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How food from the sea has limitless potential - with caveats

Friday 28 August 2020

The scientific journal Nature last week published research into the potential of seafood to feed the world up to the year 2050 and, mostly, it is promising.

It seems just 17 percent of the current production of edible meat in the world is from food farmed or caught from the sea and points out that the potential is way larger.

The paper says they can see a 36 to 74 percent increase compared to current yields – that’s an increase in production of between 21 and 44 million tonnes of seafood by 2050.

The authors say land-based and freshwater aquaculture has constraints. China, the world’s largest inland aquaculture producer, has restricted the use of land and public waters because of scarcity.

However, ocean-based farming has a bright future.

So, what is it going to take?

The paper points to four main pathways, the first of which is improving the management of wild fisheries. The others are regulatory untangling of ocean-based farming, finding better ways to feed ocean farmed fish, and shifting consumer demand.

Improving the management of wild fisheries capture would maintain fish populations at their most productive levels. The paper points out that countries with poorly-managed or ‘open access’ fisheries are often those with overfishing issues and they are almost always countries with food nutrition and security concerns. The authors suggest governments should impose reforms in wild fisheries management that are both economically rational and adopt maximum sustainable yield as a management target (as opposed to some nebulous concept of “abundance”).

They also suggest that governments should look at reforming policy for ocean farming. In some cases, policy has been lax, resulting in poor environmental stewardship, disease and even collapse, while in other cases government regulations are overly restrictive, convoluted and poorly defined.

They say in both cases improved policy would increase food production.

Further technological advances in finfish feeding also needs addressing according to the paper, with 75 percent of current global feed sourced from wild forage fisheries, which may deplete stocks in poorly managed fisheries. This is something New Zealand is leading the way with already. New Zealand King Salmon is in a collaboration with Nelson’s Cawthron Institute to optimise salmon feed. They also use mostly bony, pelagic fish in their feed which is not used for human consumption. The research found alternative food ingredients, including plant, insects and algae are rapidly being developed. 

Lastly, the need to shift consumer demand to wild fisheries, and both finfish and shellfish aquaculture will be required.

As the world’s population increases and incomes rise, all three fisheries sectors should thrive. The world will always be looking for good clean protein.

The paper concludes that the sea can be a much larger contributor to sustainable food production but we have to get it right; make sure wild caught fisheries are in good shape in places they are not currently, be smarter around aquaculture feed, and encourage governments to get the policy and regulatory regime in the incentive, not disincentive gear.

Read the paper; The future of food from the sea; here.

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