We have never had a larger demand for fish products as we do today: each of us eats on average 20.5kg of fish per year, 130% more than in 1961, despite our population more than doubling in the same period. Fish trade has also skyrocketed, growing from a value of USD8 billion in 1976 to a whopping USD143 billion in 2016.
These trends are the result of a relatively stable capture fisheries sector over recent decades and a growing aquaculture industry, the fastest growing food production industry since the 1960s. They have significantly contributed to human nutrition and health: according to a recent study, current global fish consumption is consistent with the recommended average dietary intake for a healthy diet. At the same time, the public has never been more concerned over the state of oceans and coasts as it is today, as reflected in the media, in the statements of our politicians, and many technical reports including academic journals.
When asked, the state of fisheries is often cited as an example of the environmental crisis surrounding our oceans. Indeed, according to the FAO the fraction of marine fish stocks fished at biologically sustainable levels has dropped from 90% in 1974 to 67% in 2015. While only two marine fish species have gone extinct in the last 500 years, fishing is regularly cited as the main cause of significant biodiversity loss in oceans, and particularly to the variety, quantity and distribution of life, and thus to ecosystem integrity.
It is my contention that conflicting interpretations of often the same evidence are placing society at a cross-roads when considering “life below water". If we insist on eating, growing and reproducing, do we expect aquatic systems, which cover ¾ of the planet, to support our lifestyles? How do we reconcile developmental needs and consumer demands with the need to sustain and conserve our limited resources? What trade-offs do we face, and what evidence should we use to consider our options.
In this presentation I will synthesize what we know, and in particular the challenges we need to face to arrive at the future we want.
 Willett, W., et al. 2019. Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems. Lancet 393: 447–92