Zeeland sees hope in the plan to keep the Imares site in Yerseke open. According to a provisional recovery plan presented by Wageningen UR in July, the site will be down-sized and will focus on regional research topics. The aim of the plan is to make loss-making Imares future-proof again.
‘We’re relieved that closure is no longer on the table,’ says Addy Risseeuw, the secretary of the Dutch mussel culture producers’ association. ‘The loss of Imares would lead to the fragmentation or even disappearance of knowledge in the shellfish sector.’ Risseeuw hopes to see close collaboration developing between businesses and the scientific community in the years ahead. ‘Researchers could take a look at what goes on in practice, for example, to see what requirements the cultivators have.’
The Provincial Executive Member for Zeeland, Jo-Annes de Bat (Christian Democrat), also calls the news ‘promising’. However, he emphasizes that the possibility of a collaborative agreement between the Zeeland science institutes, businesses and government is still being discussed, and this is a precondition for saving Imares. The province mainly has a facilitating role by bringing parties together, says De Bat. But he does not rule out the possibility of Zeeland co-financing relevant projects, for instance.
In the last while, important research programmes on subjects such as aquaculture and coastal defence have ended without any follow-up. That is why people were talking increasingly seriously about closing ‘Yerseke’. Now they are working on a collaborative agreement between the provincial authority and the regional fishing and shellfish industries instead.
The idea is that Yerseke should become a research institute run by and for the region. ‘An experiment,’ says Martin Scholten, managing director at Imares, ‘as all the other regional DLO sites are specialist innovation centres.’ The organization of the work is changing at other Imares sites too. ‘The crux of the reorganization is that we are doing away with the traditional departmental structure,’ says Scholten. ‘It was hampering innovation. We’ll be working with flexible, theme-based teams that perform market-oriented research.’ These teams will be formed from the bottom up and staff can be in more than one team at a time. ‘We want to let the researchers take the initiative rather than having the teams imposed on them from on high.’ Scholten gives the example of the ‘Tropical Team’, in which a diverse group of researchers from different locations are jointly studying marine ecosystems in the tropics. Scholten: ‘Despite the barrier of the departmental structure, they have managed to join forces. It is currently one of the best-performing teams in Imares.’
The reorganization will lead to the loss of their job for 14 to 15 people. Others will have to work in a different area: for example, five fish farming researchers will be relocating to Wageningen Livestock Research. A different solution is being sought for the rest. Scholten: ‘Over the past three years, Imares has shrunk from 205 employees to 160 through natural wastage and by not renewing temporary employment contracts. Now we need to focus on the remaining surplus capacity and jobs that will have to go.’