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To Feed the Future, Manage Seafood Smartly

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ImageBy 2050, the world's population will have risen to 9 billion people. Consumption of fish as a percentage of protein in diets around the world is growing too, especially in the last five years as noted in a recent United Nations Report. Fish makes up over 16 percent of the world's animal protein food supply, and food fish supply, including aquaculture, has increased at an average annual rate of 3.2 percent, which means it’s growing at an even faster clip than the world's population. But the supply of wild-caught commercial fish species, such as tuna, is not infinite. Realistic, well-defined and long-term focused management strategies need to be in place now so that despite an unwavering growth in population and consumption, wild fish stocks can thrive well into the future.

Consumption of fish will continue to increase. In both the developing and developed world, more consumers want access to more fish. In less developed, food-deficit countries -- specifically coastal ones -- fish like tuna provide an affordable source of nutrient rich food.

Partnerships with scientists, organizations like the Global Environment Facility (GEF), NGOs, foundations, and the seafood processing and fishing industry provide opportunities for countries managing fisheries to build the tools and capacities essential to sustainably managing these vital resources. Cooperation amongst different stakeholders is crucial if positive change is going to occur.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), which is the organization I lead, is engaged in a number of projects to support tuna regional fisheries management bodies, their member countries and the fishing industry’s efforts to maintain the sustainability of tuna fisheries around the world. Our overall approach is one where science informs policy, stakeholders reach out to policy-makers, and the private sector uses market influence to incentivize good behavior. 
The global tuna fishery is just one of the many fisheries that need better management to ensure economic and food security in the future. With certain tuna stocks like pacific bigeye showing signs of overfishing, it's important that management bodies have a framework in place to tackle the problems facing tuna fisheries management with greater urgency.

Fisheries managers and marine scientists often look to what are called 'target and limit reference points' to help identify the optimal catch levels for each stock in order to make sure they remain fished at a sustainable level.  Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) are a set of well-defined management actions to be taken in response to changes in stock status with respect to these target and limit reference points.
If for some reason, the catch goes beyond the limit, harvest control rules would automatically go into effect. We, along with other conservation groups, are advocating for the implementation of target and limit reference points and harvest control rules in all tuna-fishing regions of the world. Without HCRs and easy-to-enforce policies accompanying them, we continue to see confusion, overreaction and delayed response to address volatility of a stock that should be treated with smart, well-defined policies. For instance, in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, the tuna purse seine fishery is managed with an annual two-month closure, meaning all vessels have to stop fishing completely, every year, during this time.  This can be enforced easily and it works.

There are other types of management options that may be appropriate in some fisheries, like setting catch quotas or effort limits. We and our partners advocate for robust HCRs so that tuna species like pacific bigeye, which has been downgraded from an ISSF green rating (stock is healthy) to an orange rating (overfished), can recover and eventually thrive.
There are several emerging international opportunities for collective effort towards better management of valuable tuna stocks.  ISSF will be part of a Stakeholder Advisory Group for the Eastern Pacific component of the World Bank/GEF’s Ocean Partnership Program. The program aims to bring greater management to migratory species like tuna using best available technologies and practices. ​
The world is getting bigger, and the availability of all resources are being pinched. Fortunately for us, tuna is a resource that regenerates quickly and has the potential to provide a sizable food source for future generations to come. But that is only if we manage it smartly.

This blog is part of a series exploring what different sectors can do to feed the world in the face of climate change. For more, tune in to Food for the Future, a high-level panel discussion on Friday, October 10 at 12:30 E.T. and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using #food4future.

​Photo: Fabien Forget / ISSF


Susan Jackson

President, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

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