Since 1996 legal capture fishery harvests have dropped roughly a million tons every year. That statistic comes via a June 15, 2016 article on the decline of fisheries in “Nature – the International Weekly Journal of Science.” That conclusion raises a number of questions.
Where did they go? What does a million missing tons of fish each year mean?
If true, it means the oceans are in dire straits.
A million missing tons of wild-caught fish each year means less income for fishermen. Less income means the quality of life for their families is declining. Less fish equal less pay. Less take-home pay means an economic deficit for community stores, service professions, governmental infrastructure due to less taxes collected. That’s the micro view.
The macro view?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that one billion people worldwide depend upon fish as their primary source of animal protein. Three billion look to fish for at least 20 percent of protein intake. Drop the global fish harvest by a million tons or one percent of the total and 10 million men, women and children are forced to go without. Thirty billion will see their protein, essential micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acid consumption cut by a fifth.
What is the world to do if marine protein from fisheries decreases by one percent per year while the human population continues to grow from 7 billion, a mark it passed in 2011, to 9 billion by 2045? Experience widespread malnutrition? Or, find an alternative source to make up the deficit?
The harsh reality is that the world is facing a food of shortage of epic proportions.
Historically, when humanity’s back is against the wall the response more often than not is an innovative solution. To date, if the choice is right, humans survive and thrive.
Augmenting the supply of marine protein when traditional means prove futile points today toward culturing or farming fish and other seafood sources. Aquaculture also called aqua-farming is human intervention and control in the raising of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants, algae, and other aquatic organisms. It can be in fresh or saltwater depending on the species.
Humans have farmed aquatic animals for thousands of years. Some techniques have changed very little through the ages. The pressing need for millions of tons of seafood from sources other than fisheries led to unique approaches including farms on land, lakes, rivers as well as off shore. Each comes with unique advantages and, unfortunately, disadvantages.
The ideal approach raises commercial, read very large, amounts of aquatic protein with little or not damage to the environment. To date, practical considerations including keeping investment costs to a minimum often result in the adoption of methods that cause the worst eco-insults. Addressing each of aquaculture’s problems – disease, pollution by means of wastewater disposal, natural resource alterations and more – requires significant economic investment. Finding a balance between increasing food mass and avoiding environmental damage is imperative and expensive.
The clock is ticking. Every passing day the population is growing and the food supply is shrinking. The time is now to identify and agree upon aquaculture techniques that preserve both human inhabitants and the planet called home.