Marine issues with particular relevance to life in the Highlands, such as fisheries, mariculture, and rural development through new marine biotechnology businesses were the focus of a meeting between the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP, Argyll & Bute MP Alan Reid (right), and Danny Alexander, MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey with SAMS researchers (including Dr Maeve Kelly, front left) during a visit to Dunstaffnage on Friday 7th October 2005. The visit was hosted by Professor Sir John Arbuthnott, President of SAMS, and Dr Ken Jones, SAMS' Deputy Director.
Together politicians and scientists explored some of the societal implications of these topics, and how research findings at SAMS are disseminated beyond the academic community to inform policy.
Dr Kenny Black, expert on the impacts of aquaculture on the coastal ecosystem, and a member of the Scottish Ministerial Working Group on Aquaculture, described Scotland as leading in terms of regulating the mariculture industry and including the latest research findings into management of the Scottish Industry: "The Scottish regulatory system serves as a model in several other parts of the world, e.g. the Mediterranean and Canada."
Dr Maeve Kelly's research focuses on developing sustainable, multi-species aquaculture systems, which provide growers with additional crops while reducing the environmental impacts of fish-farming. Describing that seaweed in particular grows fast close to fish cages, she discussed with the visitors the possibility of using seaweeds as a renewable biofuel. This idea caught the interest of the politicians, particularly at a time when high fuel prices cause genuine problems to the dispersed communities in the Highlands.
Drs Dave Schoeman and Ben Wilson informed the visitors about the complex ecosystem in which fisheries operate. The researchers explained that they are interested not so much in establishing just that fisheries-related changes are occurring but in the mechanisms that give rise to these changes. Without an understanding of the relationship between exploited fish species, progressive climate change, overfishing, and the responses from the rest of the ecosystem on a large scale, predictions of future fisheries developments, effective protection of valuable fish stocks, and good fisheries management are impossible to achieve. Charles Kennedy as MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber also discussed the closure of SAMS Ardtoe with Dr Wilson and Schoeman, who had moved to Ardtoe from the University of British Columbia, Canada and the University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa respectively prior to their relocation to SAMS.
Finally, the MPs visited GlycoMar and Aquapharm Biodiscovery, tenant companies in the European Centre for Marine Biotechnology (ECMB), a SAMS-owned marine biotechnology incubator at Dunstaffnage. ECMB demonstrates how academic research can be turned into valuable products and commercial enterprise that brings new, well-paid jobs to the area.