MADISON, Wisconsin — With the prominence of malnutrition a consistent part of the world food conversation, one food source, fish, unquestionably provides a source of adequate nutrition.
Yet a rapidly changing planet has begun to generate concerns with respect to the future of fish consumption. Economist Per Pinstrup-Andersen noted in a recent blog post that a discussion limited to agriculture rather than the broader picture, including fish production and aquaculture, could prove to be dangerous.
“Ignoring fish in efforts to improve diet diversity and reducing micronutrient deficiencies is particularly troubling,” he said.
Pinstrup-Andersen is the Chair of the High Level Panel of Experts, or HLPE, a panel that is part of the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security (CFS). The panel published a report last month that discussed the need for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture in the modern world.
According to the report, a growing global population as well as an increasing demand for fish has created a challenge with respect to marine and inland fisheries and aquaculture development.
In fact, the panel noted how fisheries and aquaculture have “often been arbitrarily separated from other parts of the food and agricultural systems in food security studies, debates and policy-making.”
Half of the world’s population consumes food captured via fisheries through aquaculture as a substantial part of their protein intake. West African coastal countries and Southeast Asian countries rely upon fish as an essential part of their diets.
While many fisheries place an emphasis upon biological sustainability and economic efficiency, the report notes that aquaculture has mostly ignored the potential for fish to reduce hunger and malnutrition. Fish is notably rich in micronutrients: it can contain vitamins A, B and D, calcium, zinc and iron, among others.
Yet, since the mid-1990s, fish production from fisheries has plateaued at around 90 million tons per year. A rising population coupled with environmental issues, including oil drilling, coastal development and other installations pose a potentially significant risk to the future of fish production in the coming years. The already notable effects of climate change have further affected the future of fish production.
Not helping the fishery problem is waste. Nearly a third of all consumable food is wasted each year. While many point fingers at developed countries, developing nations with rapidly expanding populations will likely begin to experience increasing levels of consumer waste as well.
Nevertheless, the authors of the report also stressed the importance of fishing becoming an “integral element in inter-sectoral national food security and nutrition policies.” This includes small-scale local production of fish, nutrition and education.
As over-fishing will likely continue to be a problem causing worldwide concern, the report called for an elimination of subsidies that encourage the tactic. Revenues available from forgoing such subsidies could be directed toward public good investments or to “improve the livelihood and economic possibilities of fishing community residents.”
A potential permanent antidote to the problems of malnutrition and food security may lie in a more comprehensive approach. A consideration of gender equality and international human rights and a thorough reform of international fisheries and ocean governance may hold the key to a future of legitimate and safe global fish production.
– Ethan Safran
Sources: allAfrica, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Institute of Development Studies