The University of New England hosted Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, His Excellency Kåre R. Aas, for a meeting of UNE leadership, policy makers and Maine aquaculture experts at UNE NORTH – The Institute for North Atlantic Studies in Portland.
The meeting, part of a two-day visit by the ambassador and his staff to learn more about Maine’s sustainable coastal development initiatives, was organized by the Maine North Atlantic Development Office (MENADO) on behalf of the State of Maine. It focused on the development of sustainable ocean economies.
Ambassador Aas offered encouragement for developing new Maine – Norway partnerships, particularly in support of sustainable ocean economies that are guided by the U.N. Sustainable Development goals. “It was a pleasure to visit UNE and learn more about Maine’s ocean economy,” he said. “I see great opportunities for strengthened cooperation between Norway and Maine, not least in aquaculture.”
After a welcome and introduction to UNE NORTH by UNE President James Herbert, Sebastian Belle of the Maine Aquaculture Association, who spent 10 years “learning his trade” in Norway, provided an overview of Maine’s aquaculture sector, focusing on the programs and initiatives that have allowed Maine to grow. Belle commented that while aquaculture worldwide has grown at a rate of 8 percent, U.S. aquaculture has grown only 1 percent. In contrast to the rest of the U.S., Maine aquaculture has grown at a rate of 7 percent. Belle pointed to the collaboration between industry and academia as a key to continuing that growth by providing a workforce with the needed entrepreneurial and technical skills.
UNE NORTH Executive Director Barry Costa-Pierce spoke of UNE’s use of strategic international partnerships to support both education and research initiatives that will help support the aquaculture industry with new technologies and next generation leaders who will continue to develop the sector, grounding it firmly in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. UNE’s Professional Science Master’s in Ocean Food Systems, built on partnerships with University of Akureyri and Holar University College in Iceland and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, is currently training its inaugural class of nine students who are working on industry-based projects in Maine, Iceland, Alaska and Belize. Costa-Pierce noted that UNE is also the only U.S. university that is a partner in the AquaVitae project, led by Norwegian aquaculture research institute Nofima. Launched earlier this year, the European Union-funded €8 million project joins over 36 partners from across 16 countries around the Atlantic to increase low-trophic species production.
Both Belle and Costa-Pierce spoke to Norway’s strengths in aquaculture and the leadership role the country, its industries and researchers, particularly in demonstrating the need for a social contract when it comes to developing sustainable ocean economies.
President James Herbert commented, “The natural synergies between Maine and the Nordic countries, including Norway, are manifested by many growing academic, industry and governmental partnerships. I’m proud that UNE is able to play a leading role in these developments.”
MENADO Executive Director Dana Eidsness organized the meeting and also provided an overview of the Arctic Economic Council’s Blue Economy Working Group which aims to facilitate business activities and responsible recourse development throughout the circumpolar Arctic. Eidsness chairs the international working group. “There’s great potential for collaboration and cooperation between Maine and Norway’s marine sectors and our conversations with the Ambassador at UNE NORTH underscored this,” Eidsness said. “Collaborations around aquaculture, coastal green shipping and working together to contribute to a pan-Arctic blue economy initiative under the Arctic Economic Council are very possible outcomes of our meeting, today.”