Nine ways to produce more sustainable and affordable blue food

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By Milthon Lujan

Greater attention should be paid to improving the productivity and environmental performance of affordable and accessible aquatic species.

Forget smoked salmon and Russian caviar—aquatic “blue foods” have huge potential as an affordable and sustainable source of nutrition for millions of low-income households around the world.

But conversations around increasing aquatic food production often focus on exactly those species, environments, and ambitious hi-tech solutions that will benefit the privileged few.

A new perspective in One Earth led by centre researcher Patrik Henriksson and Max Troell with colleagues, argues that greater attention should be paid to improving the productivity and environmental performance of affordable and accessible aquatic species.

The study details a range of available intervention and investment areas that would significantly and sustainably boost production of these nutritious foods.

“We provide a range of interventions that can aid aquatic foods to play a vital role in food security and providing nutrients to low-income consumers.”, said Patrik Henriksson, lead author.

Significant growth

Farmed fish can be produced with 87% lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef, use 49% less land than poultry, and require 84% less fresh water than pigs.

At the same time, it has been projected that the production of aquatic foods will increase by 32% between 2018 and 2030. But it is not a given that this increase in production will be sustainable.

“Fulfilling the potential of aquaculture to contribute positively to food system transformation will require better accounting of the environmental performance of the huge diversity of production systems, and interventions that facilitate upscaling of aquatic farming to support sustainable diets,” say the authors.

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Nine areas of intervention

The study identifies nine intervention areas for improving the productivity and sustainability of global aquaculture:

1. Species choice

2. Genetic improvements

3. Farm technologies and practices

4. Spatial planning and access

5. Disease reduction

6. Feed

7. Regulations and trade

8. Post-harvest processing and distribution

9. Financial tools

“These interventions would have the most impact if geared toward boosting accessible, affordable species,” say the authors.

For example, more tolerant and less resource-demanding species have a lower environmental impact, but are less in demand.

“This could to some extent be overcome by nudging consumer behavior and focusing on value-added products like surimi, which is made from deboned fish paste,” say the authors.

Equally, many smallholder farmers are unable to benefit from quality feed, seed, or disease diagnostics due to limited access to credit.

“Enabling insurance providers and cooperatives could play an important role in alleviating risk and gaining access to credit and markets among smallholder aquaculture farmers,” they add.

“Aquatic foods alone cannot ensure future food security but, if developed thoughtfully, they can play a greater role in alleviating the current food system’s environmental pressures on the planet”.

Reference (open access):
Henriksson, P.J.G., Troell, M., Banks, L.K., et.al. 2021. Interventions for improving the productivity and environmental performance of global aquaculture for future food security. One Earth, Perspective, Vol. 4, Issue 9, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oneear.2021.08.009 

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre 

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