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Other organizations point to waste as another major issue  

Tim Nelson
July 10, 2018

The world’s appetite for seafood seems limitless. A key staple of many diets, the recent poke craze and the ongoing demand for sushi has led to overfishing in many areas of the globe. Now, a dire new report from the United Nations underscores just how unsustainable the current situation truly is.

The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just released its 2018 report on the State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture, which concluded that 33.1 percent of the world’s oceans were fished at unsustainable levels as of 2015. While that’s only a slight jump from the 31.4 percent figure in 2013, it becomes particularly alarming when compared to the 10 percent figure FAO cites for 1974. That degree of overfishing corresponds with the increased demand for fish, which has risen to 44.5 pounds per person annually, a figure that’s more than doubled since 1961 (19.8 pounds).

If global demand continues to trend upward while supply further dwindles, FAO posits that certain areas of the developing world will soon have no choice but to import fish or turn to other alternatives. “There’s too much pressure on marine resources and we need significantly more commitments from governments to improve the state of their fisheries,” FAO fisheries and aquaculture department director Manuel Barnage told Reuters, pointing to Africa as an area with the greatest potential to run a fish deficit in the near future.

One way towards self-sufficiency? Fish farming (or aquaculture), which has helped to bolster supply in some areas. As fish farming is a feasible option even in remote places like Saharan Algeria, the FAO report predicts that this method can help to shrink the demand-supply gap by about 2030. Detractors worry about the damage caused by placing fisheries in unnatural environments, but Barnage believes proper regulation and oversight can offset some of these concerns.

Perhaps most alarming is what happens to fish once they’re out of the water. Nonprofit organization WorldFish estimates that 35 percent of catches go to waste. Naturally, this feels like a lost opportunity given the status of our oceans and the fact that nearly half the globe (3.2 billion people) derive nearly one-fifth of their protein intake from fish. Common reasons for the waste include poor refrigeration during the supply chain, and the practice of discarding fish that are seen as either unprofitable or undesirable based on their size or species.

So what’s the world to do? Hopefully, a thoughtful approach to aquaculture (including the implementation of regulations and other environmental/biological safeguards) might make our insatiable appetite for seafood a little more sustainable. The broadening of our collective palate to include parts of the fish and new species that haven’t become popular could also help us utilize more of what we catch. As with all serious ecological warnings, though, the degree to which the global community is able to band together and take meaningful action remains to be seen. Either way, the situation is certainly something to ponder while you’re waiting for that next sushi delivery.

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