Plenty more fish in the sea – or are there?

Ellinor Häggebrink by Ellinor Häggebrink, Engagement Manager at GES

Today, 8 June, is World Oceans Day. This is a good moment to reflect upon the world’s oceans and the major role they play in everyday life. Oceans are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. They are also one of the most important sources of nutrition as they act as the world’s largest source of protein, in fact more than 2.6 billion people depend on oceans as their primary source of protein. Marine fisheries employ, directly or indirectly, over 200 million people worldwide and contribute to economic development and local communities in many countries[1]. Therefore, careful management of this essential global resource is a key factor for a sustainable future.

Building support for ocean awareness is now even more crucial than ever, especially when we consider the countless challenges that the seafood industry faces. Let’s take a step back and try to fully grasp the picture: the world’s population is growing at a steady rate of a minimum of 80 million people every year and experts predict that by 2050, it will have reached 10 billion[2]. A vastly growing population puts additional demand on natural resources and implies an increased demand for food and protein. At the same time, meeting the Paris Agreement target of limiting climate change to below 2°C has presented significant challenges to the food industry because the impact of food production on climate change has become a major concern. It is now suggested that the world should follow different health guidelines, such as reducing meat consumption, in order to reduce emissions significantly and mitigate risks related to climate change and food security.

The world needs to meet food demands in a sustainable way and put greater focus on other sources of protein, such as seafood. Seafood consumption has doubled over the last 40 years and it is expected to continue to grow. However, the industry faces several environmental and social challenges. It is no longer big news that marine resources are becoming overexploited; according to a 2016 FAO report[3], 31.4 per cent of global fisheries have been fished beyond sustainable limits and the size of the marine population declined by almost half between 1970 and 2012. Apart from overfishing, the industry faces challenges like biodiversity loss, impacts on marine ecosystems and coastal communities, and poor working conditions in the supply chain.

To fill the gap between the supply and demand of wild fisheries, aquaculture has gained more popularity. This is one of the fastest growing food production systems and continues to rise in volume and value. In fact, it is expected to represent 50 per cent of total seafood consumption in the next years[4]. There is no doubt that aquaculture yields nutritious food, provides employment opportunities and contributes to local economies, particularly in rural areas. Nevertheless, the other side of the coin is that, at the same time, aquaculture carries many risks, such as the spread of diseases and parasites, the use of antibiotics and pesticides, and the escape of fish from fish farms, which can jeopardise wild populations.

There is no denying that the demand of seafood is here to stay. However, if it is truly going to act as a long-term alternative to meat consumption in a sustainable future, responsible management of marine resources is more than crucial.

[1] http://www.un.org/en/events/oceansday/background.shtml 
[2] https://www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/population/world-population-prospects-2017.html
[3] http://www.fao.org/fishery/sofia/en
[4] http://www.fao.org/in-action/globefish/news-events/details-news/en/c/1032635/