Seafood industry to play critical role in feeding growing population as climate change hits harder

A panel at the Global Seafood Alliance’s 2022 GOAL conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

The world's human population is expected to surpass 10 billion by 2050. How to feed that many people, especially as the effects of global warming continue to worsen, was the subject of a 5 October panel at the Global Seafood Alliance’s 2022 GOAL conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A.

University of Washington Professor of Fisheries Science Ray Hilborn, University of Stirling Aquaculture Professor Richard Newton, Environmental Defense Fund Senior Manager of Climate Resilient Food Systems Willow Battista, and Wittaya Aqua CEO Evan Hall reviewed statistical evidence linking changes in climage to global output of fishing and aquaculture production and debated the industry's impact on the environment. 

Hilborn said while the seafood industry has some impact on biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions, he said it pales in comparison with that of global agriculture, citing its use of fresh water and the negative consequences of the pollution it produces, the pesticides it uses, and the soil erosion that comes of a result of intensive agriculture, which he called "the biggest threat to food security in the world."

"All food production comes with an environmental cost," he said. “The big threats to oceans are climate change and, for coastal ecosystems, things that come from the land."

Newton pointed out demand for seafood is rising fastest in the world's most-affluent communities, but that across the board globally, people are eating more protein-rich foods per capita. Demand for seafood is rising quickest in Asia, and Newton predicted Africa's demand for seafood might soon approach that of Asia's population.

With the traditional fish-based fishmeal sector approaching capacity limits, Newton called for greater study of how the industry can stretch thouse resources.

"It’s critical that we can be more efficient about feed use,” Newton said.

Newton suggested the industry take fishmeal alternatives and cell-based seafood production seriously, and urged the industry to be more efficient in how it utilizes edible portions of seafood that currently don't go toward human consumption. 

“The time is right to ensure to make sure we make the right choices to make sure people eat healthily and in a way that is good for the environment,” he said.  

With billions of people across the globe already dependent on aquatic foods and that segment of the population rising, climate change poses a dire threat to worsening world hunger, Battista said. When it comes to seafood, shifts in fish -population ranges, higher water temperatures, and rising ocean acidity are the most-critical causes for concern, both for wild-catch fisheries and aquaculture, she said.

“As climate change progresses, those who are most dependent on aquatic resources will be hardest hit," Battista said.

But Battista said the seafood sector has a critical role to play as the world adapts to a changed climate, especially through the expansion of sustainable mariculture, which she said could be expanded even in a world altered by climate change. 

"[It's possible for] pretty much every coastal country in the world to meet per capital demand for seafood in all of the worst climate scenarios," she said.

Battista said the seafood industry has a strong claim to the title of world's most climate-friendly protein.

“In general, aquatic foods have a lower carbon footprint than other animal-based foods and that’s really important as we go forward today," she said.

Evan Hall wrapped up the session by providing solutions and suggestions for how the industry can work toward combating climate change. The co-founder of Wittaya Aqua, the creator of AquaOp, said a better use of data can help streamline the nutritional supply chain and maximize the use of marine resources.

Photo courtesy of Bhavana Scalia-Bruce/SeafoodSource


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