In addition, there is also an urgent need to protect the ocean form the effects of climate change. These problems are longstanding and very difficult to address effectively. They require considerable amount of cooperation and innovation in terms of technology and policy.
There has been a huge increase in initiatives for research and investment into innovative approaches to sustain the blue economy both in terms of developing technology and improving law and policy frameworks and sustainable institutional and trade practices in recent years. We as a company identify opportunities to support and optimize those processes, and work with and for the benefit of concerned stakeholders.
What are some of the key trends and challenges in this industry?
In aquaculture we have developed research and monitoring processes to help the industry to create optimum conditions for the health and productivity of farmed fish. This involves scientific expertise, but also the application of innovative technological approaches. The other area I’m seeing development is in the fisheries sector, with leading actors keen to become more efficient, but also more selective, more transparent, cleaner, and more sustainable.
I see technology making significant advancements in these two areas to produce the required results – to be less wasteful and leave a smaller environmental footprint whilst at the same time being more cost effective. Better supported and informed operational practices can enhance and improve the way in which blue economy participants such as fishermen work.
How the addition of technology and connectivity adding value to fisheries?
The fishing industry has many dimensions, but in general it is an intensely competitive sector, and technology can facilitate leaner and more adaptable ways of managing operations and communications on fleets. In particular, it can provide enhanced communications support in remote areas where the internet connection is not good.
Connectivity can address day-to-day problems by improving the ability to communicate with people on land, as well as across vessels and fleets. There’s a safety element to that. The other dimension of innovative technology is providing the critical knowledge needed to make strategic decisions such as where and when to fish, when to return, how best to sell or buy quota or stock, and the ability to predict environmental conditions.
The fishing industry is highly regulated. There are a number of legal and government controls that fishermen need to comply with. One key element for us to help the industry is to make it easier and quicker for them to meet these obligations, so that they have more time to invest in organizing and carrying out their fishing operations and business activities, which is what they want to focus on.
To what extent have startups provided innovative technology?
Personally, I think startups have a good opportunity to compete with established suppliers if they are truly innovative. The reason for that is that the fishing industry across the world is living in a moment where there are many changes taking place: in the marine environment, in competition and also in regulation and many want to explore opportunities to ensure the sector becomes truly sustainable.
What do you see as the future of the Blue Economy?
The blue economy is really about creating value in sustainability. It is about ensuring people see value in looking after the ocean, so that it is less about exploiting resources and more about taking a long-term approach and implementing an effective stewardship system that ensures the long-term health of the productive systems of the ocean.
“The blue economy is ultimately about looking at the way in which human activities interact with the natural systems of the ocean, and to see where the optimum balance lies. Then, it is necessary to create and sustain the production practices and economic systems that can support that balance in the long term.”
Could you tell us a bit about BeM?
Blue Economy Messenger (BeM) is an innovative technology product, supported by InnovateUK, that is currently in development. The idea is to create a platform which combines communications and connectivity systems with hardware and software systems to meet a range of needs of different segments within the fishing industry. One of the key objectives is to enable fishermen to adapt successfully to the changing regulatory environment, and another is to provide affordable access to communications even in remotest areas.
BeM will provide a mobile solution – on hardware suitable for use at sea – which provides vessels with access to a lot of information that will make their fishing trip safer and more efficient, as well as allowing it to meet regulatory requirements easily. Rather than focusing purely on data entry, we want to provide users with support on everything from catch sustainability to business efficiency, safe and fully compliant operations, to weather and other information support.
How does this partnership with FrontM further your companies mission?
NLAI works principally with the application of new technologies and datasets, so we chose our partners very carefully because we need not only innovative approaches to technology applications, but we also need to have shared values and shared objectives. Sustainability needs to be as important to our partners as it is for us, but we also want an approach to projects that is rigorous and has the health of the ocean and the needs of the end user as a focus. We chose our partners to meet the needs we know exist and be able to deliver them with the same dedication and passion, and with the same ethical values.
What are some of the priorities NLAI is focusing on?
There is one requirement for fishermen all over the world: to be able to operate in a way that is cost-effective, and that does not compromise the ongoing productivity of their fishing grounds. Around the world fishermen are finding that in order to get the best prices for their fish they need to demonstrate traceability, sustainability and legality, and we want to help them in achieving this.
“Working with FrontM has been a great experience. It has been a good opportunity to put our respective areas of knowledge and passion into practice together. The industry, project finance, and regulatory knowledge that we have at NLAI combines with the innovation and technology creation function that FrontM has. So really a marriage made in heaven where we can explore new avenues for supporting the blue economy at the same time”
How has the overall response been towards technology in growth of the maritime conservation?
It is clear technology has an important role to play to enable marine users as well as those with the responsibility of regulating utilization activities to be as efficient, sustainable and as effective as possible. The challenge is to make the technology user-friendly and ensure that the people who most need it actually love it. It is not technology for technology’s sake, it is technology that helps users navigate complex regulatory environments, become more productive, and at the same time look after the source of their livelihoods: the sea.
“Tech for good” is a good way to summarize it, not just for the good of the sea and fish but also especially for the good of the fishermen. To achieve progress, we need to create technology that people will love and want to use.