Healthy oceans are like healthy soil: often taken for granted but absolutely necessary for the sustainable production of nutritious food. Oceans serve as an abundant source of food and nutrition and have an invaluable role in food security and economic development.
Fish and plant life from oceans are vital parts of the global food chain. About 17 percent of global animal protein intake comes from fish, with a major share originating from catch fisheries. In a world where 795 million people are undernourished, fish provide a valuable source of protein and micronutrients to much of the world.
Fish serves as a particularly important food source in developing countries. About 60 percent of people in many developing countries depend on fish for over 30% of their animal protein intake. In some countries, these percentages are much higher. For example, in Senegal, 74 percent of protein intake comes from fish. For many people living in developing countries, especially along coastlines, oceans serve as the primary food source. Small fish, which are particularly rich in calcium, vitamin A, iron and zinc, are often eaten whole for nutritional value and aquatic plants serve as an additional source of nutrition.
In addition to being a reliable food source, our oceans serve as important economic drivers. Fish is the world’s single-most traded food commodity with an export value of more than twice the next most traded commodity: soybeans. The fisheries and aquaculture sector is responsible for supporting the livelihoods of 10-12 percent of the world’s population. Much of this economic activity is produced by small-scale fishers and associated fishing communities and businesses. More than 97 percent of these fisherfolk live in developing countries and are dominated by small-scale, family operations of fewer than 10 people. Providing opportunities for economic growth in communities of fisherfolk is critical to reducing undernourishment and poverty. Communities of fisherfolk are vital to the world economy and are often at risk for severe weather events, and other unforeseeable challenges that wreak havoc on their food security and economic stability.
As projections estimate a world population of 9 billion people by 2050, a growing global population accompanied with a trend towards consuming increased quantities of animal-source protein will place increasing stress on fisheries -- many of which are already at their limit. In addition, ocean acidification and climate change impacts including elevated sea temperatures, and more frequent and intense storms will place an additional burden on food production from our oceans. To meet these challenges, we must identify science-based, ecologically-sound strategies to increasing sustainable production while simultaneously reducing the impact of food production on the environment. Success will require global cooperation to promote climate-smart food security best practices. Keeping our oceans safe, clean, and productive for generations to come is a critical part of the U.S. strategy to reducing hunger and malnutrition and ensuring a food secure world.
In collaboration with global development partners, the United States is engaged in helping to establish ecologically-sustainable, science based-catch limits with improved enforcement of fisheries laws and regulations to help keep our oceans healthy and safe. In addition, the United States promotes technologies and policies to mitigate the negative impact to our oceans from land-based agriculture from agricultural runoff and untreated sewage. Around the world, many countries have joined U.S. efforts to help ensure that the fish that we do catch or raise are not wasted. For example, in Africa it is estimated that 25 percent of fish harvests spoil before they reach consumers. Sustainable best practices encourage us to consider how to promote market conditions to improve food security by reducing these losses of nutritious fish as food.
Oceans are vital to the global food security and nutrition. On this World Ocean’s Day, let’s strive to put policies and best practices in place so that our oceans are healthy and productive for generations to come.
About the Author: Julia Duncan serves in the Secretary of State's Office of Global Food Security.
For more information:
- Watch a video message from Secretary of State John Kerry and Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz in advance of the 2015 "Our Ocean" Conference in Chile.
- Like the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) on Facebook and follow @StateDeptOES on Twitter for more information about "Our Ocean."
- Go to www.FeedtheFuture.gov and follow @StateDeptGFS and @FeedtheFuture on Twitter for more information on U.S. efforts to address global hunger.
- Visit www.state.gov/ourocean to learn more about the challenges facing our ocean and ways you can help to protect it.