So concludes a new study, undertaken as part of the EU-funded BlueEDU programme, which examined the resources available in 12 European countries.
“Producing fish is far less demanding than producing meat. But to bring production up to the level needed, we have to increase the knowledge among people who work in the blue economy,” says John Birger Stav, associate professor at NTNU, who is project coordinator for BlueEDU.
“Despite growing demand, growth in the European aquaculture industry has stagnated. This is happening partly because the industry lacks employees with the right knowledge and skills,” he adds. “Knowledge of technology, fish biology and the different farming processes is key.”
The research revealed that the differences from country to country are significant. In Greece, which is the fourth largest aquaculture producer in Europe, companies need to conduct all training themselves, while vocational training in aquaculture in the eastern Mediterranean simply isn’t offered.
Major challenges also exist in Norway, where several hundred workers do not have any certificate of completed apprenticeship. As a result, the study concludes, many people make mistakes with grave consequences – according to the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries, nearly 20 per cent of Norwegian farmed salmon died due to delousing practices in 2016. However, the authors note, this statistic can be remedied with education and co-operation.
“At Frøya in Trøndelag county, they’re starting to get on top of the lice battle. The competing aquaculture facilities are cooperating and synchronizing their practices. The effect is that mortality is down to two per cent at the best facilities, profits are way up and animal welfare is much improved,” Stav says.
“Knowledge and cooperation are the keywords here. We need to create a culture where breeders can collaborate and learn from each other. This is what we’re recommending to the EU to include in training and educating skilled workers,” he adds.
The aquaculture industry is growing fast, but the availability of study programme spaces is still limited. Among workers who have been employed for the last six years, two out of three lack the relevant training.
The research project has focused on farmed salmon and trout in the cold waters of northern Europe, as well as sea bass and sea bream in the warmer Mediterranean region.
The project has mapped out companies’ competency needs into the future and whether the educational sector will be able to deliver what companies are actually asking for.
“We’ve been present at national and international meetings. We’ve asked companies for their input on what’s important for the industry. All of Europe believes education is important, but it’s not at the top of the priority list for a lot of people. They don’t necessarily see the connection between fighting disease and education,” Stav says.
Now that the survey data have been collected, the plan is to set up a major European pilot project to test innovative new ways to offer vocational training.
The hope is that more countries will start using similar curricula, teaching methods and technologies, as well as similar means of assessment. This will allow skilled workers who have passed a national vocational qualification exam to automatically have their education accepted by companies in other countries. At the same time it will raise the training standard.
“The largest companies in Norway are positive about joining the pilot project, as are Scottish Sea Farms and the Icelandic companies Arctic Fish and Arnarlax. We also hope to bring the Faroe Islands on board. Then the industry will have a good base for learning from each other and creating common standards,” says Stav.