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Øystein Tvedt

Ava Ocean: Balancing Resource Extraction and Ocean Conservation

Undertaking benevolent actions through every available means and across all possible locations is a commendable endeavor. The path to pioneering in any field is never without its challenges, but it is the pursuit of our ultimate goals that propels us forward. Sustainable seabed harvesting represents a conscientious method for extracting seafood from the ocean floor, prioritizing ecosystem well-being, and minimizing ecological impact.

One such pioneering journey towards long-term sustainable fishery has been introduced by Ava Ocean. The team at Ava Ocean is committed to continuous innovation, responsible harvesting practices, and ongoing collaboration with experts that ensure the lasting success of this venture.

To understand this approach to sustainable fishing, we at Insights Success interviewed Øystein Tvedt to know the idea that brought everyone together.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

As a leader in the fisheries sector, could you provide an overview of your company’s mission and its significance within the industry?

At Ava Ocean, we are on a mission to change the way we harvest seafood from the seabed. We have developed a potentially industry-changing technology that enables us to harvest seafood from the seabed without negatively impacting fragile ecosystems. Bottom-dwelling seafoods such as scallops and sea cucumbers are traditionally harvested using metal scrapes called dredges, and this is a method often criticized for causing damage to the habitats on the seabed. But up until now there have been no real alternatives to this fishing gear. Our unique technology is able to selectively draw seafood from the seabed, without disturbing the sediment and quickly returning smaller sized specimens and other bycatch to the seabed without damage. This way we believe it is possible to develop truly sustainable fisheries of the plentiful delicious and nutritious seafoods on the seabed.

In a competitive landscape, what strategies have you employed to secure your position as one of the top fisheries companies in 2023?

We commenced the first commercial fishery using our technology in December 2022, and have spent the past 8 months fine-tuning operations. We are now operating a profitable fishery in the Barents Sea for Arctic scallops. Our vessel, the 85m long Arctic Pearl is a former oil service vessel, given a new life as the first with this game-changing fishing gear onboard. For us, it is important to get this right, not just from a financial perspective but also from a long-term environmental viewpoint. Our commercial operations go hand in hand with a large scientific study to document the short and longer term impact of our operations on the target species as well as the ecosystem. This is the only way we can truly say that this is a sustainable fishery and show the world that it is possible to reap these seafood riches without damaging their habitats. Having now proved the harvester works as intended, and our Arctic scallop fishery in the Barents Sea is becoming profitable, we are excited to embark on our expansion plan to trial the gear in new locations and for other bottom dwelling species.

Innovation is driving transformation across industries. How has your company embraced innovation to optimize processes, improve products, or enhance sustainability?

Ava Ocean was born from a desire and need to do rethink how we interact with nature, enabling access to seafood riches that are either being exploited in a destructive way, or not accessed at all due to restrictions and regulations to protect habitats. In Norway, dredging has been illegal since the early 1990s, when the Arctic scallop population collapsed as a direct result of overfishing using this gear. Since then, these delicacies have been lying untouched on the seabed, and Ava Ocean started looking into what it would take to reopen the fishery. Developing this new harvesting gear in close collaboration with marine research and in dialogue with Norwegian regulators enabled Ava Ocean to reopen this historic fishery after 30 years’ closure.

With increasing environmental concerns, how does your company address sustainability practices to ensure responsible fishing and long-term environmental preservation?

Doing things better for the planet and people is at the core of our mission, and striving to create sustainable fisheries is the very reason for the company’s existence. Documenting and monitoring our activities for research and continuous improvement is an important part of this. We are also working towards obtaining industry-recognized sustainability certifications, but these require both funds and data collection over time for a new technology like ours.

The fisheries industry is influenced by consumer preferences and trends. How does your company anticipate and adapt to these changing market dynamics?

Consumers around the world are increasingly looking to make healthier and more sustainable choices when deciding what to eat. A 2020 study from the Norwegian Seafood Council found that 8 out of 10 consumers wanted to eat more seafood than they do today, and 6 out of 10 said they were already making changes to their diets to be more sustainable. (Seafood Consumer Index 2020) With this in mind, our business model and products fit very well with consumer preferences. Our scallops are the first on the market to be harvested with this new and non-invasive technology, so making sure we communicate our story to consumers is a vital part of our business model.

Navigating challenges is part of any industry. Can you share a specific challenge your company has faced and the innovative solutions you’ve implemented to overcome it?

It is never easy to be a pioneer, and getting to where we are today has by no means been, nor continues to be, plain sailing. Reviving the Arctic scallop fishery required a multifaceted approach involving not just technological innovation, but also collaboration and dialogue with regulatory authorities and marine science.

The initial hurdle we faced, in addition to developing and testing our harvesting technology, was to convince the regulators of the viability of restarting the scallop fishery in the Arctic. The scars of from the 1990s, when invasive fishing had decimated the Arctic scallop population, were still fresh in the minds of the Norwegian government. Understandably, they approached the idea of reopening the fishery with caution, prioritizing safeguards to prevent history from repeating itself.

This cautious approach is very much aligned with our strategy, and we partnered with the Norwegian Institute for Marine Research in mapping the Arctic scallop population and evaluate its size and harvestability. The collaboration also extended to documenting the impact of our prototype harvester on the scallops, and equally important, other species living in the same areas. Based on the results of this, we were granted a 5 year (15,000MT) commercial research license to harvest using our technology in the Barents Sea.

This achievement was a testament to the methodical and cooperative approach we had taken to address the complex challenges of restarting this fishery.

Our journey towards establishing a long-term sustainable fishery for Arctic scallops, and to change the way we harvest from the seabed, has only just begun. We remain committed to continuous innovation, responsible harvesting practices, and ongoing collaboration with experts to ensure the lasting success of this venture.

Looking ahead, where do you envision your company’s role in shaping the future of the fisheries industry? Are there any exciting projects or initiatives on the horizon?

Our journey has only just begun. We want to work towards applying our technology to establish profitable, long-term nature positive fisheries for bottom dwelling seafood’s worldwide. But we also want to do it right, always making sure we have sound scientific data supporting our operations and working with local industry, regulations and communities along the way. We have been contacted by several governments, NGOs, researchers and industry players across the world who are interested in our solution. There is plenty of interest in a new and non-invasive harvesting method for the amazing seafood resources on the seabed and we believe the industry is ready for a green shift. Our goal is to have the first harvesting system outside Norway up and running early next year.

As a leader, what role does your company play in promoting responsible fishing practices and contributing to a sustainable global seafood supply chain?

Every single company in the seafood and fishing industry have a responsibility to strive towards more sustainable practices. Consumers increasingly demand to know that the food on their plate is harvested and produced responsibly, and the bar of what is considered sustainable continues to move, so we must move with it. As producers we cannot afford to assume a status quo, we have to always look to improve. We believe it is possible to have profitable fisheries that do not negatively impact ocean ecosystems and at the same time supports livelihoods and local communities long term.

For aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals in the fisheries field, what advice would you offer to excel in a dynamic and evolving industry?

I would say – dare to challenge the status quo. Question why things have to be the way they always have been. Ava Ocean was born out of a desire to change the way we harvest, making use of know-how and expertise from the Norwegian subsea oil industry and deploying it towards fisheries. Many told us it wouldn’t work, but we have proved them wrong, and we are determined to continue showing the naysayers that it is possible to drive positive industry change the Ava-way.

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