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The future of fish and its role in securing food for a 9-billion world

Manuel Barange, Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Division, FAO, delivered a talk that asked the audience ​​​​​to consider the future role of the ocean and the future of fisheries.
Published: 10 September 2019

​​​​​​​​​What does the ocean mean to you? Mojitos on the beach or a source of food security? ​​​​​We all have a different view of the world we live in and in his keynote talk at ICES Annual Science Conference​, Manuel Barange, Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Division, FAO, asked the audience to take a step outside the dominant conservationist narrative of fisheries.  

Addressing the question of food security

The FAO was established in 1945 to deal with the question of how to feed an increasing population which at the time was approaching the 3 billion mark. Barange informed the audience that despite progress in previous decades, the number of undernourished people in the world has risen over the last two years to reach 822 million, 10.8% of the world's population with political instability, conflict, and climate shocks being the main reasons behind this.

Today, FAO's mission remains the same, only the scale of the operation has increased as they now consider how to feed a global population of 9 billion as the erosion of natural resources demands more and more original thinking.

Feeding a growing population

For diets to improve, more protein should be consumed. As agriculture already uses 40% of the Earth's land, an increase in land use for food production would mean encroaching into forested land or human habitations. An increase in the utilization of the ocean as a source of human food therefore seems inevitable, but how to do so is less than evident given the state of its resource base.

Fish and fisheries have already been crucial in the fight against hunger and poverty. Of the 30 countries where fish contribute more than one-third of the total animal protein supply, 22 are Low Income and Food Deficient countries (LIFDCs). 95% percent of all workers directly dependent on commercial capture fisheries value chains for their livelihoods live in developing countries.

For fisheries to meet this demand for animal protein, there are challenges. Wild capture fisheries relies entirely on the natural cycle of production of wild ecosystems – the only large food production system to do so – and so, technical and innovative thinking is required to maintain a sustainable production. In addition, while aquaculture has been the fastest growing food production system over the last 5 decades, its continued growth depends on space allocation, additional finance, and biosecurity controls. 

Conservation versus sustainability

Barange states that, at a strategic level, the role of fish in global nutrition efforts and strategies has been largely overlooked. A change is needed to elevate fish in policy priorities, based on robust evidence, so that a vision for a sustainable future for food in the twenty-first century can emerge.

To change, simplistic perception must be challenged: fisheries sustainability is much more than a conservation versus use challenge, it is a repeat of the hunter gathering versus agricultural revolution challenge, a challenge between intensification and subsistence, a challenge to western-dominated perceptions of what oceans are for, and a challenge of what constitutes a healthy diet.

Fish is central to all these challenges. To achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and particularly for a zero-hunger world, these challenges need to be faced.

Where is the food needed most?

Barange was quite clear in the message he wanted the a​udience to take away, stating that we need to be aware of the dominant narrative of the state of world fisheries is a western-dominated, conservation-focused and change it. Politicians may be comfortable hiding behind conservation but this will not solve the question of food security. This perception blurs us in the west to our privileges – that removing fishing boats from our landscape is not as important as acquiring food security and livelihood for many in the poorest sections of society.

​However unless we do away with hunger, poverty, and conflict, Barange warns, then we can forget about sustainability, and indeed any other global progress. But the road to achieving sustainability is worth it, he concludes, asking us to imagine what a world of 9-billion well-educated, well-nourished inhabitants can achieve.

​​​​​​Watch a recording of Manuel Barange's keynote talk, The future of ­fish and its role in securing food for a 9-billion world.

Follow #ICESASC19 and @ICES_ASC to stay up to date on all the news and science from ICES Annual Science Conference 2019 in Gothenburg, Sweden.​​



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​What doe​s the ocean mean to you? Manuel Barange delivers his keynote talk at ICES ASC 2019.

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The future of fish and its role in securing food for a 9-billion world

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