“Sometimes I feel like such an imposter,” Kara Brydson, executive director of Fisheries Innovation and Sustainability (FIS), told Fishing News. “I always start by telling people what I’m not. I’m not a scientist, I’m not from a fishing family, I’m not a fisher, I’m not from the seafood supply chains – I’ve come into the industry from quite a different way.”

That alternative route into the industry included experience of working in Afghanistan, Central and West Africa and Siberia. “I’ve always been interested in what the tricky questions are, or tricky things that need sorting. I used to work with an organisation providing aid into war zones and emergency conflict areas. I found I became quite good at trying to get folk together to do things.”

Kara’s first experience of maritime industries came whilst working with an NGO on exploitation of marine mammals. That role led to a position with RSPB Scotland as head of marine policy.

“Whilst at the RSPB, I became more and more fascinated by fisheries. If you’re interested in food and health, business and communities, and politics, then fisheries really is the place to be. I loved working with the RSPB, but they allowed me to take a sabbatical to learn more about seafood.”

Kara left the RSPB to take up a position with Seafish, before joining FIS in 2018. At that time, the organisation – which aims to drive strategic innovation for a prosperous and sustainable seafood industry – was Scotland- focused, but last year it widened its remit to cover the whole of the UK.

“People often ask what innovation is. To us, it’s simply new ways of doing things, of trialling things – and importantly, it’s pre-competitive.

“Our members and stakeholder committee members are people from the catching sector right through to scientists and those working with other industries. It’s about taking the risks together to trial ways of improving how we catch and sell fish, and how we manage our seafood supply chains.”

Kara at a FIS and Clyde Fishermen’s Trust workshop. Last year, FIS expanded its remit to cover the whole of the UK. “We were already working in Scotland with a lot of different sectors and organisations such as Seafish, Young’s Seafood, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and The Fishmongers’ Company. They’re all big UK organisations – so we decided to branch out and formally support the whole of the UK supply chain, looking at innovation.”

To help meet those ambitions, an important part of Kara’s daily role is communication. “A lot of what I do on a day to day basis is talk to a great deal of people on the phone!

“Today, I’ve been speaking to people about how to help fishers have better access to funding. We’ve been thinking about how we can make sure the money that’s out there can really make a difference to individuals and communities. Is there a better way of linking people with funding applications?

“I’ve also been speaking to the team at the University of Highlands and Islands in Shetland who have been trialling FIS’ Smartrawl system, which is an AI- aided selective fishing device. I’ve been getting feedback on some of the things that work – and areas which perhaps need more help. I always say, innovation takes a lot of time, and money – and resilience.

“I’m also just off the phone from speaking about 100% Fish – which is a project looking at ways of utilising every part of the fish, and valorising fish. A lot of that work is being done in Iceland and involves new ideas – such as an energy drink containing fish collagen. It’s about finding the opportunities and making the most of them.

“In Iceland they’ve managed to bring people together really well to think about what all the opportunities are. That’s what it’s all about – what are those opportunities that we’re not unlocking at this point? Seafood is a brilliant industry – what can we do to make it even more, as our strapline says, prosperous and sustainable?”

Communication, both within and outside the industry, is a key part of Kara’s role – here on the FIS stand at the Scottish Skipper Expo. “I love trying to spread the good message that we have brilliant folk and great companies and a fantastic product – and we’re trying to make the most of it.”

To help increase knowledge and awareness of possible innovations, FIS also operates international exchange programmes with The Fishmongers’ Company. “It’s about getting folk in the seafood industry to experience innovations in other countries, or taking part in knowledge exchanges. For example, we had a Scottish skipper who went to look at net zero vessels in Norway.

“Learning from other nations and other sectors is really important. I tend to give other folk the opportunities to travel, and I’ll stay here, in front of my computer!”

However, Kara’s role does enable her to sometimes leave the desk behind. “It’s great to get out and about and meet colleagues. We went down to a Fishing into the Future (FITF) event recently. I work really well with people like Emma from FITF.

“FIS is very small, so we work with other organisations, like FITF, to ensure we’re not duplicating work, and to ensure that when there’s gaps, we can help to fill those.”

That includes immediate concerns as well as long-term planning. “Something I have to balance in this job is the longer- term visions of what we could do in the future with understanding that there are some people that are hurting now, and need solutions now.

“So while we might look at AI in fishing equipment, there might also be small tweaks we can make that could make somebody’s business more sustainable and prosperous now.

“It’s about balancing those big, long-term, so-mad-it-might- just-work ideas with trying to make things better, more efficient, more prosperous right now.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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