Tuesday, January 30, 2018

the interview: Erik Hempel, Director of Communications, The Nor-Fishing Foundation

Erik Hempel has been involved with The Nor-Fishing Foundation for 10 years where he is now the Director of Communications.
He describes his entry into aquaculture as almost an accident, remarking, “I just happened to stumble into fisheries, back in the late 1970s, a short-term consultancy for the FAO led to a job with the FAO at INFOFISH. Aquaculture at that time was not such a big thing, but as it grew, we all started to pay attention to it, me included.”
Mr Hempel trained initially as a Political Scientist before embarking on his career in aquaculture, in his most recent role he will be officially serving as the Editor of International Aquafeed magazine, Norwegian edition.




How have you seen Norwegian aquaculture practices evolve in the past decade?
I think the technological development has continued with force. Particularly in the last few years, we have seen the introduction of very sophisticated technology in Norwegian fish farming. It is fair to say that aquaculture has become even more science-based in its approach and in its practice. In addition, we have seen very profitable operations, thanks to a very high salmon price.
Finally, the industrialisation of aquaculture in Norway has continued. It is now first and foremost a business, and is dominated by very large companies.
Consequently, we have seen the entry of a number of “new” professions, at least in relation to aquaculture. The big companies are now run by economists, finance people, and lawyers, and not so much by biologists and the traditional fish farmers.
Norway is a relatively small producer in terms of volume. Secondly, we were a late-comer in the game. But the most important characteristic of Norwegian aquaculture, and the field where Norway has probably been in the forefront, is the systematic, scientific approach to the industry.
Modern aquaculture is now an “information industry” in the sense that all aspects are developed with a basis in science, and we are applying a number of scientific fields to make this a smooth-running, profitable and sustainable industry.

Aqua-Nor is recorded as the world’s largest aquaculture technology exhibition; do you think it will maintain this position next year?
I believe we can for a few more years. The reason is simply that it is a forum that more and more people in the industry, worldwide, are coming to. As organisers will have to do our part, we must continuously make sure that fish farmers in other regions of the world and those working with species other than salmon, or even finfish in general, will find something of interest at our exhibition.
We must attract people from other regions and other parts of the industry, and I think the way we do that is by offering an interesting programme of mini-seminars and discussions.
Some years ago, we asked ourselves the question: “Do exhibitions have a future at all, or will it all be taken over by the net?”
By analysing what our exhibitions meant to the exhibitors and the visitors, we arrived at a simple formula. Our exhibitions, both Aqua Nor and Nor-Fishing, provide three important things to the industry:
A display window for new technology; this is where you will find the latest technology on display, and you will be able to meet those who created it and discuss with them.
Secondly, Aqua Nor and Nor-Fishing are meeting places. It is a fantastic networking place, where you can meet lots and lots of people in the industry in the span of very few days.
Finally, it is a place where you can get a professional update on the industry. This is where the mini-seminars and the mini-conferences come in
By facilitating these three simple things, we believe that we can remain interesting to the industry.

How important is networking for the future of aquacultural technology?
I believe this is the most important aspect of the exhibition. Therefore, I should have liked to have more to offer in terms of restaurants, lobbies, etc, where people can sit down and talk. However, we have to give priority to the exhibitors, and I know that there is an awful lot of networking going on at each and every stand in the hall.

You have a long and rich history in the industry, how would you recommend it as a field for young professionals to get into?
To young people, I can only say: this is the future. Whatever your educational background, the industry will need you all. We need bright young people to develop our industry further, and we must do our utmost to recruit them.
At the Nor-Fishing Foundation, during the exhibitions, we dedicate one day, - Friday, the last day of the exhibition -, as “Student Day”. We invite students from all over and run a special programme for them, including the very popular “speed dating” between students and companies that are looking for young recruits. This has become phenomenally popular, both among the students and the companies, and last year we had no less than 350 students participating.

What do you think the biggest problem threatening aquaculture is and what do you think can be done to tackle it?
Sometimes I get very upset with the argumentation of various special interest groups that fight aquaculture. Various environmental groups come to mind. While they pretend to be fighting for the environment, I suspect they do not always know what they are talking about, and sometimes I even suspect that they have an agenda which is quite different from the one they say they have.
There are exceptions, of course, and I think that environment groups like WWF and Bellona have chosen a much more constructive course than most other such groups. These organizations focus on solving problems together with the industry, rather than fighting the industry.
But there are threats within the industry itself, too. Lack of knowledge, or just pure greed, can make some operators pursue the wrong practices. Each and every fish farmer has to think about the environment and about sustainability. Those who do not, are sawing off the branch they are sitting on, so to speak.
So what is needed, both within the industry and in relation to the general public, is more information, true and accurate information.

Given your widespread experience, what other activities are you involved in globally and why?
My job keeps me very busy, and what little time is left I like to spend with my grandchildren. I now have five grandsons, and I try to see them regularly.
But I am involved in a number of development projects around the world as part of my job. I do a bit of work for the FAO under the GLOBEFISH banner, and I am involved in some other conferences here and there. Then I take on the odd consultancy project, particularly in Africa and Asia.
In Vietnam, for example, I am involved with the newly established Vietnam SeaCulture Association, which is planning to develop a marine aquaculture industry and wants to cooperate with us in Norway in this effort.
This work does mean a lot of travel, but I have now developed a new hobby when I am travelling: I keep sending postcards (no, they are not yet out of fashion!) to my grandsons.

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