Katerina Mastora’s passion for the seas has turned into a mission to educate her homeland about sustainable aquaculture
By Maria Flip
Growing up in the Greek city of Ioannina, surrounded by lakes and rivers and about an hour’s drive from the Ionian Sea, Katerina Mastora was never far from the daily harvests of local fishers.
The 26-year-old graduate from the University of Thessaly’s Department of Ichthyology and Aquatic Environment, is now on a mission to educate her people about the benefits of sustainable aquaculture.
“Information and knowledge the Greeks have on aquaculture is still deficient…they do not realize the prospects that can be brought about it being by a sustainable production sector,” said Mastora.
“To go forward I have to go back and explain our aquaculture-history,” said Mastora, as SeaWestNews caught up with her for a Q&A about her life, her work and her ambitions.
Here, Mastora tells her story, in her own words;
Tell us a bit about yourself?
‘I was raised in a city surrounded by lakes and rivers, some of them very active in the pike-growing business of the area. As I grew older and I had to choose a career, I was interested in the agroponic departments of the university of Thessaly. At this moment, I am writing my Master’s thesis and also preparing my Master’s presentation in July 2019. At the same time, I am working a regular job to support my studies.”
What drew you to aquaculture?
“I had no prior knowledge of Aquaculture nor Ichthyology, but after reading the study guide of the Department of Ichthyology and Aquaculture I realised Ichthyology studies the different species and organisms of the water. It is a scientific field dedicated to explore an underwater world that is mostly unknown. It seemed really fascinating to me so I enrolled.
“As I studied and explored more I realised that it is an important branch of Aquaculture development financially, but also in a level of dynamic production. In a country like Greece, where even in times of economic crisis aquaculture stays afloat, it made total sense to me to dive in and explore this unknown world.
“In the years to come it turned out to be very informative on gaining knowledge about environmental protection and sustainable development as well.
“For example, through my Bachelor’s classes, such as Aquarium Studies, I got to work with aquatic systems during my experiments and meet people who love their job. The more I was invested the more I was rewarded by the science and it was fun too. I even built a 90-litre home aquarium from scratch that now hosts fresh water tropical fishes.
“Plus, nutrition was a subject that resonated with my interests and I invested more on improving my own nutrition through the study of the nutrition of the fish and all the metabolic pathways that are related with feeding, as well as the nutritional value of fish. Gradually I realised that all is connected: what we eat, what we feed our food and what we discard. Consequently, my love for the sea turned into concern for the sea and that is when I started participating in environmental actions of cleaning the shores, for example in the area of Igoumenitsa, Drepanon beach.
“The nutrition of bred fish, as well as the production of fish food are the objectives that I am most interested in. My goal is to gain as much knowledge on aquaculture nutrition – academic and professional – as possible in the coming years and use it as a freelance consultant or an aquaculture unit employee.”
What is your average day in aquaculture like?
“I am not working fulltime in the industry yet, but I completed my internship in the Aquaculture Unit Nireas in Sagiada, Thesprotia, which is an aquaculture company in the northern borders of Greece with Albania. My duties were to vaccinate the European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). The procedure was taking place in open sea cages, therefore the difficulties during the vaccination were directly linked to the weather conditions. Besides the vaccination, my daily routine consisted of cage feeding, temperature checking, oxygen and other physicochemical parameters. I was also responsible for taking samples and monitoring the fish for parasites and other pathogenic micro-organisms. I loved it all, and really, the continuous exposure in the sun was my only problem.”
How do you plan to change the current narrative about aquaculture, in particular aquaculture in Greece, from conflict to conversations about sustainability?
“Well, to go forward I have to go back and explain our aquaculture-history. Although there was big growth in Aquaculture since the ‘80s, when the systematic breeding of fish started in Greece, the information and knowledge of the Greeks on aquaculture is still deficient. What is happening is people are mostly confusing aquaculture with the product and the environmental issues and they do not realize the prospects that can be brought about by it as a sustainable production sector.
“For example, in recent years, due to the tendency of people to research the origin of their food and their concern about its nutritional value, Greeks seem more conscious on the products they consume, but there’s still a lot of debate on the issue of “wild” and bred fish.
“Although, people are informed, they are not yet sufficiently informed regarding the advantages and disadvantages of Aquaculture. I think that they have a superficial knowledge, that rotates around the products and the environmental risks. It is definitely necessary to educate and inform the general population about the Greek Aquaculture Production, not only on commercial fish but also on crustaceans, and aquatic plants, so the dynamic and the prospects of Aquaculture in Greece are evaluated properly. “
How do you feel about the future of aquaculture?
“Generally, I think there is a positive sign accompanying today’s Aquaculture industry, mostly because new jobs have been created in remote areas of the country and it produces quality products, while it never stops developing in areas of bio cultures, alterations, and exports of DOP products.
“Aquaculture in Greece has a prominent position in the primary sector production, whereas it constitutes a grounding pylon in the project for Blue Growth. As an important division of the New Mutual Fishing Production, aquaculture is a priority. The goal is to increase production, exports and competitiveness abreast the rest of the Mediterranean countries. Two basic breeding species are European seabass and Gilt-head bream. In 2014, the production reached 113,000 tons, a fact that puts the country on top of the list of this kind of production in a global level.
“What I mean is, in the crisis years Aquaculture in Greece was negatively affected, alongside with the entire primary sector of production. Just the same, the cost of feeding the fish, in the entire production line until the final selling, reaches 60%. This shows the importance of the nutrition sector and the procedure of feeding in a production unit. New alternative sources of nutrition are more and more presented as sustainable for the environment and more inexpensive for the producer.
“So, for me, getting to know the basic elements of the science of Ichthyology, my thoughts for the future are optimistic. The sector of Aquaculture is constantly developing, setting new perspectives and an important base for sustainable management of fishing, the protection of the aquatic environment, the endangered species and their habitats.
“Furthermore, with the increased demand for fish in the market and the severe need for augmentation in the production, as well as enrichment of the commercial species, the science of Ichthyology seems promising from a commercial point of view, it is a profession that includes a wide range of specialties focusing on product Research and Development.
“The creation of new jobs for people that will function as links between the scientific divisions, the production units of fish food and the producers themselves (smaller or bigger) is becoming necessary and this is where I see myself putting my skills in use.
“Alteration of products, the production of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and the domestic or international vendition is an effort of adding value on the product and would be something that I would like to bring to the table. The creation of small co-partnerships aiming the standardization of the catches and the certification of domesticated, quality products is a project that I would like to further investigate and insert in the market.”
Katerina Mastora graduated from the Department of Ichthyology and Aquatic Environment of the University of Thessaly. She is currently enrolled in the Interdepartmental Master’s Degree Program of the Department of Chemistry in the University of Ioannina. Her master’s objective is “Agrochemistry – Applications in Animal and Plant Production/ Pharmaceutical Plants”.
Katerina’s thesis’ investigation is about the use of the Zebrafish (Danio rerio) as a model organism for fish nutrition.