- Better management could lead the ocean to provide six times more food than it does today and furnish two-thirds of the animal protein required to feed the global population of 2050, a new scientific paper found.
- The paper also notes better fishery management could increase yields by 20% in the near term, and up to 40% more than currently projected future catches.
- Because the ocean can increase feed efficiency and production, provide more nutrition, allow for widely accessible protein and not contribute to climate change, the paper argued that seafood is the key to sustainable food security.
By 2050, there will be an estimated 10 billion people in the world — up from an estimated 7.7 billion this year, according to the United Nations. But a report from the World Resources Institute found it will be impossible to feed them all without major changes to the global food system. A 50% increase in population would augment demand for animal-based foods by nearly 70%. To solve the conundrum, one of the solutions this report presented is increasing fish supply.
The recent scientific paper written for the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy echoes this claim and takes it one step further by demonstrating not just what needs to be done but how. By forecasting demand against production costs, interactions with other sectors and regulations, the paper generated a “sustainable supply curve” that predicts just how much seafood can feasibly be taken out of the ocean. Those projections show the majority of the world's future protein needs can be satisfied through aquaculture.
Seafood, in this case, is not just fish. Future protein from the sea, according to this paper, will need to be a combination of fin fish, filter feeders — like oysters or mussels — and aquatic plants. Including these varieties under the umbrella of what constitutes seafood will lead to an increase in nutritious food with a lower impact on the marine environment.
Currently, there are barriers to expanding access to these protein sources. In the case of seaweed, there is a lack of both offshore production techniques and cost-effective and efficient harvesting systems.
The growing desire from consumers to eat sustainably and introduce functional benefits like omega 3s into their diets has led to an increase in technologies related to protein — and much more complex than improving harvesting methods of what's already in the ocean. Companies looking to cater to consumers’ value systems, which include sustainability, are investing in cultured meat. This category is a new phenomenon, but it could rapidly change how Americans eat. To date, no companies have yet gone beyond the prototype stage.
Investors have poured more than $16 billion into U.S. plant-based and cell-based meat companies. Some, like BlueNalu and Finless Foods, focus specifically on recreating aquaculture products. Cell-cultured seafood is generating attention. Shiok Meats in Singapore raised $4.6 million earlier this year to fund work on cell-cultured shrimp.
As the world waits for these startups to perfect cultured meat and ramp up production and distribution, this paper shows the oceans could sustainably feed humans the real deal. Achieving those optimal production levels will require coordination between international companies and world fisheries.
It will also include some predictions on the part of aquaculture farmers. As manufacturers look into the future and analyze customer data trends, they will need to simultaneously communicate the sustainable advantages of widening the definition of seafood. Doing so will help set trends for the future that will lead to a more sustainable eating environment for all.