Global Fishing & Food Security
One of the major causes of food and nutritional insecurity today is the inability for food supply to sustainably grow alongside quickly growing demand. Expanding land-based food production is one option to solve this food and nutritional insecurity problem, but using resources in this way seems to worsen climate change and increase biodiversity loss. With land resources becoming less feasible, researchers believe that the answer to our food crisis may lie somewhere in the sea.
According to this review, fish currently represents about 17% of meat being consumed globally, but given possible technological advancements, this may increase by 21-44 million tons by 2050 (a 36-74% increase compared to current yields). This amount alone can cover 12-25% of the amount of meat that will be needed to feed the estimated global population of 9.8 billion in 2050. In this study, researchers set out to better understand this potential, especially in the next several decades.
The report notes that fish consumption could help address food and nutritional security, but land use concerns must be addressed to reach its maximum potential. Land-derived seafood from freshwater aquaculture and inland capture fisheries is key in the global food supply, but relying on this method risks negatively affecting water, soil, biodiversity, and climate — not to mention how the practice affects the animals. All of this reduces the larger environment’s long-term ability to produce food. Because of this, food from the sea that doesn’t rely on land — food from wild fisheries and species farmed in the ocean or mariculture — offers a greater long-term sustainability solution for the global food supply.
The food supply from the ocean can increase through four main pathways:
- Improving management of wild fisheries
- Changing mariculture policy
- Advancing feed technology to fed-maricultures
- Shifting demand of food from the sea
The report goes on to note that, since a vast majority of edible meat from the sea comes from wild fisheries, stabilizing its supply globally to remain sustainable for the long-term and for growing populations is very important. Currently, “overfishing” is a major concern, because it depletes resources and damages the effectiveness of fisheries. Improving the management of these wild fisheries can help to rebuild overfished areas, which could drastically increase long-term food production. Two main ways in which fisheries could improve management is through governments directly imposing reform through regulation, or through individual fisheries adopting reform through the market incentive of increasing profits.
Different regions across the world have very different mariculture policies, with some countries having stringent regulations while others do not. The authors of this report see one potential solution being to loosen regulation in order to allow for expansion in the mariculture sector. Ultimately, improved policies and more purposeful implementation can decrease environmentally damaging mariculture production and allow for environmentally sustainable expansion that carries economic benefits. However, astute advocates will note that deregulation is generally bad news for the environment and for animals.
Currently, 75% of mariculture production requires marine-based feed input that is taken from wild forage fisheries. Alternative feed ingredients — like terrestrial plant or animal-based proteins, algae, and insects — are being developed rapidly and can help to separate mariculture operations from wild fisheries. Because of this, advancing feed technology for mariculture offers another step toward a food supply with long-term sustainability.
Generally, the report finds that offering subsidies and other incentives to engage in projects that increase access to or use of fish could greatly impact food and nutritional insecurity. This is done simply by increasing demand, which then positively affects all three of the previously mentioned pathways.
The researchers contend that all major sectors of ocean food production are capable of sustainably producing much more food than they do at the present — but not by much. Reforming wild fisheries to have better management and implementing ambitious policies to make mariculture more sustainable could result in an estimated combined total output of 62 million tons of food from the sea per year — which is just a 5% increase from its current level. This is an important figure for advocates to note as demand for fish continues to grow.
With all of this said, it is important to consider that the fish industry in the future will likely differ very much from the present. Wild fisheries dominate marine production today, but 44% of edible marine production could be from mariculture by 2050, which would offer a completely different landscape of considerations and approaches that can’t accurately be addressed until the time comes.