Seafood Insecurity

Oct 9th, 2012 | By | Category: Food and Hunger/Agriculture

By Suzanne York,

One billion poor people around the world rely upon fish and seafood as their primary source of protein. Climate change is putting these people at high risk for food insecurity, and they also face a very serious threat to their livelihoods as fisherfolk, according to the recent report Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World.

Authored by Oceana, an international organization working to protect the world’s oceans, the publication states that “Emissions from human activities are changing the ocean’s chemistry and temperature in ways that threaten the livelihoods of those who depend on fish and seafood for all or part of their diets.” Ocean acidification (chemical changes in the ocean as a result of carbon dioxide emissions) is also a major factor, and is upsetting the balance of marine life.

By 2050, when global population is projected to hit 9.3 billion (a mid-range UN estimate), the world demand for seafood – unsurprisingly – is also expected to rise. The report’s authors believe that oceans can be a big factor in addressing the global food security challenge. Yet the reality is that carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases are “disrupting ocean conditions and threatening the future of the essential food resources we receive from the oceans.”

Today, an estimated 41 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the coast, including 21 of the world’s 33 megacities, consuming an increasing amount of food from the ocean and contributing to climate change.

Using the indicators of low gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, high population growth rates and high levels of undernourishment, Oceana’s top five “least adaptable” countries are Comoros, Pakistan, Eritrea, Haiti and Madagascar.

The implications of this, regarding not only world population growth, but also economic development and environmental sustainability, are huge. Take Pakistan, for example. Today it has a population of 180 million; by 2050, it is projected to reach 314 million. This growth will have big implications on food and water security. In Pakistan, fisheries are a key economic sector and reap billions of dollars of foreign exchange for the country; there are also a large number of both rural and urban communities dependent upon fisheries for livelihoods. A decline in fish and seafood catches would hit the poorest fisherfolks the hardest (already they face competition from industrial trawlers).

And in Madagascar, which has one of the world’s fastest growing populations, there are many people dependent upon fishing for their livelihoods. Any disruption to fish stocks would severely affect them.

The NGO Blue Ventures is helping remote communities in Madagascar cope with population and environmental pressures by working with locals to manage coastal marine areas. It has also opened regional family planning and health care clinics to address the unmet need for family planning services and bring down the number of births per woman, which currently stands at five. Vik Mohan, medical director with Blue Ventures, said that a t-shirt was designed to help make the links between population growth, environment, and resources which noted that if people have too many children there won’t be enough fish.

Fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of an estimated 540 million people, or eight percent of the world population, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Thus, maintaining healthy oceans is critical. Oceans cover over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and contain the planet’s largest habitat, nearly 99 percent of the living space on the planet. That area supports the life of nearly 50 percent of all species on Earth.

The U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration emphasizes the vital role of the oceans biological productivity in the global climate and carbon cycle and provides nearly 50 percent of Earth’s oxygen and 20 percent of the world’s protein supply. Fish comprise approximately 12 percent of marine species, and crustaceans, such as crabs, lobsters, comprise slightly less than 20 percent of all species in the ocean.

The Oceana report lists steps that can be taken to minimize impact. These are 1) reduce carbon dioxide emissions, 2) end fossil fuel subsidies, 3) stop overfishing, bycatch and destructive fishing practices, 4) establish marine protected areas, and 5) manage for change (manage resources sustainably in the face of climate changes).

Humans have relied upon the oceans for food for thousands of years. That reliance has been mainly taken for granted, but today too many of us are consuming unsustainably in a world of gross inequity. Throw population, pollution, acidification and climate change into the mix and we need to find ways to quickly reduce negative human impact on the oceans and planet.

Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies/


photo credit: The Waxhead,

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