Why should you care about fisheries? They can help feed the world.

Credit: Alexis Rife

By:  Doug Rader and Kristin Kleisner

Food security is a hot button topic for today’s world leaders, and rightly so as the population swells to 10 billion people by the middle of the century. Feeding that many people is a huge challenge – creating an urgent call to action for resources to be managed more sustainably and equitably – and wild seafood plays a big role.

Typically, these discussions focus on land-based agriculture, including the production of grains, seeds, crops and livestock that, while subject to droughts, diseases and shortages, are the main source of world food consumption as measured by total calories. However, food sources from our oceans, lakes and rivers also play a large part in feeding the world, and deserve their place in the discussion.   

That’s why we’re excited to share a new report from Duke University and EDF* examining how wild capture fisheries fit into this complex discussion and summarizing what we know about the potential role of fish and other aquatic resources, like shellfish and crustaceans, to help feed an increasingly hungry world. After all, three billion people rely on seafood as a primary source of protein, and this number will only continue to grow.

The principle findings are straightforward and important.  Fish play an essential role in feeding the world’s growing population, often providing crucial nutrients necessary for healthy growth. While this important food source faces critical challenges like overfishing and climate change, it’s possible to reduce the risk of a global food shortage if people work together to manage aquatic resources sustainably for the future.

Thriving, resilient oceans that support more fish, feed more people and improve prosperity are within reach. With every fisheries management success, the prospects improve for healthy oceans that help sustain the well-being of nations, communities and people around the world.

The ocean provides more than fish filets:

Graphic credit: Micaela Unda

Often when we think about seafood, we aren’t seeing the whole picture. Aquatic sources of food are harvested from fresh and saltwater. This comes in many forms, including the actual fish (fresh or frozen) but also fish meal and fish oil that are used to feed both farmed fish and land animals, or added as supplements to other food products.  Everywhere you look in your grocery store you will find food from the world’s rivers, lakes, streams and oceans—but not always in a form that is most recognizable.

Fish and fish products account for almost 20% of global animal-based protein consumption, but they are also critical sources of micronutrients necessary for human health, including iron, zinc, vitamins A and B12, and essential fatty acids. Hundreds of millions of people rely on fish for these nutrients, and are at risk of malnutrition if fish populations continue to decline.

Aquatic sources of food are at risk, but the problem is not insurmountable:

Unfortunately, with failing management and new risks from climate change, fish populations are declining globally, meaning that not only are important sources of protein disappearing, but that the uptake of micronutrients– especially in vulnerable populations – is also declining. These sorts of effects are felt most acutely in coastal communities and small island nations in developing regions, where access to alternative food and nutrient sources may not be readily available, and where fish can represent the vast majority of available protein.

There is also a disproportionate effect in the tropics, as climate change results in warmer waters and a further reduction in available fish biomass as marine species shift to more optimal environments, typically poleward and offshore into cooler waters, and where fragile coral reef ecosystems are poised for collapse.

When estimates of future fish harvests and data on dietary nutrition are combined, scientists now believe that more than 10% of the human population could face severe micronutrient deficiencies as well as protein shortages in the coming decades due to failing fisheries.

While that sounds gloomy, we know that fixing fisheries management in many cases can reverse this trend, even in the face of climate change. This will require countries to collaborate and cooperate on management solutions to anticipate and mitigate climate effects.

Expect more important work from this group of researchers.  We are delighted to be part of it, and look forward to gaining new insights into the planet’s future as other experts join the fold.


* The report was developed by a diverse group of researchers from the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, Environmental Defense Fund, Harvard University, the World Bank and other organizations, assembled in December 2017 by lead researcher Abby Bennett (Duke’s World Food Policy Center). 

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One Comment

  1. Posted May 17, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Importante tema, Considero que todas las organizaciones del sector Acuícola y Pesquero de México, tenemos que trabajar en implementar un programa en coordinación con los tres niveles de Gobierno que permitan llevar a cabo pescados y sus derivados a la población infantil y personas de la tercera edad de todas las regiones marginadas del País; En estos momentos estamos trabajando en crear una fórmula de suplementos alimenticios con Colageno rica en proteínas de pescado adicionando vitaminas en presentación de polvo y cápsulas que consideramos que puede ser una opción rápida, barata y que aporta proteína de calidad a este segmento de la población, les dejo mi correo para todos los interesados ​​en el tema, despachopcfn@gmail.com , Saludos