'How can we improve the quality and safety of the seafood we eat?' With a growing focus on bettering management of the fish we catch to reduce waste, this was one question a team of researchers on the three-year SAFEFISHDISH programme sought to address. Seafood spoils largely at the hands of microbial and biochemical activities influenced by temperature and storage conditions, and reducing microbiota can help extend its shelf life. SAFEFISHDISH – comprising eleven partners from France, Iceland and Norway – successfully tested a solution of chitosan in wild cod and farmed salmon, preventing the development of undesirable bacteria.
SAFEFISHDISH was one of the research projects run under the auspices of the Cooperation in Fisheries, Aquaculture and Seafood Processing (COFASP) ERA-NET and whose results were on display at its final conference in Kiel, Germany 7 – 9 December. With subjects ranging from integrated multi-trophic aquaculture to coastal ecosystem management to algae production for feed, the programmes, just as with SAFEFISHDISH, aimed to pinpoint innovative science that serve the entire supply line of fish all the way from ocean to plate. Research was conducted for capture fisheries, aquaculture and seafood processing and retail.
This was the backbone of COFASP, a research initiative funded by the European Union's FP7 research and innovation programme. Launched in 2013, COFASP brought together 27 partners across 16 countries across Europe to work towards this goal. Other targets included laying the groundwork for fish stock exploitation according to the precautionary principle, defining information for Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) revisions (for example the landing obligation and associated practices), and planning cooperation between the European Commission (EC), its Member States, the research community and stakeholders. The project is part of the Europe 2020 strategy, and the bioeconomy is one of several key concepts.
The Kiel conference was attended by representatives of all COFASP partners as well as the EC. After learning about the individual research programmes, experts in fisheries, aquaculture, and seafood processing offered the perspectives of their communities, outlining the needs and priorities laid down as part of the COFASP work through respective case studies.
The fisheries study, presented by Gerd Kraus of Germany's Thünen Institute, took into account the ecosystem conservation principles and policies currently framing management, looking at spatial planning and reconciling multiple objectives. Scientists reviewed their fields, asking what is missing and what is still needed. A key theme to emerge was the development of management strategy evaluations (MSEs) for ocean management as a whole, adjusting to trade-offs between sectors and goals rather than remaining optimal for each single one. With trade-offs meaning management scales hone in on regions, the local function of habitats and the influence on wider productivity and fishing yield becomes key. MSE will rely on models to help usher in the likes of the CFP and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
For aquaculture, the study centred on issues and challenges specific to the north and south of Europe, specifically the North Atlantic salmon and Mediterranean seabass and sea bream industries. Representatives from companies which account for sizeable percentages of each took part. Everything from biology to marketing and communications was put on the table, and although differences existed between the north and south on many issues such as quality of juveniles, the public perception of aquaculture was the highest common priority. Sea lice control and packaging were amongst other areas of concern for the north; feed research and disease control for the south.
Vilhjalmur Vilhjalmsson of Icelandic seafood company HB Grandi (renamed Brim since 2019) told the story of his sector. With a growing demand for fish across both European and global markets – acknowledged more broadly at the conference and also in terms of the EU's Food 2030 conference – research into product integrity, shelf life (as with SAFEFISHDISH), public health effects and benefits, developing products like oils from pelagic fish, ensuring supply, and ensuring a positive image are all amongst the top priorities for the industry.
The contribution of ICES as a partner to COFASP was twofold: managing and processing the research interests and priorities set out the countries and partners involved and looking at specific skills and training gaps. Present since COFASP's inception in 2013 and active in developing three calls for research papers, the organization's involvement has been as a conduit for research areas.
"For the first call we collated what Member States thought were high priority research areas and then connected all of that to see where the commonalities and focus should lie," explained Dennis Lisbjerg of lead organization DTU-Aqua and member of project team under coordinator Niels Götke.
"In that process we also used ICES to ensure that what we came up with was valid from a scientific perspective and not something that was an issue already addressed by other countries."
The conference also addressed future work which COFASP could feed into, also reflected in the research agenda and the foresight study published at the end of 2014 which covered priorities over the ensuing 15 years. To this end, conference participants also discussed how the results of COFASP could be moved forward in terms of food and nutrition security, bioeconomy, blue growth, and international cooperation. Lisbjerg outlined potential future collaboration with ICES.
"Hopefully when we continue with a new initiative, we could try experimenting with new things, perhaps target some more specific areas that could feed into some ICES working groups. So we could perhaps establish projects that directly link with ICES."
"We need to have these connections with other projects, which is the reason we made this database (of existing projects on the three main COFASP themes) – a good outcome of our work – to help identify gaps."