What we eat critically matters for planetary health. Eating sustainable seafood, including sustainably caught fish and responsibly raised aquaculture, is one thing we can do to improve ocean health and climate change.
Written by: Linda Cornish, President, Seafood Nutrition Partnership
From fish to plate, we’re starting to see enthusiasm and commitment for sustainability throughout the seafood supply chain. Today, more than 80% of the North American retail and institutional food service markets, as well as many of the world’s top grocery retailers, have adopted sustainable seafood policies. They are leaders in creating marked improvements for sourcing and in strengthening their advocacy and transparency initiatives for greater seafood sustainability.
As aquaculture has been the fastest growing form of food production in the world over the last four decades, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, companies have a responsibility to be good environmental stewards in the aquaculture community. We need to be proactive in following best farming practices to ensure a long-term supply of our seafood, which is essential for businesses to thrive and for the long-term viability of the industry.
Within the seafood industry, there is an increase in awareness of sustainable seafood management especially by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and adoption of certifications by leading organizations such as Aquaculture Stewardship Council, Marine Stewardship Council, and the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices. As more companies, large and small, declare their commitments to environmental sustainability, we will greatly increase the health of ocean ecosystems and meet the demand of healthy seafood for a growing population.
Shifting Food & Agriculture Sectors
There’s no doubt that climate change is transforming entire populations across the globe. With rising temperatures, the food and agriculture sectors are having to make significant changes to production practices. It is estimated that the Earth’s current population of 7.6 billion people will increase to nearly 10 billion people by 2050, and entire industries are being forced to adopt more sustainable practices to ensure a healthy planet for generations to come. To responsibly meet the needs of a steadily increasing population and conserve our planet’s natural resources, businesses must prioritize the sustainability of our oceans and seafood sources.
Fish and shellfish make up 17% of the global population’s protein intake and has a lower carbon footprint than other protein choices such as beef, chicken, and pork, according to the Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN. Strikingly, only 2% of the world’s food is sourced from the oceans despite the fact that 70% of the Earth is made up of oceans, the FAO says. That means an overwhelming majority of global food consumption is terrestrially sourced. And agriculture currently uses 70% of our fresh water supply and more than half of ice-free land to grow our food.
In comparison to seafood, livestock has a larger ecological footprint, using more natural resources for production and accelerating greenhouse gas emissions that fuel many of the effects of climate change. In the US, 42% of agricultural emissions come from animal agriculture. Globally, livestock accounts for approximately 14.5% to 18% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing the consumption of seafood as an environmentally friendly protein, we could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and potentially slow down the effects of climate change.
Although the seafood industry is integral in helping to meet the growing food demand for the planet, it is also impacted by our changing climate. Fish populations are slowly declining as oceans become warmer. Some leaders within the growing aquaculture industry are embracing sustainability to address this problem through the development of innovative technologies that produce fish-free fish feed as a way to reduce the use of forage fish as fishmeal. New ingredient solutions now exist such as natural marine algal oil that can provide fish with high levels of omega-3s EPA and DHA without the need for fish oil or fishmeal. For example, one ton of Veramaris’ marine algal oil can save 60 tons of wild-caught fish. These new solutions can help maintain the nutritional profiles that consumers expect from their seafood – all while helping to conserve marine biodiversity.
Our oceans are a vast natural resource that can support the long-term health of humans and we must protect them with all of our might. We encourage seafood companies to continue to make sustainable seafood practices a fundamental part of their operations and code of conduct. This is one step to reducing our climate impact.