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Better management of the oceans could yield a six-fold increase in food output

Image credit: Dreamstime

Technological innovation and better management could yield a six-fold increase in the amount of food produced by the oceans, UN experts have said in a report.

The greatest potential lies with the production of mariculture species, such as seaweed and mussels that do not rely on direct feed inputs.

The Future of Food from the Sea report for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that they can contribute to the global food supply while improving water quality, creating habitat for wild fisheries, and contributing to coastal resilience.

Mariculture species that are fed on fishmeal and fish oil derived from capture fisheries, such as fish and crustaceans, can also significantly contribute to future protein supply, yet only if alternative feeds are fast tracked by the sector, and environmental effects can be minimised.

The scientists also called for more research into the potential of seaweed as a food source, especially as a replacement for fish-based ingredients in animal feed.

Studies suggest that certain seaweeds may reduce methane emissions from livestock which are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

Christopher Costello, lead author of the paper, said: “The ocean has great, untapped potential to help feed the world in the coming decades, and this resource can be realised 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.”

By 2050 it is projected that the human population will be nearly 10 billion in number and the world will need to increasingly rely on aquatic species to eat as land space becomes rarer.

The FAO said that on average a person will derive of 20.3 kilograms of high-quality protein and essential micronutrients from fish every year, with a 3 per cent rise in global fish consumption since the 1960’s.

Seafood often contains essential vitamins, minerals, long chain omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients not found in plant-based or terrestrial animal proteins.

With reform, capture fisheries could produce as much as 20 per cent more catch compared to today and up to 40 per cent more than projected future catch under current fishing pressures, the report found.

It comes at a time of rising concern about over-fishing caused by a combination of factors including illegal fishing, fishing subsidies, the use of the wrong fishing gear and environmental degradation which is damaging nursery grounds.

In October ‘smart’ identity cards were introduced for fishing communities on Kenya’s north coast which are aimed at distinguishing genuine fishermen and loggers from the poachers who increasingly raid local waters and cut down the mangroves vital to easing climate change threats.

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