Updated: Jun 15
Can we feed the future's fishy needs?
The world eats a lot of seafood. In 2018, the total capture and production of seafood were 178.5 million tonnes, 88% of which was for human consumption. According to the FAO, these numbers are only going to increase over time. We are going to fish more, and we are going to eat more. Unfettered consumption of any resource is unsustainable, and the global fisheries industry especially. Fisheries is a massive industry. It provides more than 3.3 billion people with their required protein. It provides jobs. It drives local, national, and global economies. With so many people reliant on this resource, we have to understand its current issues to ensure its longevity. How can we sustain our food system for future generations?
Big Ocean, Big Problems
The issues facing the industry are as complex as it is large. These problems range from diplomatic conflicts, inaccurate reporting, climate impacts, and overharvesting, to pollution and disease. Climate is shifting how species behave, where they move, and how well they reproduce. Warming temperatures are pushing commonly fished stocks to cooler regions, causing governments to argue over who has the right to harvest. Underreporting, overharvesting and illegal catch may account for roughly 26 million tonnes per year. Aquaculture farms are prone to losing animals to the surrounding environment. Farmed animals, like many salmon, are susceptible to disease. Large-scale industrial fishing vessels push small-scale and subsistent fisherfolk from their own regions. Stock assessments are difficult to carry out and labelling a certain species as “sustainable” isn’t always reliable.
Seeing all the issues at once can be overwhelming, but there’s much motivation to protect this resource for the sake of food security and economic stability. The first and foremost actionable thing is to promote collaboration between fisherfolk and scientific researchers. The Wageningen University of the Netherlands released a study in which fisherfolk were included on stock assessment cruises to oversee how the science was done and understand how the assessments would impact regulations. When stocks are properly accessed and all stakeholders are aware of the process, proper decisions can be made regarding a sustainable yield with little resistance. If scientists and fisherfolk understand how a stock is behaving, governing bodies can make decisions regarding geographical boundaries. Transdisciplinary communication and inclusions are crucial to the future of sustainable take.
In addition to increased communication amongst stakeholders, new technologies can be utilized to increase efficiency in fisheries and aquaculture. CRISPR genome editing is currently being explored for the sterilization of farmed salmon in Norway, preventing any escaped animals from breeding with wild populations and potentially spreading disease. Sterilized fish would allow for increased aquaculture production while minimizing risk.
Empowering small-scale fisheries boosts local economies. Given that these small vessels generally do not take more than they can sell, they are regarded as being much more sustainable. These small-scale businesses should be subsidized by local municipalities while increasing regulation on industrial-scale vessels. Additionally, it keeps food production, and therefore food security, very localized.
Fish are Friends, and also Food.
Perhaps one of the largest actions for sustainable fisheries is cultural perception. Seafood is objectively good for you. Many seafood products are rich in Omega-3 long-chain fatty acids, iodine, iron, zinc, and other micronutrients that are difficult to obtain from other foods. Kelp and various types of edible algae are rich in omegas, chlorophyll, and vitamin E which are beneficial to skin and immune health. And yet, we tend to favour only a select few species. Diversifying our palettes, and eating more molluscs, bivalves, and marine plants, in addition to a greater variety of fish, not only relieves the pressure on certain stocks but may also prove to be better for your body and for the local economies.
Many coastal regions have taken up initiatives to share information regarding sustainable fisheries. In Season Fish of India and Good Catch of Charleston, South Carolina are both online resources that present information regarding a local, in-season catch. These platforms both aim to empower the consumer to make decisions about sourcing their food sustainably to ultimately impact the demand.
The Future is Fishy
The FAO anticipates that the industry will increase from 178.5 million tonnes to 204 million tonnes by 2030. If this estimation is true, and climate change will continue to impact terrestrial food production and security, then governments across the world must incentivize aquaculture and fisheries research. With so much of the world reliant on fisheries as is, and so many more people expected to, then we must ensure that we can feed the future.
The Blue Economy - Oceans, Fisheries and Coastal Economies. The World Bank. (n.d.).
de Boois, I.J., Steins, N.A., Quirijns, F.J., Kraan, M. The compatibility of fishers and scientific surveys: increasing legitimacy without jeopardizing credibility, ICES Journal of Marine Science. (2021)
Good Catch - Conservation. South Carolina Aquarium. (n.d.).
Karnad, D., Adireddi, A., & Krishna, C. (2021). Season Calendar. In Season Fish.
The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in Action. (2020). FAO.