Wild harvests in continued decline, as fish farming grows

The University of York, UK, reports on Marine Pollution Bulletin article, 14th October 2014: More and more people are eating fish for the health benefits, but what is all that healthy eating doing to the global fish supply?

A review of 124 years of fisheries landings records shows that UK domestic fishery landings have fallen to their lowest point in more than 70 years.

When they accounted for processing losses and human population growth, researchers found that fish availability from domestic supplies showed an almost continual decrease since the early 20th century. “Our paper shows the serious disconnect between healthy eating recommendations and the finite capacity of wild fish stocks to meet those aspirations,” says Ruth Thurstan, a research fellow at the University of Queensland.

Although fish production is increasingly globalised, the trends observed in the UK, of falling domestic supply and an increased reliance on imports, are emblematic of many other developed nations.

Europe imports 55 per cent of the fish it consumes, while America imported 91 per cent last year.

Today, domestic fish supplies fall far below consumption levels recommended by the Food Standards Agency, supplying just one-fifth of the two portions per week advice. The shortfall has been masked in part by increased imports and aquaculture, which together raise the figure to four-fifths.

Global patterns in wild fish production reflect these trends, researchers say. In terms of fish available per person, supplies have been in decline for more than 40 years, falling by nearly a third. Only rapid growth in fish farming has shielded consumers from the consequences of overfishing and human population increase.

Are fish farms the answer? Half of our seafood now comes from farms — but fish farming is not a win-win solution.

“Many aquaculture operations inflict heavy environmental costs on wild fish stocks and coastal ecosystems, such as habitat loss, pollution, disease, and pests,” says Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at University of York. “To be viable in the long-term and help feed the world, there has to be a Blue Revolution in fish farming to sustainable production methods. Better management of wild fisheries could also boost production while helping heal damage to ocean life.”

Thurstan says the research demonstrates “how UK consumers have so far been protected from falling domestic production by increasing imports, but this demand is often filled at a high social and environmental cost in producer nations, many of them very poor. These findings are a wake-up call to the UK government that our national health aspirations have to be considered on a global stage, and that we need to think carefully about the implications of promoting greater fish consumption in a world where many people are already protein deficient.”

The study was published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Source: University of York, 14th October 2014. For the full text, see www.futurity.org/global-fish-supply-782652

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