Fish and other seafood products are the most marketed goods in the world. Even though many people believe that coffee, tobacco or spices are the most sought-out food, it is, in fact, seafood that is the number-one choice of gourmets around the world. Countries with maritime territory procure a part of their revenue from the export of seafood, whereas tourists visit certain countries considered gastronomical havens of fish delicacies. One of those countries is Croatia.

Fine food is not the only globally recognised and sought-after trend: an increasing number of consumers is also looking for guarantee and proof that the food they’re eating is sustainable. In terms of fish and other seafood products, this means that the fish was caught in a sustainable way or farmed responsibly. In other words, due care is given to the way fishing tools are used during fishing, whether the catch was made during the fishing season, the size of the catch, quality and quantity of the food provided to the fish on fish farms, etc.

Croatia is an advanced country in many aspects, but there are still some that require improvement. The good news is that one historical coastal town, in the academic year of 2017/2018, was blessed with a sliver of the future. The Department for Ecology, Agronomy and Aquaculture of the University of Zadar started conducting a new Graduate Studies programme “Sustainable Management of Aquatic Ecosystems”. This is the first university programme related to the sustainability of the fishing sector in our region.

The idea of establishing the programme sounded unbelievable, just like most ideas. Seemingly incompatible partners gathered forces to make a change in the “management” of seafood products, the irresponsible use of which became a real threat to the environment and ecosystems. The University of Zadar, Rural Development Agency of the Zadar County (AGGRA), Cromaris and WWF Adria designed the Blue Smart project and applied for EU funds, transforming the idea into reality in no time!

Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia recognised the importance and quality of this programme by enabling 10 students the right to attend the study programme for free, with all student rights included

The results of such a project, as well as the programme and course derived from it, are not abstract documents buried in a drawer of a character from Kafka’s novels but remain as palpable and usable heritage for young people and future generations, as well as for those currently employed in the fishing sector.

“Up until recently, I couldn’t even imagine that this type of university programme could ever exist, and now I’m taking it” vigorously states Saša Stipković, one of the students of the programme, a professional diver since 1997. “I finished the Bachelor’s degree in Underwater Sciences and Technologies at the University of Zadar, so the graduate programme in Sustainable Management of Aquatic Ecosystems was the next logical step. Apart from aquaculture, the programme also includes environmental protection and protected maritime areas that are of particular interest to me. There aren’t a lot of places where you can attend such a programme, so I feel lucky to be able to reaffirm my prior experience and knowledge by finishing it.”

Apart from aquaculture, the programme also includes environmental protection and protected maritime areas“, Saša Stipković says

After just under two years of project implementation, the results are starting to show. The second generation of students was enrolled this fall, and the Croatian youth’s desire to learn about global economic trends such as sustainability is evident from the fact that all the programme quotas have been filled once again (30 students per year). Moreover, the Ministry of Science and Education of the Republic of Croatia recognised the importance and quality of this programme by enabling 10 students the right to attend the study programme for free, with all student rights included.

It was scientifically confirmed that the seas are empty. Not only the distant, warm tropical seas but our own Adriatic Sea as well. The fish is growing scarcer, and the fishermen who have been making a living out of fishing and the sea for generations may find themselves in a situation where they have no means of putting food on their family’s table. Sustainable fishing is the only cure for this contemporary cancer. It doesn’t suffice to merely put a band-aid to this illness and pretend it will pass. If we continue with our reckless behaviour in terms of fishing resources, the seas will be nearly empty of edible species of fish by the year 2050. Nevertheless, there is hope. Lifelong education is one of the solutions for a better future.

“Podupiremo naše zaposlenike da završe tečaj kako bi stekli dodatnu edukaciju ali i motivirali ostale zaposlenike da učine isto“, ističe Slavica Čolak

“We adapted the course to other companies as well, since we aim to be an example of good practice and share our knowledge with others, so that the entire sector moves forward towards sustainability” says Slavica Čolak of Cromaris, the company in charge of writing the content for the online course “Foundations of Good Fishing Practice”. “We encourage our employees to finish the course in order to obtain additional training, as well as to motivate other employees to follow in their footsteps. That’s also a way for older employees to change their mindset, but also the families and the community of the greatest fishing fleet in the Adriatic. Only an educated team can advance and ensure a better future for both the company and the environment”, adds Slavica.

The “old folks” are often those that say the young people are disinterested and that things were better in the old days. But we have to ask, what generations were “caring” enough to leave an empty sea for children of today and the future? Maybe this story shouldn’t point to the culprits, but the youth of whom we expect to find a solution for the present situation. Good luck to them (us)!