The United Nations’ most recent biennial publication, State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018, provides a reasonably accurate portrayal of the status of global fisheries stocks and the growing aquaculture sector.
What is more, it provides a critical look at the major issues surrounding fisheries and aquaculture and highlights efforts to improve on these industry warts, as I like to call them.
Here are some highlights from the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 report, which is available online (http://www.fao.org/publications/sofia/en/):
Aquaculture continues to grow and is the major source of seafood consumed worldwide — exceeding 50 per cent of seafood consumption.
Capture fisheries continue to stagnate in total volume, following a 40-year trend of stable catches around 90 million tonnes annually.
Seafood farming is expected to supply 65 per cent, or more, of all seafood consumed by 2030.
More than three billion people worldwide have a daily meal of seafood and nearly two billion of them consume farmed seafood. This translates to more than one trillion seafood meals annually.
Some 20 million men and women rely on aquaculture as their primary source of employment and income. (This number exceeds 100 million people when you include the entire seafood value chain, such as harvesters and processors.)
The annual global value of seafood trade exceeds US$300 billion, larger than the individual economies of more than 100 nations.
The value, at first landing, of aquaculture is approaching US$200 billion — exceeding the value of capture fisheries by a significant amount.
The report reviews major issues trending in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and progress towards achieving the UN’s sustainable development goals. The good news is that aquaculture supports the goals of reducing environmental impacts in our oceans, improving livelihoods of coastal dwellers, while providing mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate impacts on fisheries production.
Fish farming, after all, is an adaptation to fill the seafood demands of the world in changing climates when capture fisheries are impacted by the same. It can be said if you want to save a wild fish, particularly those in peril from environmental and human influences, farm them for food.
There are ongoing challenges, of course. The sector does need to find solutions to production issues primarily facing the marine shellfish and finfish farming sectors. Many of the issues relate to animal and environmental health, but these challenges are essentially opportunities for the sector to innovate, create solutions and continue to produce sustainable, healthy aquatic protein.
Much of the farmed seafood familiar to most Canadians — salmon, oysters and mussels — is assessed against stringent, scientific criteria and certified by independent bodies. Among them, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council developed by World Wildlife Fund, Best Aquaculture Practices developed by the Global Aquaculture Alliance or the Canadian Organic Aquaculture Standards developed by the Standards Council of Canada.
In all cases, they meet the highest standards of environmental care, human and animal ethics, as well as food safety and traceability. Moreover, Canadian seafood farmers continue to improve their environmental footprint and are among global leaders in farmed seafood sustainability.
To my knowledge, there has not been one lost day at sea or harvest reduction to any Canadian fish harvester due to seafood farming in this country, nor is there any real strong evidence of any declines in fishery productivity in this country, owing solely to seafood farming. Critics will argue otherwise, saying there are smoking guns where there are none.
The world is counting on seafood farmers to grow more seafood, and seafood harvesters to harvest sustainably and reduce any impacts there may be on the natural environment from their activities. Now, more than ever, is the time for academics and researchers alike to focus not on the negatives of fish farming, but to contribute to the improvement of the sector, for it is literally the future of seafood, in terms of growth.
With good science, we may even be able to increase capture fisheries harvest in Canada in a sustainable fashion, and return to our former glory of being one of the top 10 seafood producers in the world. We ranked highly in the 1980s, but Canada has since fallen below the top 20 and as a number of European, Asian and South American countries surpassed us in recent decades.
Let’s not be left out of this future of supplying seafood. There is too much to lose for traditional ways of living on our coasts and the job potential for tens of thousands of Canadians in producing and supplying seafood.
Cyr Couturier is an aquaculture scientist and chair of aquaculture programs with the Fisheries and Marine Institute’s Centre for Aquaculture and Seafood Development. He has more than 35 years of experience in applied research and development, training and education in aquaculture and fisheries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @aquacanada.