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Study: Ocean Could Supply Two-Thirds of World's Protein Needs

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Historical ocean food production data illustrating rising mariculture output. Costello, C., L. Cao, S. Gelcich et al. 2019, "The Future of Food from the Sea."

By The Maritime Executive 2019-11-19 21:04:32

A new literature review compiled for the High Level Panel on a Sustainable Ocean Economy finds that the ocean could provide over six times more food than it does today - enough to provide protein for two-thirds of the world's future population, according to estimates from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

The largest potential gains for food production lie in the expansion of unfed marine aquaculture, the study found. Boosting production of cultivated species like seaweed and mussels, which do not rely on supplemental feed inputs, could contribute to global food supply while also improving water quality, creating fish habitat and contributing to coastal resilience, according to the authors. Mariculture species that are fed on wild-sourced fishmeal and fish oil - like farmed salmon - can also significantly contribute to the future protein supply, but only if alternative feeds are fast-tracked and environmental effects can be minimized.  

With reform, wild fisheries could produce as much as 20 percent more than current levels, according to the study. The main threat to improved capture fisheries is the ever-present problem of overfishing, driven by illegal fishing, state subsidies, a lack of alternative livelihoods, poor local and institutional governance and less than optimal management. 

“The ocean has great, untapped potential to help feed the world in the coming decades, and this resource can be realized with a lower environmental footprint than many other food sources. Yet ocean health and ocean wealth go hand-in-hand. If we make rapid and far-reaching changes in the way we manage ocean-based industries while nurturing the health of its ecosystems, we can bolster our long-term food security and the livelihoods of millions of people," said lead author Christopher Costello.

For policymakers, the report contains 13 recommendations for improved yield, from basic fisheries management measures like stock assessments to advice for promoting sustainable mariculture products.

“Food from the ocean is of great economic and social value to Kenya and the rest of Africa. Millions of us in Kenya and across Africa depend on the ocean for income, jobs, food, protein and other nutrients," said President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, a member of the High Level Panel. "Yet harnessing the potential of our ocean to provide food for the future cannot be achieved by any one country alone. It requires a unified global vision, centered around sustainability, multilateral actions and significant investments to support nations in their efforts to secure jobs, food and nutrition for billions of people.”