FAO Congressional Brief Focuses on Aquaculture, a Rising Star in Food Security
Seafood is gaining an increasing share of the global market for agricultural products, yet heightened demand for this prized protein source means increased pressures on vulnerable wild fish populations. Researchers and policymakers see the pond as half full, however, as those pressures lead to new opportunities for sustainably farmed fish that provides a less resource-intensive means of producing animal protein than land-based alternatives.
This month, researchers in the field from Mississippi State University, University of Rhode Island and University of Florida as well as representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) gathered on Capitol Hill to discuss the opportunities before the U.S. government to support policies and programs to protect wild fisheries while elevating the role of sustainable aquaculture for food and income security.
James Anderson from the University of Florida’s Institute for Sustainable Food Systems informed the audience that seafood accounts for 35 percent of global animal protein production, a figure on the rise. Anderson stressed that as global wealth has increased, demand for fish has risen as well, and currently seafood is the most traded product on the planet, with an estimated export value of $148 billion in 2014.
In many developing nations in Africa and Southeast Asia, seafood now accounts for over 50 percent of animal protein. It is leaner than other animal proteins and provides essential micronutrients, especially important to expecting mothers and infants. Yet vanishing wild fish populations mean these nutritional benefits are vulnerable.
Photos: Speakers and attendees of this event on Capitol Hill.
Fish farmers are stepping in to meet the growing demand for this important source of nutrition, as discussed by the briefing team. According to the FAO, in 2014 nearly half of all consumed fish was produced by aquaculture. By 2030, it is estimated that about 62 percent of all fish that are consumed will be produced by aquaculture.
As the aquaculture market grows, the opportunity for supporting food security grows as well. The FAO has outlined these opportunities in its Blue Growth Initiative (BGI). Developed in 2014, the Blue Growth Initiative aims to improve fish supply for food and nutrition, increase livelihood opportunities and contribute to the “blue growth economy” through more efficient and sustainable aquaculture practices while restoring oceans and wetlands.
The FAO outlines expected results for those countries that sign onto recommendations of the BGI, including:
- Improved national policies and processes for the management of fisheries and aquaculture;
- Adopted better practices and reduced aquatic animal disease risks;
- Efficiency of seafood value chains, improvement in the status of aquatic ecosystems and a reduction in overfishing; and
- Improved livelihood and more secure food systems.
The goals of the BGI are ambitious yet achievable with increased investments from key institutions and global partners. As experts in the field came to Capitol Hill to stress, aquaculture can help to ensure a sustainable and nutritious food supply for a growing global population. It is important for not only food security but for environmental and job security.