The benefits of aquatic foods are many. They support health via high protein and nutrient content, enhance local economies by supplying jobs, and strengthen communities’ culture connections to the ocean. Additionally, aquatic foods provide a huge benefit to global economies; FAO’s 2020 State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report estimated that fish production in 2018 valued at USD 401 billion.
Over half of that economic value, roughly USD 250 billion, can be attributed to aquaculture, one of the fastest growing sectors of aquatic foods.
This fact is not lost on key actors in international discussions on aquatic foods. This year, the Global Aquaculture Alliance (GAA) held its annual Global Outlook for Aquaculture Leadership (GOAL) conference over the course of four days from October 4-8. COS co-director Jim Leape moderated the penultimate session of the conference, held on Thursday, October 8th, and titled “The Intersection of Wild Fisheries and Aquaculture”. The webinar featured presentations by three lead authors and partners on the Blue Food Assessment: Dr. Fiorenza Micheli, COS co-director and Professor of Marine Biology; Dr. Shakuntala Thiltsed, Research Program Leader at WorldFish; and Dr. Jessica Gephart, Assistant Professor at American University.
A collaborative research effort involving the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions, the Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment, EAT, and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, the Blue Food Assessment (BFA) aims to contribute to the growing body of knowledge around blue foods- food from marine and freshwater systems- and their contributions to food security, global economies, and the environment. The BFA’s second goal is to inform policy that better incorporates blue foods, from both wild caught fisheries and aquaculture, into the global food system.
The GOAL conference featured eight different sessions on issues related to seafood’s role in the food system, ranging from business incentives for sustainable fisheries to shrimp and finfish disease management. It took place completely online and connected experts and stakeholders from around the world to discuss the innovative future of aquaculture.
Central to GAA’s mission is developing and supporting best practices for aquaculture production in order to incorporate sustainably farmed seafood into the global food system. Leape led off the session with an introduction of the BFA and identified the linkages between sustainable aquaculture and the future of blue foods in global conversation.
“One of the great strengths of the aquatic food system is diversity,” said Leape. “There is a huge diversity in species and production systems, in the way these foods are used, which gives us an opportunity to meet the needs that lie ahead and to build a system that is resilient.”
The panelist presentations covered three of the core papers that will be produced through the BFA. Dr. Thilsted discussed the nutritional values of aquatic foods, and risks to specific demographics posed by shifting supply chains. Dr. Micheli emphasized the importance of approaching management from the perspective of small-scale fishers, particularly regarding resilience to compounding threats like coastal storms, sea level rise, and ocean temperature changes. Finally, Dr. Gephart reviewed some of the ways in which the benefits from aquatic foods are disproportionally distributed across geographies and social groups, raising issues of equity in the blue food system.
In conjunction with the other core papers of the BFA, these three papers provide a more wholistic picture of the interconnected social and environmental systems in which blue foods exist. Because the aquaculture sector is a major contributor to the global food supply and national economies, ensuring collaborative coordination and management practices between wild caught fisheries and aquaculture industries is crucial.
“Coordinating the development of aquaculture alongside small-scale fisheries by putting in place safeguards for fishers through policies that, for example, ensure their access rights is really important,” said Micheli. “There are opportunities for businesses to reduce the conflicts that sometimes arise and harmonize their operations with small scale fisheries and local communities.”
The Global Aquaculture Alliance is an international non-governmental organization that has been building a coalition of non-profits, industry leaders, and individuals dedicated to advocacy, education, and leadership in aquaculture since 1997.