Nature Climate Change | Climate Feedback

PICES Conference: How much fish in the future?

Olive Heffernan

Jake Rice, who heads up Advice and Assessment at the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, just delivered an interesting talk here on the conflict between global food security and fisheries managment policies. Rice says that he and his co-author, economist Serge Garcia, are concerned that measures to conserve marine biodiversity are in contradiction with policies to protect food security, with the likely upshot that both will fail to address their respective goals.

The conundrum is straightforward: by mid-century, there’ll be an additional 2 billion people on earth, each of whom will need to eat. In total, they’ll require an extra 3.65*108 of dietary protein. Forecasts suggest that we’ll need an 11% increase in irrigation for grain production just to keep pace with human population growth, not withstanding the impacts of climate change on crops and water availability. Right now, one-third of the world’s population relies on fish and fisheries products for at least one-fifth of their annual protein intake; if that continues to be the case, we’ll need around 70 million metric tonnes more fish protein by 2050, says Rice.

That’s something like 75-100% of current fish protein production. So how can we generate this and manage our fisheries? Rice outlines several possible options, each of which involves a conflict with environmental management.

One option is to extend fish farming in coastal areas, but that has the associated problems of pollution and the escape of farmed fish into the wild. Also, fish farming requires protein input in the form of fishmeal, so that raises other sustainability issues.

Or we could start to fish lower down the food web – in other words, eat jellyfish – but that would remove an important food supply for predators higher up the food chain, and those predators are already under serious stress.

Another option is to fish more in highly producivity regions, but aren’t those the same regions we should be setting aside as Marine Protected Areas?

The problem, says Rice, is that these clearly conflicting policy goals aren’t being looked at by the same people at a high enough level. Now that the old problem of fisheries governance is being met with the newer problems of climate change and rapid population growth, we need a merger of these discussions, he says. He’d like to see the Convention on Biological Diversity pay more attention to the sustainable food dimension of their mandate and the Food and Agricultural Organization speaking with the CBD at a higher level. Eventually, says Rice, the UN General Assembly should be the forum to look at merging and prioritizing these policies.

But can we have our cake and eat it? “We can’t have full conservation of marine biodiversity and a well nourished additional 2 billion people on Earth”, says Rice.


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    Hank Roberts said:

    Ah, how about the followon questions: as we reduce biodiversity—fishing for jellyfish and krill—what happens to our ability to feed those people over time, with less and less biodiversity?


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    Angel Baluyut said:

    This is why we shouold take care of our natural resources for once it is taken away from us we will all sufer, should we wait for the natures revenge? we must take some actions now before it is too late for all of us.