Here’s what we’ll need for seafood in 2030, and how to get there

Come 2030, the world’s population will require 232 million metric tons (MT) of seafood, around 62 million MT more than the planet is expected to produce unless bold steps are taken, according to international research organization WorldFish Center.

While aquaculture has long been widely touted as the main solution to the long-term supply challenge of meeting a growing population’s increasing appetite for seafood products, opinion has been divided on how much additional product the industry needs to provide.

Bringing together CEOs from some of the world’s major fishing companies, members of the NGO community, policymakers from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other stakeholders, WorldFish has mapped scenarios for the future of the fisheries system, including identifying what the key drivers of change are likely to be. One of the key questions that emerged from the analysis was that if the ideal outcome or “Eden” was to be achieved then it was crucial to “get a better handle” on how much fish would be needed moving forward, said Stephen Hall, director general of WorldFish (pictured).

Based on current analysis from such bodies as the World Bank on its existing trajectory, Hall forecast the global seafood industry to provide a total of 170 million MT in 2030. Total aquaculture output is expected to grow to provide around 109 million MT and wild-fisheries production will stay stable at 61 million MT, he told delegates at the recent World Seafood Congress (WSC) 2015 in Grimsby, UK.

“Fish is critically important. Over the last 30 years, it has been the singly most important consumed food globally,” said Hall. “In the context of a geographic breakdown, in Asia (excluding China) and Africa, the total consumption per capita of animal-sourced food is much lower than most other regions, yet as a proportion of that smaller total, fish is extremely high. So when I say, fish is important globally that is one thing, but it is especially important in those places that (a) need it most, and (b) where some of the biggest challenges and increasing demand is going to come from.

“The question is, how much should we produce? That’s a different kind of question that has all sorts of different issues associated with it. Not least, the distinction that we need to make between the demand for fish and the need for it – what people in Africa, Asia and across the developing world require.”

To get closer to an answer, WorldFish took two different approaches. The first was based on nutritional need and establishing what is a reasonable consumption level of fish in an adequate, balanced diet and how much fish that equates to. The other approach was to plot the likely consumption using population and wealth growth forecasts.

The results were not far off each other, revealed Hall. It was estimated that 228 million MT would be needed in 2030, and the demand would be 238 million MT.

“On average we are going to need 232 million MT in 2030, which implies that globally we are going to be 62 million MT short of what we currently think we are going to be producing.”

So if we want to get to Eden, where’s it going to come from? Further WorldFish analysis projects that reducing waste/lost seafood products could account for around 15 million MT of that deficit, and through better fisheries management, it is estimated there is a maximum of another 12 million MT more possible from wild-capture, leaving a 39 million MT gap above current projected rates for aquaculture to fill.

“That is a 2.5 percent compound annual growth rate over a 15 year period,” said Hall. “That’s not unreasonable and certainly historic efforts have shown that we can do it, but it is still a challenge.”

Hall believes that in tackling the shortfall, there are three major “interlinked” issues from a developing country perspective: Firstly, producing enough fish to meet the future demand; secondly, achieving higher production levels in ways that are both economically and ecologically sustainable; and lastly, ensuring that the products are affordable and available for all those people that need them as well as those that demand them, while also making sure that the benefits are shared equitably in terms of livelihoods and community opportunities.

“There are technologies and approaches on all sorts of levels to be pursued in the context of this challenge of production and doing it in equitable ways that make sure that distribution is of benefit,” he said.

Another important area moving forward is to shift from the mindset of food volumes to the quality of the food that we eat, said Hall.

“It’s all to do with nutritional sensitive value chains. We are entering an era of nutritional enhancement and we need to think about feeding fish in a way that makes the package a more nutritious product. Right now, as a protein, tilapia is no more nutritionally valuable than chicken, but it could be a lot more valuable if you feed it right.

“In the context of a developing world, that’s really important,” he said.


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