Blind trust in the blue economy can be a big mistake

In a study published in One Earth, researchers argue that while increased focus on seafood is good, there are several untested assumptions about the blue economy that should not be ignored. Photo: A. Shuvalov/Unsplash

Amid increased focus on seafood for more sustainable and healthy diets, researchers reveal three flawed assumptions about seafood production and consumption

Story highlights

  • Blind trust in blue economic growth can have undesirable consequences
  • Only policies that address these “blind spots” will help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals
  • What’s good is that the seafood industry field is an active frontier for innovation and debate

MYTH BUSTERS: Producing more seafood will not automatically improve diets for people and planet. Production needs to be matched with efforts to make seafood accessible and affordable. Right now, researchers warn that things are moving in the wrong direction and are focussed on production that will benefit only a few.

In a study published in One Earth, centre researcher Max Troell with colleagues from Australia, Malaysia and the Solomon Islands, argue that while increased focus on seafood is good, there are several untested assumptions about the blue economy that should not be ignored.

The assumptions, or “blind spots” as the authors call them, are:

• Growth in the blue economy will lead to growth in blue food production and consumption
• Increasing food production will directly lead to reduced hunger
• Mariculture production will replace declining capture fisheries

Several issues must be sorted

In their study, Troell and his colleagues pick these assumptions apart and reveal concerns about not dealing with them.

In fact, a growing commodification of ocean resources and the emerging production focus of blue economy narratives may, paradoxically, threaten the food and livelihood security of the ‘‘tropical majority’’ people in developing countries and particularly those in Small Island Developing States. These are the people who are most dependent on ocean resources for key micronutrients.

Start with the “growth” assumption: although increased consumption of blue food is welcomed, emerging evidence suggests that industrialization of the ocean economy may compromise its potential to provide more food. The ocean is not an indefinite resource for food and its connection to resources on land constitute an additional challenge.

The second, that increased production will reduce hunger, is flawed because while there may already be enough food produced to address hunger, it is not sufficiently accessible to those who need it.

Third, mariculture production may indeed catch a larger part of the market but capture fisheries still supply half the world’s fish catch for direct human consumption and provide many people with a diverse and nutritious food supply. Capture fisheries also support the livelihoods of tens of millions of people and it is utterly important to sustain this resource by having good governance in place.

These untested assumptions are made at a time when over 820 million people suffer from hunger and over 2 billion people are unable to regularly access safe, nutritious, and sufficient food.

Anna Farmery, lead author

Active debates are positive

They believe that only policies that consider these blind spots can help alleviate hunger and malnutrition and achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals. To do so, policies need to be guided by a broader food-system framing that pays particular attention to questions of equity and justice.

But there is also hope. Amid the accelerating growth in production and consumption, the seafood industry field is an active frontier for innovation and debate.

“Enabling that innovation is an imperative if small-scale fisheries are to take their place in a just and equitable blue economy,” the authors conclude.

Link to publication

Illustration of an increasingly busy ocean and coastal space where important blue economy sectors, including mining, energy, ports, transport, tourism, and conservation, are growing and expanding their claims to marine space and resources. The figure depicts this complex and dynamic situation, where the impact of the growing blue economy on food and nutrition is not well understood.

Published: 2021-02-15

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