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Jaap van der Meer appointed special professor of Sustainable Marine Food Production

Published on
February 1, 2021

The executive board of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) has appointed prof. Dr. Jaap van der Meer as special professor Sustainable Marine Food Production. The chair comes into effect on 1 February and is funded by Wageningen Marine Research.

Although seventy per cent of the Earth's surface is covered in water, only 1 per cent of our food originates in the ocean. In 2050, the world population will have grown to 10 billion. According to Van der Meer, the idea that we could easily harvest more food from oceans to feed the growing human population is 'too optimistic'.

Sea's carrying capacity

In this new chair, Van der Meer will focus on the carrying capacity of the sea from an ecological perspective, as well as from the perspective of fisheries and aquaculture. 'Nature is rather inefficient on land', says ecologist Van der Meer. 'In the seas, however, nature already operates at a high efficiency, meaning there is not much to gain.'

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Simply catching more fish is therefore not an option. Perhaps choosing different fish is. The best option, according to Van der Meer, is to focus on the lower levels of the foodweb: seaweed. Or algae eaters such as mussels and oysters. 'The circular approach is the basis: fisheries, seaweed and shellfish farms use nutrients from each others chains, and we must ensure these effects remain in balance.'

Jaap van der Meer

Jaap van der Meer's Sustainable Marine Food Production chair resides within Wageningen University & Research's Aquaculture and Fisheries group, under prof. Geert Wiegertjes. It is in line with Wiegertjes' ambition to take an integrated approach towards land and sea in a circular economy.

Van der Meer (1959) already knew he wanted to pursue a biology career at a tender age. Still, during his studies in the field of Animal Ecology at the VU University Amsterdam, his interests shifted towards mathematical biology. In 1997 he obtained his PhD in population dynamics at Groningen University. His dissertation focused on birds and their prey.

Van der Meer occupied various scientific positions at the Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) for over three decades. He described numerous energy and mass balances of marine organisms using mathematical models. Consider questions such as: How much food do animals consume and what happens to the absorbed nutrients? In 2019 he switched to Wageningen Marine Research. He will now expand his responsibilities within WUR by holding the Sustainable Marine Food Production chair.