Bente Torstensen joined the board of directors of the European Aquaculture Society (EAS) in 2018 becoming its president in 2022, a position she will keep till the end of 2024. Ms Torstensen’s background is in nutrition research in which she earned a PhD from the University of Bergen and the National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research (Nifes) in 2000. Over the next 16 years she worked as a scientist, as research director for human nutrition, and as research director for fish nutrition at Nifes. Ms Torstensen was also appointed MOWI’s (those days Marine Harvest) Global R&D department’s team leader for fish feed and performance. She started as a director of the Aquaculture Department of the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research (Nofima) in 2017 and in June 2023 became Nofima’s CEO.
Bente Torstensen discusses here EAS’s role in consolidating the efforts of different players in the aquaculture sector to speed up its growth and sustainable development.
The European Aquaculture Society (EAS) is a non-profit international organization that aims to promote and develop European aquaculture in an environmentally and economically sustainable way. How is the EAS structured, and who are the members of the organisation? Are there any selection criteria for a membership and what are the benefits of being a member?
EAS is a member organisation with a whole range of membership opportunities. Students are offered free memberships to encourage their participation in the society, conferences, and development of the future of EAS. All colleagues within aquaculture can become members of EAS, that means from industry, universities, research institutes, NGOs, government employees, etc. We also offer companies to be corporate members with special benefits related to trade shows and participation at the annual EAS events. Research organisations can have institutional membership with relevant benefits. I really encourage everybody to visit our web pages for more details on what we offer for the different membership alternatives. And of course: all members pay a significantly lower participation fee for the annual Aqua events! For all who come to our Aqua events: there’s no reason whatsoever NOT to become a member of our society!
Aquaculture Europe is among the biggest sectorial conferences of its kind in Europe which brings together stakeholders from science, industry, NGOs, and many others. In 2023, the event was successfully organised in Vienna with the theme “Balanced Diversity in Aquaculture Development”. How do you see the overall results of the event, has it brought any tangible results and what was the main idea behind this theme?
The theme “Balanced Diversity in Aquaculture Development” surely highlights the potential for the aquaculture sector, already representing the world’s most diverse farming practices, to further grow sustainability by utilising the opportunities that lie in diversity.
What makes EAS annual events unique is the coming together of scientists, industry leaders and entrepreneurs, governmental bodies, and regulators from across Europe all sharing the same passion for aquaculture. This year’s theme of diversification was reflected in the 32 scientific sessions over 3 days ranging from genomics to socioeconomics, covering the full scope of European aquaculture scientific disciplines and species. We gathered close to 2,000 attendees, more than 540 oral presentations, an international trade exhibition with close to 170 booths, student sessions and activities, satellite workshops, and updates on EU research. In addition, two special events took place: the AE2023 Industry Forum and AE23 Innovation Forum. The value from this comprehensive knowledge-sharing and networking obviously creates value for the European aquaculture sector as a whole.
Do you think that research properly covers all the areas currently important for fish production or are there areas which need more investigation? If yes, what is the reason behind research topics being ignored? How can researchers be encouraged to better investigate those areas as well?
In my opinion, the research-based knowledge necessary to succeed with the ambitions of the Green Deal, Farm to Fork Strategy, and transformation of food systems towards environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable circular food systems is much greater than what we see produced today. Food produced in aquaculture and the opportunities to produce more food, also at low trophic level, in our oceans and inland waters is fantastic! It is our responsibility to develop and share this knowledge and solutions in the European and global food systems. But at the end of the day, all research must be financed by public and/or private funds. Therefore, working together is of the essence. We need more nutritious and safe food produced in a sustainable way, and aquaculture offers solutions when investments are made into research for knowledge-based development.
Space is one of the limiting factors to expanding the aquaculture sector, other factors are the pollution from the sector, and fish feed that still, to some extent, comes from wild species. What are the major challenges EAS addresses to solve the aquaculture sector constraints for the future?
