Research Vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen: For sustainable fish resource management | Sunday Observer

Research Vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen: For sustainable fish resource management

Research Vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen
Research Vessel Dr Fridtjof Nansen

Within the contours of an ongoing Norway assisted project to help manage fish resources in Sri Lanka, the Norwegian and FAO managed research vessel RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen is expected to carry out a research in Sri Lanka’s territorial waters in the Bay of Bengal for nearly a month starting June this year. The survey also falls in the backdrop of Sri Lanka regaining GSP status for fish exports to the EU.

Along with the Norwegian researchers, Sri Lankan scientists will be on board the research vessel during the course of the survey to map the available fish stocks and other resources within this region.

The Norgwegian Ambassador Thorbjorn Gaustadsaether in a recent interview with the Sunday Observer explains the importance of this survey to Sri Lanka and for the sustainable utilization of marine resources, while reminiscing into his country’s role as a onetime peace-maker.

The excerpts of the interview:

Q: Can you outline the purpose and task of the Norwegian research vessel RV Dr Fridtjof Nansen which is due to arrive in June?

The purpose of the survey is to map the marine resources in Sri Lanka. It is important for Sri Lanka to have the information about its resources, fish as well as other marine resources, to form a basis for knowledge based sustainable management of the country’s marine environment and resources.

Hopefully, the data collected will help the government to develop guidelines for sustainable fish resource management of Sri Lanka, and in turn would have a greater impact on the economy.

Q: Can you explain the reason why the government approached you, what necessitated such a survey? Are they scared the fish stocks in the particular region are fast depleting , leading to a scarcity in the future?

No, nothing like that, any country would like to know the state of the marine resources they have. The fish stocks are moving, the data is necessary to understand whether Sri Lanka can utilize more resources than what it does today. That is the main purpose.

Q: The last such research by a Norwegian vessel was carried out in 1988. There is a long gap between the last survey and this one, 37 years to be precise. Is there a particular reason why it was not invited before now?

This research vessel has been performing such research for years but we cannot assure that it will visit every country every year. We made some attempts a few years back but it was not successful. This particular vessel is a new research vessel, it can perform better, with better equipment, better facilities, such as latest radar, etc.and as I said, fish stocks are moving for many reasons and also due to changes in the oceans, like, the temperature factors.

Hopefully, this exercise will lead to more economic benefits for Sri Lanka.

Q: Is there a connection between the research and Sri Lanka regaining GSP concessions on fish exports to the EU? Does Sri Lanka want to find more fishing grounds to meet the demand?

The research vessel will advise Sri Lanka on available resources, but it is at your discretion to use that information appropriately. I would think knowing your resource base better would better equip you to know whether there is potential to export more to the EU and other destinations.

But I don’t think there is a direct link, this info perhaps would help Sri Lanka to fish more and export more.

Q: What led to the involvement of the Norwegian Government on behalf of the FAO to get involved in this survey of fish stocks in the Indian Ocean Bay of Bengal region ?

It’s a little bit the other way round. This research vessel has been built with Norwegian funds. This is the third research vessel we had.

We are proving it with the expertise of our research institute but it is up to the FAO to run it, because they have the international mandate. With the UN flag they can enter any territory. It is manned by Norwegian resources and the UN flag shows that this vessel belongs to the world at large.

Q: How will these research findings be used by individual countries as well as in collaboration with each other?

It’s up to individual countries to decide how they want to use the resources, but in Sri Lanka we have a good collaboration with NARA.

NARA is an institution that would like to have these types of data and carry out research and provide better policy advice for the Ministry. We hope NARA will find this data useful to carry out their mandate in Sri Lanka. The ship is visiting a number of countries, it has been to the African Gulf and is now in the Bay of Bengal. I heard NARA is very keen to take advantage of the database that will be available after the survey.

Q:Will there be an exchange of technology also between the vessel and NARA?

This is mostly data sharing and building capacity to analyze data. There will not be a technology transfer like instruments and infrastructure.

Q: The poaching in the Bay of Bengal is a major issue, particularly, for Sri Lanka. Most of the time these ships are ill equipped. With this ongoing effort focused on the fishery sector here, is there a way to get Norwegian expertise to resolve this poaching issue once and for all?

The ship’s team can only tell these are the marine resources you have, but as far as the legal issues are concerned, it is something Sri Lanka and India must resolve through dialogue. The fish in the Bay of Bengal will not recognize the borders, it moves around.

Q: Norway being a maritime nation with an impressive fishing fleet, how does it manage fishing sustainability? Do you work with organizations such as the Marine Stewardship Council to identify and conserve any endangered species? What are the lessons that Lanka can learn to stop illegal fishing practices and over exploitation of fish stocks?

Yes, we work with sustainability issues, and it is an important factor for us as well as our customers. We work on certificates to assure them that we utilize the resources in a sustainable way and we are not over fishing, that we are not taking what is not ours and depleting the stocks. That is something which we are definitely working on with the Marine Stewardship Council. We have a certification for cod fishing which is the most important deep sea fishing for Norway.

In Sri Lanka I know they are having some discussions to get certification for tuna fishing. I assume better data would help the country seek certification and be better equipped to enter the world market. Hopefully, the research will help Sri Lanka to work with such institutions.

Q: Will there be any recommendations along with the data from Nansen to the Sri Lankan government ?

No, there will not be any regulations or recommendations. But Sri Lanka on its own will have to look at necessary policy implications.

Q: There will also be a symposium on the blue economy in line with the ship’s visit. What is the importance of a blue economy to coastal countries and what are the steps that should be taken to achieve Sustainable Development Goals for this sector ?

It’s a good question, I think we have all realized now that the oceans have a lot of potential – a lot of resources are in the sea that are not yet discovered. There is a drive internationally to use more resources from the oceans but you should use it in a way that you will not deplete it. Secondly, a lot of transport today is done by vessels, if we can make the maritime sector and our sea transport sector to use clean energy that would be great. We have ships running on wind and battery power now. There is also research on how to use less fuel, how to develop sustainable tourism, to have clean beaches and get rid of litter. These will be the highlights of the Symposium on blue economy.

We are trying to focus on how to use the sea around Sri Lanka, how to use the resources while addressing the above concerns.

Q: Where does Sri Lanka stand today with regard to its fishing practices ?

The fact that you have increased your fish exports, is a sign that the country’s potential of using marine resources are better. That is a very good indication. But you also need to develop a system of controlling illegal fishing so you don’t over fish but in general, I think you are alright.

Coastal fishing tends to be more traditional but if you have more modern ships, you could engage in deep sea fishing in the international waters and it will benefit the fish processing industry in Sri Lanka. So there is potential for your country there.

Q: Is it an area Norway is willing to assist Sri Lanka?

Investment in this sector is more of a private sector undertaking. We cannot expect governments to get involved in these areas.

Q: Norway has helped SL in many other spheres. You have recently said SL has a long way to go in terms of the Right to Information (RTI). Can you elaborate on this?

I said when it comes to awareness the country has a long way to go. Because this idea of RTI is going to be fully effective if only people are aware that they have a right to information, and that they can demand information that concerns them from public institutions. Only then can they fully appreciate this right.

Q: At any point did your country ever regret having been involved in the Sri Lankan peace process, and is there anything you would have done differently, if Norway is given a second chance ?

I must say we were asked by the Sri Lankan government at the time to facilitate. Unfortunately, the peace process did not succeed. We were trying to assist Sri Lanka but it did not work out well. There were many reasons for that. We were trying to do our best.