TalentView: Emily De Sousa

Emily De Sousa, fisheries scientist and travel & food writer at 'Seaside by Emily'. Photo: Sandra Monaco Photo.
Emily De Sousa, fisheries scientist and travel & food writer at 'Seaside by Emily'. Photo: Sandra Monaco Photo.

Everything in Emily De Sousa's career revolves around the sea. This young woman raised in Canada grew up around a family table where they ate seafood and told stories about her relatives, fishermen back in the Açores Islands in Portugal. Emily was the child who read books and watched movies about the ocean, who studied marine animals with the interest of a professional, and who, as soon as she was old enough, became a PADI Divemaster, a moment that, as she tells us, truly placed the ocean as her "#1 love in life".

She defines herself as "a Portuguese-Canadian sustainable seafood educator and content creator", a job she performs by offering research and consulting services, speaking in public, or writing. But if we had to look for an image to represent her, we would say that Emily De Sousa is a lighthouse. A lighthouse that guides navigators from her blog, 'Seaside with Emily', where she discusses topics ranging from inspiring people to lead a more sustainable life, to helping them in their travels, to learning "how to navigate the seafood counter". As a fisheries scientist, as a communicator, as a divemaster… Emily always sets the course.

Emily De Sousa, fisheries scientist and travel & food writer at 'Seaside by Emily'.
Photo: Sandra Monaco Photo.
Portuguese and seafaring heritage

With a bachelor's degree in Environmental Governance and a master's degree at the University of Guelph "with a focus on small-scale fisheries in North America and the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on seafood supply chains", Emily's path to the seaside began long before her university studies. "My family is from the Açores Islands off of Portugal, so I think before I even realized it, my roots were always pulling me to the ocean", she tells WeAreAquaculture. "I grew up eating seafood; it was the center of every family gathering and holiday. I heard stories about my family members who were fishermen, who pulled shellfish off the volcanic rocks, and weathered great storms in the middle of the Atlantic. When I got older, I became a PADI Divemaster and that really solidified the ocean as my #1 love in life".

We all know that first love is not forgotten, and even less so if that love grows with you. That's what happened to Emily. To her academic and personal interest in the sea, she added another family heritage, travel. Being from a Portuguese family living in Canada meant that travel has always been important to her. "I've loved traveling to be closer to my own culture, as well as learn about other cultures. When I started my platform in 2015, it was primarily focused on travel. My goal was to share my unique experiences around the world and help other young people travel the world".  Those were the beginnings of 'Seaside with Emily'. But what started as a travel blog, soon fell short of the concerns of this young woman who, in addition to being a fisheries scientist and science communicator, is a sustainable seafood educator and market expert on fisheries and aquaculture products for the FAO.

Emily, visiting a fish farm.

"As I got further into my post-secondary studies in environmental policy and then onto my masters with a focus on fisheries science, I began to recognize that there was a gap between what was really happening in the marine sciences and what the general public knew of the ocean", she says.

Filling the gap in seafood communication

"Everything you need to know about eating the world's most environmentally friendly protein". This is the first sentence you can read when you are browsing 'Seaside with Emily' and click on "sustainable seafood". It is located just below the title, "Sustainable Seafood Resources", and is a statement of intent. What is sustainable seafood, where to buy it (and where to do it on a budget), or her own sustainable seafood story are just some of the things that the visitor, who probably came to the blog looking for information about pescatourism, will find on it.

But, why include all this information in a blog that was going to be about travel? What led her to bring all these topics together and mix her part as a researcher with her part as a lifestyle communicator? "Seafood specifically is very misunderstood. It's one of the most complex food systems in the world, which often makes it confusing for consumers and allows biased conservation narratives like 'there's no such thing as sustainable seafood' to dominate public discourse", she explains.

Emily De Sousa realized that for those seeking to learn more about the ocean, her blog was a bit like the Açores, her family islands in the North Atlantic, a strategically located place that allowed sailors to restock before continuing on their course. "Since I already had an established platform and audience, I decided to leverage it to start talking more about ocean issues and specifically sustainable seafood. With science communication in this space also severely lacking, I've been uniquely positioned to provide important information that consumers are looking for but can't find".

