A source for Arctic optimism: The Blue Bioeconomy

23 August 2019
Editorial by Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials

The blue bioeconomy is and will be a major contributor to achieving sustainable development in the Arctic and beyond. The term “blue bioeconomy” refers to innovation potentials in utilizing and creating new marine products with the help of new unconventional processing methods. It is therefore also one of today’s main sources for great optimism for our region, especially given the Arctic Council’s specific focus on sustainable development and environmental protection.

Today, estimates reveal that up to 43% of captured fish and shellfish resources end up either as wastage or discarded material. This means that companies are throwing away 43% of the biomass that could potentially generate substantial profits by developing methods for turning “wastes” into high value products for non-food sectors. In Iceland we have several examples of companies that have adopted the blue bioeconomy methodology, with companies Thorfish hf. and Vísir hf. reaching towards 100% biomass utilization! This development has been driven forward by both need and initiative. In order to grow, companies that utilize naturally limited marine resources will need to increase the utilization level of their catches and/or increase the overall value of their products.

The Icelandic authorities and companies such as the Icelandic Ocean Cluster have supported entrepreneurs, innovators and researchers in the field of marine science, research and development in their efforts to find innovative ways to fully utilise marine harvests that otherwise would have been discarded. This has resulted in the establishments of successful companies such as beauty and wellness company Feel Iceland, food supplement company Benecta, biotech company Codland, cosmetics, medical and health products company Zymetech, Medical Fish Skin Company Kerecis and Lipid Pharmaceuticals. All of these have developed ways to utilize the benefits of marine collagen, fish oil and/or mineral supplements, derived by means of biotechnology from underutilized raw materials, in their products. This has created substantial value from what was formerly better known as marine wastage.

The blue bioeconomy is a kind of back to basics thinking in the sense that it’s about making the most of what you get. It’s about maximizing the value of and revenue from marine catches and minimizing waste and negative environmental impacts of marine operations. It’s about responsible behaviour making for better business. Moreover, the blue bioeconomy supports increased societal resilience through job creation and, as such, supports Arctic communities that often rely on sustainable utilization of marine natural resources.

The fact that we can, for years and decades to come, build on continued blue bioeconomy success stories from scientists, innovators, entrepreneurs and companies, is marvellous. And the fact that the methodology is based on the concept of sustainable development, gives us every reason for hope, optimism and conviction that we are moving towards a bright Arctic future.