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Are fisheries the answer to global food security concerns?

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In recent years, food security has risen to the top of the global political agenda as one of the biggest challenges we face today. As Goal 2 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals states, the ambition is to “end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people–especially children–have sufficient and nutritious food all year.” While significant progress has been made over the past two decades the focus remains, with almost 842 million people worldwide (as of 2017) who are estimated to suffer from chronic hunger, including 121 million children under the age of five.

Almost one in nine people suffer from undernourishment and malnutrition, and climate change and a growing global population means these people, mostly from developing countries, face frequent food shortages that impact their ability to live an active life, preventing them from working and studying while at the same time exposing them to increased risk of illness. At the other end of the spectrum, in more developed nations, more than 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese, which exposes them to very different albeit equally life-threatening diseases and illnesses.

And demand will only continue to increase, with UN predictions that the global population will hit 10 billion by 2050.  Experts predict that by then, demand for food will be 60% higher than today, and this growing demand puts an additional pressure on already stretched and finite natural resources. If we are to address and tackle the issue of food security successfully, we need to promote the sustainable management of these resources. This is where the fisheries and aquaculture industries take on a significant role, harvesting the oceans in a more efficient and sustainable manner.  Vera Agostini from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says: “We’re running out of options on land, there’s only so much we can take from the planet, so fisheries and aquaculture will be critical.”

For millennia, the fisheries industry has been an important food source around the world and provided livelihoods and economic and social benefits for the communities engaged across the value chain, from fishing on the riverbanks, processing and then selling the catch at market.

Around the world, we have never consumed fish more than we do today, and it provides the primary protein source of food to more than 3.3 billion people. Again though, there is a huge disparity between wants and needs, with 26 out of the 30 countries most dependent on fish for nutritional purposes, rather than tastes, coming from the developing world.

The industry indirectly employs more than 250 million people, and around the world, between 9%-12% of the global population relies on it for their livelihoods. However, there are already serious concerns about overfishing and the sustainability of current fishing practices, which in turn have led to the implementation of policies designed to limit the exploitation of the worlds seas, oceans, and waterways.

Another of the UN’s Sustainable development Goals focuses on Life Underwater, with an objective to Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources.” In the two-three decades since concerns about overfishing were first raised, governments, academia and civil society have united to establish international organisations tasked with monitoring, managing, and maintaining healthy fish stocks and promoting and protecting biodiversity.

The industry has come a long way since then and there are many organisations around the world who can hold the industry and governments to account.  That said, the current checks and balances in place only account for current fishing levels. If we start fishing in much greater quantities, we risk reverting back to the issues in the early 1990’s if sustainable practices aren’t employed.

Norebo, Russia’s largest fishing concern, is leading the charge when it comes to employing sustainable practices in the North Atlantic. The company, that provides fish to the likes of household names such as McDonalds and Birdseye, has fully incorporated sustainability at the heart of its ethos. The company has publicly spoken about its three main priorities:  efficiency of production, efficiency of consumption, and a better widespread understanding of marine ecosystems.

Norebo’s portfolio includes 25 companies under its holding structure. These companies operate across every level of the value chain, from harvesting, processing, transporting, and trading. This allows for an unparalleled level of oversight which not only helps maximise efficiency and reduce waste, but also helping to monitor and track sustainable practices while feeding into the ever-increasing demand by consumers to trace their food from sea to shop.

It is fundamental to maximise the efficiency of one’s production and minimising waste is the most important element. Norebo has spent many years researching and investing into technology that improves its fishing practices across its entire value chain, from harvesting at sea, processing the catch and trading across markets. The company also employs methods to eliminate waste by making full use of the whole fish. It is an industry leader in producing fishmeal and extracting oils, leading the industry in cod and whitefish efficiency, something the company is trying to expand and share with fisheries in the developing world who are the players most likely to suffer should sustainable methods fail to be employed on a global scale.

To this end, as an industry leader in cod fishing, providing almost 15% of all cod eaten in the UK, Norebo works in association with WWF, as well as partnerships with other NGOs, scientists and researchers to develop and disseminate best practices in sustainability.

In a recent profile in Yahoo Finance, founder and owner Vitaly Orlov spoke about his belief that the whole industry should strive towards better practices: “The whole fishery needs to work together if vulnerable habitats are to be protected. It’s no good saying we won’t trawl in a given area if another trawler is going to do so instead, so it’s important to come together as an industry and follow the latest scientific advice.”

The company believes a truly holistic approach that considers the sustainability of fishing, global fish consumption and the health of fish habitats is needed in order to meet the urgent need for increased food production.

Managed correctly and efficiently, the fisheries can help to not only provide nutritious food and generate sustainable livelihoods, supporting the commercial industry, and smaller community based rural developments but also, equally as important, protecting the environment. If government institutions, civil society and industrial business work together, the fisheries will continue to remain healthy for generations to come, because ultimately that’s what this is all about, fishing in a way that ensures an abundance of stock which will guarantee future generations can not only eat, but also thrive.

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