The University of Kiel organises a lecture series about humans and the sea to increase ocean literacy. It takes place in the auditorium maximum and is open to citizens, including university staff and students. Mundus maris was invited to speak about small-scale fisheries in the session titled 'Fisheries and aquaculture narratives' on 8 January 2020. Dr. Ulrike Kronfeld-Goharani of the Research Group on International Political Sociology (IPS) moderated the evening.

Dr. Christoph Zimmermann, Director of the Baltic Fisheries Research Institute in Rostock, was the first to deliver an impulse talk before the discussion with the audience. He attacked the press and environment protection organisations for exagerating the poor state of world fisheries. He criticised that the media coverage suggested to concerned citizens that after massive and well visible destructions on land, humans should leave at least the ocean alone. Instead, he argued that people should correct their perceptions and recognise that fish was a better food item than red meat. Referring to the US researcher Ray Hilborn he insisted that fisheries resources were in much better shape than assumed. According to him, former Kiel-based scientist Boris Worms, who had warned that the extension of current trends would lead to the demise of fisheries as we know them by about 2048, was badly mistaken. Indeed, Dr. Zimmermann stated that extrapolations into the future were not a scientific method and to be avoided. This is a bit surprising as the sciences should prepare us to cope better with future challenges. For his part, he believed that the ups and downs of fisheries landings had more to do with annual environmental changes than overfishing and that good management had led to fisheries resources in the North Atlantic being in a rather robust condition. The reduction of cod quota in the Baltic was an indication of that.

Prof. Dr. Carsten Schulz of the Gesellschaft für Marine Aquakultur mbH contextualised current global aquaculture by citing key analyses and trends from the FAO report "World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018" to bring the audience up to speed. Aquaculture production for human consumption had overtaken wild fish capture in 2014. Some 85% of the production in 2016, the last year data were available in the FAO report, was located in Asia.

He estimated that some 600 species of animals and about 50 species of aquatic plants were used in some measure under confined conditions compared to approximately 45 species on land. Because of the large number of aquatic species in aquaculture, few if any, had been domesticated. So "culture" really meant "fattening" in cages, ponds, raceways or closed systems with water recirculation while juveniles were still being caught in the sea.

Water consumption of fish culture was certainly lower than in intensive livestock, but filtering out waste produced within the system was difficult and expensive. In open cages in the marine environment excess feeds, medicinal products and extrements were washed out into the sea. This is why the expansion of salmon cage culture in Norway had been brought to a halt. Moreover, high prices for fish meal had created strong incentives to seek vegetable substitutes. A lot of environmental, technical and financial challenges remained to be solved in aquaculture before it could hope to meet projected high demand at the middle of the century.

The third impulse talk was be Dr. Cornelia E Nauen of Mundus maris. She focused on the generally under-appreciated role of small-scale fisheries for local and even international fish food production in a global market situation, where fisheries products are the most internationally traded of all food commodities at about 35% of total production. The majority of fishers - men and women - along value chains in the world were active in small-scale fisheries (SSF). She illustrated their often harsh living and working conditions with an example from Casamance, Southern Senegal, West Africa, where Mundus maris had co-sponsored a prize-winning documentary about a fishery on sardinellas, small pelagic fish that were smoked and sun-dried. Sardinellas were a much wanted food not only on the coast, but for people with low income across the entire Sahel. The economic basis of between 10 and 20,000 people had been destroyed there, when Chinese fish meal factories took over their working spaces and polluted an adjacent protected area.

Cornelia illustrated briefly the wider context of challenges to marine biodiversity and SSF often down to illegal, unregulated and unrecorded (IUU) fishing by industrial fleets. All too often, particularly distant water fleets were only able to operate thanks to public subsidies which generated perverse effects and prevented a level playing field. These should be stopped. In the meantime, she argued against just lamenting well-known malpractice and rather also support capacity building among men and women in small scale fisheries. An example of such strengthening their capacities was happening with some interesting early results in the form of the small-scale fisheries academy in Senegal. The slides are here.

The ensuing discussion between the audience and the speakers touched on the problematic situation of global fisheries as Asian, African and Latin American fisheries - more than half the world's production - were not at all generally in good shape. Moreover, during the recent international FAO symposium on the sustainability of fisheries in Rome concern had been expressed about high levels of IUU fishing and the need for cleaning this up to ensure sustainability. China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea and Spain were named as the five top countries flouting the rules and involved in IUU fishing. The EU had made reducing IUU fishing a priority.

During the debate, Cornelia cautioned also that fisheries and aquaculture operators should be attentive to the needs of other, often more powerful, actors, such as gas, oil and other energy interests, infratstructure developers, tourism operators, maritime traffic and yet others. Their demand on ocean resources was rapidly growing. It was important to support particularly the majority of people in SSF for being able to make their voice heard in increasingly wide-spread spatial planning or being ignored and simply excluded.

In the concluding round of statements, Cornelia drew attention to public free sources of scientific knowledge, such as FishBase and SeaLifeBase, and that it was important to develop new narratives making the science even more accessible to a wider public in order to find solutions to the looming crisis together.