Over the next three decades, the global population is expected to grow by two billion and reach 9.8 billion people. According to researchers at Oregon State University, seafood has the potential to help Earth’s booming population meet much of the increased need for protein and nutrition.
An international team of experts, including marine ecologist and OSU Professor Jane Lubchenco, set out to investigate how much food the ocean could be expected to sustainably produce 30 years from now.
The team found that a combination of technological improvements and policy reforms could drive seafood production up by as much as 75 percent over the next 30 years.
“As mariculture technology improves and policies surrounding the ocean and its resources are reformed, food from the sea could increase by between 21 million and 44 million metric tons annually,” said Professor Lubchenco.
“Those increases amount to between 12% and 25% of the estimated animal protein increases needed to feed the almost 10 billion people expected to live on the Earth in 2050. Rising incomes and shifts in food preferences will greatly increase demand for nutritious food in the coming decades, and the ocean can be a big part of meeting that demand.”
Increasing the food supply from land-based crops is challenging because of declining yield rates and competition for land and water, as well as various environmental and health concerns associated with large-scale agriculture, noted Professor Lubchenco. Similar challenges are also faced by seafood derived from freshwater aquaculture and inland fisheries.
“Land-based sources of fish and other foods are certainly part of the solution, but we show that sustainable food from the sea can play a major role in global food supply and food security as well,” said Professor Lubchenco.
“Stories of overfishing, pollution and unsustainable mariculture give the impression that it is impossible to sustainably increase the supply of food from the sea. But unsustainable practices, regulatory barriers and other constraints may be limiting seafood production – meaning shifts in policies and practices could benefit both conservation and food production.”
“We’ve seen, for example, how changes in policy in U.S. fisheries resulted in significantly reducing overfishing and rebuilding wild stocks, thus increasing the abundance of fish in U.S. waters as well as fishery yields.”
Nutritionally diverse and less environmentally burdensome than land-based food production, seafood is uniquely positioned to help feed the Earth’s growing population, said Professor Lubchenco.
A key step in achieving this will be to direct resources away from subsidies that enhance fishing capacity and toward building the technical capacity for fisheries research, management, and enforcement.
“The potential for increased global production from wild fisheries hinges on maintaining fish populations near their most productive levels,” said Professor Lubchenco. “For overfished stocks, that means adopting or improving management practices that prevent overfishing and allow depleted stocks to rebuild.”
“We have shown that the sea can be a much larger contributor to sustainable food production than is currently the case, via a collection of plausible and actionable mechanisms.”
The study is published in the journal Nature.