All of these areas are topics we highlight in Aqua events as solutions based on quality research and this is the way to go. For each event, the program committee with its conveners put in a lot of energy and attention to have the latest research presented in the scientific program. But it is always the actual implementation and impact of research-based solutions and innovations that can make changes happen. Therefore, the Innovation forum, Industry forum events, and companies at the trade show are just as important to address the bottlenecks and the available solutions to remove these constraints.
While the previous guidelines from 2013 did not mention the word ‘welfare’, the Strategic Guidelines 2021-2023 have for the first time a dedicated section on animal welfare, which was also among the main topics at Aquaculture Europe in Vienna. What is the EAS view on fish welfare including farming, transportation, and slaughter in Europe, how it can be improved, and where is the European aquaculture sector now in that context?
High standards for animal welfare is one of the clear trends in all food production, and we expect nothing less than that from aquaculture. From EAS’s standpoint fish welfare is high on the agenda and will continue to be the topic of our annual events.
As President of the European Aquaculture Society, please say how EAS involves young people and raises their interest in the field of aquaculture? What initiatives or programmes does EAS have in place to encourage youth participation and to promote career opportunities in this industry?
As I have already mentioned, EAS offer free membership for students – as this is the new generation of EAS members when they move into positions as aquaculture farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and government employees, etc. EAS also have a dedicated Student group, and its leader is a full member of the EAS board of directors. The group has been very active in the past years and this is very important for EAS. We encourage the young generation of aquaculture colleagues to engage in the society and use this opportunity to develop their network and carriers.
Innovation is essential for the growth and sustainability of the aquaculture sector. Can you share some insights into how EAS promotes and facilitates the adoption of innovative technologies and practices in the daily work of aquaculture professionals? Are there any specific examples of successful innovations that have made a significant impact on the industry?
EAS is the product of all our members. That means that innovative technologies developed by companies, through EU-funded projects and national-funded projects – presented and developed with collaborators through the EAS events, trade shows, and webinars – contribute to and impact the industry. The role of EAS is mainly to be a place where different stakeholders can connect, share knowledge, and hopefully develop new partnerships and ideas. With the great challenges we face in today’s world, it is more important than ever to be transparent and share knowledge and innovations to move faster forward together, rather than locking in the knowledge within each individual company or institute. Here EAS’ annual events and knowledge sharing through webinars and social media play an important role in creating these platforms for sharing.
Fisheries and aquaculture products represent an important source of protein, being a crucial component of a healthy diet. Nevertheless, seafood consumption varies widely among EU Member States. In addition, only a quarter of the seafood products consumed in the EU comes from aquaculture. Has EAS any current or planned initiatives to promote seafood consumption and create awareness of aquaculture products among EU consumers?
How to develop future sustainable food systems is high on the agenda in the EU, and this includes safe and nutritious food for consumers. We need to change what we eat. More seafood is an obvious solution, but this will not happen if a strategy is not put in place to engage consumers and enhance their knowledge and awareness. EAS will, of course, contribute by continuing to bring the community together, but this is a major undertaking that requires engagement across food sectors, retailers, and consumer organisations.
The EU strategic guideline for more sustainable and competitive aquaculture stresses the importance of climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. Horizon 2020 has funded two relevant projects CERES and ClimeFish which developed studies on several farmed species and tools to understand their vulnerability to climate change and to support decision-makers and local actors. In this view, how is the sector currently dealing with climate-related hazards, what are the main challenges for the near future, and what are the main strategies implemented as of today?
The two EU-funded projects developed very important knowledge and highlighted the importance of climate adaptation. But the industry as a whole has to follow up on this with a much higher intensity. Aquaculture and fisheries success depends on biology and the environment fish live in, and the climate changes are here already. This research field has to be ramped up significantly to develop knowledge-based risk management plans, short- and long-term, for aquaculture and fisheries.