A collection of new studies published in the journal Nature explores how leveraging the diversity of aquatic food products (“blue foods”) in the following decades could mitigate malnutrition, increase global health, and lower the environmental footprint of the food system. These studies are the first in a series produced by the Blue Food Assessment (BFA), a group of over 100 experts aiming to assess the benefits of eating aquatic plants and animals.
“Few, if any, countries are developing their blue food sector to provide ecological, economic, and health benefits to its full potential,” said BFA co-chair Rosamond Naylor. “This assessment aims to provide the scientific foundation for decision-makers to evaluate trade-offs and implement solutions that will make blue foods an instrumental part of an improved food system from local to global scales.”
According to the experts, blue foods have more nutritional benefits than terrestrial animal-source foods. Compared to chicken, trout has 19 times more omega-3 fatty acids, oysters and mussels have 76 times more vitamin B-12 and five times more iron, and carps have none times more calcium.
Blue foods are also significantly more sustainable, with many aquatic species such as sardines, anchovies, bivalves, and seaweeds having environmental footprints lower than that of chicken – which represents the lowest impact of terrestrial meat.
“People are trying to make more informed choices about the food they eat, in particular the environmental footprint of their food,” explained Ben Halpern, a marine biologist from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Together with several colleagues, Halpern explored the environmental sustainability of blue foods, the opportunities for growth of small-scale producers, and the climate risks facing aquatic food systems.
“For the first time we pulled together data from hundreds of studies on a wide range of seafood species to help answer that question. Blue foods stack up really well overall and provide a great option for sustainable food,” he added.
Currently, over 2,500 species of fish and aquatic plants are caught or cultivated for food, providing sustenance for more than one billion people. Researchers hope that in the following decades, blue foods will become even more important, providing not only a healthier food source, but also a more environmentally friendly one.