On importance of seafood

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Seafood has long been an important source of income in many coastal communities and a staple food in nations around the world. Seafood demand is ever growing over a widening share of populations in modern economies due to its nutritional and health benefits.

Both aggregate and per capita consumption of seafood have steadily increased along with growing affluence in many developing nations. To keep pace with consumption demand, seafood production has increased significantly over time through rapid growth in aquaculture production, innovation in more efficient fishing and processing technologies, and through investment in larger production capacity.

Markets for seafood have expanded during the past century, as consumer preferences have changed with increasing awareness of the benefits from seafood and more choice of fish species and products. New developments in international trade, investing environment, marketing, supply chains, information technology, transportation, etc., have made seafood accessible and affordable to an increasing share of the global population.

Solid growth in the seafood sector has given rise to challenges in the management and conservation of fishery resources. Wild capture fisheries continue to provide the majority of seafood supply. In the past, many fishing operations faced sustainability issues, primarily due to overfishing and associated bycatch. For several reasons, various fisheries around the world have collapsed or face the brink of collapse, while others which previously collapsed are slowly rebuilding or operating significantly below their historical highs.

Overfishing is typically addressed with single-species assessments which provide the basis for output and effort control measures such as catch limits, harvest quota, gear types, rights-based management or catch shares, limited access, limits on fishing days, temporal, or spatial, including the establishment of marine sanctuaries or reserves.

Unilateral management measures are appropriate to regulate fishing pressure in domestic waters, while bilateral and multilateral agreements among fishing nations, are necessary to manage trans-boundary fisheries that are more difficult to negotiate. In the absence of cooperative and binding or enforceable agreements, seafood sustainability may be at considerable risk when some nations race for high historical catches to secure larger share of harvest quotas in high seas fisheries.

The same holds true for fishermen in domestic fisheries as well as in sharing a limited fishing ground between neighboring countries.

Regulatory authorities have been unable to adequately and uniformly address bycatch externalities across regions or jurisdictions. Better management and technological measures for efficient harvesting to overcome overfishing and reduce bycatch will remain of paramount importance.

The science behind intricate interrelationships and interdependencies among various living organisms in a fishery is yet to be fully understood.

The government’s role in fisheries along with responsibility and accountability of other stakeholders has been increasingly important in the growth and stability of seafood supply. What was once thought of as the ocean’s unlimited bounty may no longer be a realistic case for many fisheries in the foreseeable future, as our ocean’s vulnerability to complex, multi-faceted externalities becomes increasingly apparent. Many current challenges with seafood are not new, but they remain to be satisfactorily resolved. Additional challenges to sustainability can be expected in the foreseeable future, given ever increasing global seafood demand.

A Guest Editorial