Interview with Ingrid Kelling

Dr Ingrid Kelling, Assistant Professor of Sustainable Seafood, Heriot-Watt University, holds a PhD in sustainable and ethical aquaculture trade and currently leads a research team at Heriot Watt University focusing on improving social sustainability in seafood supply.

What inspired you to become involved in aquaculture?

I was working in Brussels when the opportunity arose to join Struan Stevenson MEP’s team at the European Parliament. Although he held the prestigious role of Chairman of the Fisheries Committee, I hesitated because I was convinced fisheries and aquaculture could only be boring. 20 years later and I’m still in the sector! I quickly fell in love with defending Scotland’s interests at the European level on aquaculture and fisheries issues, and realised that it’s far more than a food production sector for Scotland. Working in aquaculture incorporates aspects of culture, health, trade, development, welfare, economics, nutrition and so much more. I reckon I’ll still be here in another 20 years.

Briefly describe your aquaculture career

After some years in Brussels I worked on sustainability issues with a corporate company, and then on broader regulatory and industry policy linked to supply chain standards at the OECD, which eventually led to a PhD in sustainable and ethical aquaculture trade at the University of Stirling, and a deep interest in equity issues throughout the sector. Since my return to academia, I have been focused on establishing a Global Centre on Social Sustainabilty in Seafood Supply (aquaculture and fisheries), examining how to improve worker wellbeing as part of sustainability in the sector.

Which individuals or organisations in aquaculture have you found particularly inspirational?

I have found networking institutions like WiSA or MASTS to be particularly inspirational due to the way they bring together people from very different backgrounds who may otherwise not meet. I am inspired by member stories of those working to promote the positive impacts of aquaculture environmentally, economically, and socially as well. Every Little Helps was created by Tesco as its tag-line, but it’s actually true when it comes to sustainability.

How important has networking been to your career?

‘Networking’ has been co-opted as a formal term for something that can happen quite naturally, such as ‘meeting up with’ someone or ‘grabbing a coffee’. By calling it networking, we sometimes make it seem scarier than it is because it can feel like we are meant to be achieving some sort of goal. But networking is really only about communicating in a way that is comfortable for you. And I have found people working in aquaculture to be so interesting and kind and collaborative that it becomes pretty easy to keep in touch and find ways to work together. So while networking has been vitally important to me to help me see the bigger picture, keep an open mind, use opportunities, and work for change, it’s also been as easy as having a coffee with someone I met at a conference, or including them as a partner in some of the research I’m planning. Often, when meeting one person you also get access to their network too. Although we’ve all had to adjust with fewer face-to-face meetings during covid, I’ve found it has still been possible to meet new people via LinkedIn, sending an email or arranging a call. In fact it’s often made those interactions better as, at the end of the day, it’s also good for the soul to connect with others!

During your career, have you noticed inequalities in the sector, be it in policies or culture? If yes, what actions do you think would best address those issues?

Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in an equitable or equal world, particularly when it comes to work. Although environmentalism around aquaculture has held the attention of the public, there is some indication that this is broadening to include social sustainability as well. The Global Centre’s research aim is to address inequalities in the sector, particularly around worker rights, welfare and wellbeing, and community impacts. With WiSA, we will be organising a workshop at the MASTS Annual Science Meeting on Diversity and Inclusion in Aquaculture in November 2022, as we would be delighted to hear from those who are implementing programmes or policies in this area.

What is your proudest aquaculture-related achievement to date?

At the last MASTS Annual Science Meeting we partnered with SAIC to organise a thought-provoking discussion on industry needs and policy priorities related to COP 26 in Glasgow. It’s important that while driving the discussion forward, it remains both practical and desirable. This collaborative approach is the way in which to ensure buy-in from policy-makers and industry, which is more likely to lead to long-term impact.

What advice would you give to someone (man or woman) looking to start a career in the aquaculture sector, or progress their existing career?

I would say to go for it! There are plenty of opportunities at all levels and they will provide an interesting, stimulating and varied career! And the best place to start is by contacting people working in areas that interest you.

What do you think will be the key drivers/areas for innovation for Scottish aquaculture in the next decade?

As a society, we have to grapple with some really fundamental shifts coming our way, primarily linked to overexploitation of our resources in a broad sense that has resulted in clear health issues (for consumers and workers), climate change, and resource depletion. We don’t have 3, 4 or 5 earths: we’ve only got this one. We have a choice between either radically reducing our material footprint, or probable disaster. We must use less resources, and we must value people more. And we must WANT to want these things. I think aquaculture has the potential, through innovation, to dramatically address these three areas and contribute to a society operating within planetary boundaries and social responsibility, while delivering safe, nutritious and sustainable seafood. That then leaves the ‘want’: do policy-makers, industry, and society in Scotland, want this enough to lead the way?

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