Going further with sustainability

As we said at the beginning, in addition to her work on her blog, Emily also works as an expert on fish and aquaculture markets for FAO. "In this role, I've primarily been working with the FAO Trades Division on various research items", she says. "I conduct secondary research related to the international trade of fisheries and aquaculture and produce reports to support FAO decision makers. Most recently, I was working on a report identifying the challenges and obstacles faced by small-scale fisheries trying to access international markets and providing recommendations on how to improve international market access for SSFs". And not only that. She also helps disseminate the studies and messages of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations through her social networks, as we could see in her post on the 3 highlights of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report 2022.

Emily during her participation in The One Ocean Expedition, a circumnavigation for a sustainable ocean by the tall ship Staatsraad Lehmkuhl.

Emily is very clear about her role as an educator on sustainable seafood. That's why, among the resources on her blog there is a very interesting (and free) guide on sustainable seafood in which, in addition to talking about the benefits of seafood consumption and talking about fisheries, she also gives a very important space to farmed fish. "Our population is growing, our current global food systems have proven themselves to be unsustainable and environmentally destructive, and climate change is forcing us to rethink how we produce food. We need alternative methods of food production. Wild capture fisheries are a great source of low-impact protein, but they can't meet the growing demand for seafood around the world", she claims. "We need to supplement with sustainable aquaculture in order to meet this demand for seafood without further contributing to the environmental destruction caused by our industrial food systems".

Now that we know where her interest in aquaculture comes from, all that remains is to ask her what advantages she believes this sector has over other industries in terms of sustainability. We do so and get a short, but conclusive answer, "aquaculture has many clear benefits, most notably that it has a much smaller carbon footprint than land-based proteins. It's also less resource intensive and studies have shown, it produces a more nutritionally dense product than other proteins with a similar environmental impact".

The future ahead

"Aquaculture has a major role to play in the future of sustainable food systems", Emily says. That is why she thinks that "it's so important that we continue to invest in this space, support aquaculture science, and train the next generation of water farmers". Once again, education and communication. Both are always at the core of her work in favor of the seafood industry. Those investments, support, and training are going to be necessary to overcome the challenges she believes the industry will face in the near future. "I think there are some improvements still to be made in finfish aquaculture in certain parts of the world", she says. But she doesn't just focus on the fish, she also looks at the people. "The aquaculture industry also needs better oversight on human rights and labour issues to ensure people in this workforce are properly protected", she claims.

That's what Emily tells us when we ask her about industry challenges in general, then we ask her about personal ones. "What I personally deal with most often is the communications challenges in aquaculture. Especially living in Canada, where the industry can be quite polarizing", she tells us. "Aquaculture needs to do a much better job of telling its story and connecting with consumers. This is definitely getting better, but still has a long way to go. I hope that the aquaculture industry continues to engage young communicators like myself and embrace new platforms and means of connecting with consumers". TikTok, Instagram, Twitter, etc., the way that people get information has changed drastically, as she explains, and continues to change. "If the seafood industry doesn't want to risk falling behind, it needs to embrace these new digital platforms. After all, this is where seafood consumers are spending much of their time".

However, after her recent participation as a speaker at Aquavision 2022 and Seafood Matters UK, Emily is optimistic. As she tells us when she started engaging on social media as a sustainable seafood educator, many people in the seafood industry didn't understand it, they saw her only as "a kid with an iPhone", something that was compounded by the fact that she was female and young. "As a young woman, it's already difficult to get the respect we deserve in the seafood industry, but it's even more challenging when working on social media – a space many have deemed to be pointless or silly", she tells us. But last June in Seafood Matters UK she felt the opposite. "I felt like every single person in the room was eagerly awaiting the message that I had to share", she says. Something very similar to what she had felt just a few days earlier in Stavanger, during her participation in AquaVision: "It was my first in-person speaking engagement since the pandemic and my first visit to Norway. More importantly, it was also the first time that I spoke to a room full of older, more experienced seafood industry professionals, and didn't feel like I had to justify why I was there". It looks like something is stirring in the industry, and she's going to have a lot to tell.

Emily speaking during her presentation at AquaVision 2022 in Stavanger, Norway.

"No matter how far I go, I always seem to end up in the same place: seaside". That's how Emily De Sousa sums it up, as she finishes telling her story on her personal website. The sea, the ocean, is a lifestyle for her, her true love, that place where she always comes back. And, except for the selfish, for those who love something a lot, there is nothing more beautiful than sharing it. That is why, in the darkness of seafood knowledge, she lights her lamp of science, education and communication, to guide the navigators. In this sea, Emily is her sustainability lighthouse.

* Cover photo by Sandra Monaco Photo for 'Seaside by Emily'.

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