More fish in the sea
For those of us who don’t drool at the sound of a porterhouse sizzling, we may have become resigned to the fact that plant based proteins were the only future option and, while I have tried (and been delighted) by many of the available options, it did seem a rather bleak food future. I was aware that fish stocks were depleting due to overfishing and pollution, and that the ability to control what other nations did on the high seas meant that there was very little hope for a global fish recovery.
I couldn’t be more wrong, it seems.
Attending a conference session (at Seeds&Chips, Milan) on why oceans offer a reprieve for humanity was always going to challenge my way of thinking – one way or another. The panel included rock stars of the ocean conservation movement: The Chief Executive of Oceana, the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, a renowned expert in fisheries management, and a Board member belonging to both a soil and sea conservation movement.
Fish stocks can recover
The extent of the problem is numbing: 50% of global fisheries are over-exploited according to Oceana. Oceana are an international advocacy organisation who are ‘dedicated to ocean conservation’, meaning that they have both a bias towards conserving species and, at the same time, a desire to see ocean resources used appropriately. By appropriately, they mean that a restored ocean system could feed 1 billion people per day with a ‘healthy seafood meal’. How do they intend for this bold plan to be enacted? By simple, old-fashioned interventions such as policy and enforcement, pollution control and remediation, and science on sustainable yields (Oh, and they have a cool tool for seeing which fishing vessels are operating and where: globalfishingwatch.org).
Fish = cow equivalents without water and land use
To put this in context, according to Prof Rashid Sumaila of the University of British Columbia, the annual fish catch is equivalent to around 100 million mature cows (which Is, more than the number of mature cows slaughtered each year, by the way). That comparative scale is important when you consider that West Africa, encompassing of the poorest countries, with the highest levels of malnutrition, loses about 800 thousand tonnes (or, according to Sumaila, around 800 thousand cow equivalents) of fish each year to illegal fishing. Illegal fishing in this context is the taking of fish from the waters of another nation. Who are the main culprits, you may ask? Fishing vessels from the EU and China.
“The fish came back”
If some of the stewards of the sea can envision a future that includes both preservation of species and feeding one billion people, then we should be including fisheries in considerably more of the conversations about achieving global food security. With a rather Seuss like comment, Andrew Sharpless (CE of Oceana) reminded us that in many cases of intervention to restore fish stocks, “the fish came back”. There is considerably more to write about fisheries but, for now, I will leave the subject with a thought-provoking quote from Sumaila: “people are too optimistic about aquaculture and too pessimistic about wild fish”.
The second largest nation
No blog about the virtues of wild fish would be complete without acknowledgement of mankind’s seemingly endless desire to turn the seas into floating rubbish piles. Who better to talk about it than Maria Cristina Finucci, an artist and self-proclaimed president of The Garbage Patch State. If combined, the amount of floating rubbish is equivalent to the second largest state in the world. Finucci, using art as a medium, tries to raise awareness of the issue. She appeared somewhat exasperated when, on a panel including speakers from Pepsico and the Prince Albert of Monaco institute, the audience asked a question of what more could be done. It seemed that Finucci’s voice was a lone one against the other panel members who felt that consumers needed to send signals to companies – in Finucci’s words: “There have been enough signals to companies – what more can we do?”. Sadly, it appeared that the panel were avoiding responsibility for the issue, rather, suggesting it is an issue because consumers haven’t asked them (companies) to change. As Roberta Barbieri of Pepsico would have it – “plastic is not the problem, we have a plastic waste problem”. Sigh. It doesn’t look like things are going to change in the corporate domain anytime soon.
Youthful talent, mature apathy
The session on plastics kicked off with another Teen Innovator – 13-year-old inventor of a machine to collect and sort rubbish in the ocean. Muhammad Haaziq Kazi was an impressive young man, designing a prototype of a ship (ERVIS) that could clean the oceans. Kazi started the session on plastics with the sobering quote – 90.5% of plastics are not recycled. I feel that with the exception of the passionate artist, Finucci, the adult panel that followed him let him down. It is worth noting Kazi’s name and the name of his project – I think we will be hearing a lot more from this young man. Thankfully.
Some concluding thoughts
It seems there are plenty more fish in the sea when it comes to generating ways to make food more available – but, at the end of day 3 is strikes me – where is the leadership and coordination going to come from? Unlike the model that Oceana described, where individual countries could achieve great things by asserting their sovereign rights (and, in doing so have a significant and positive global impact), there seems to be a risk that competing uses of the same raw ingredients will continue to drive inequity and food insecurity.
For me, the conference is now over, and I am leaving feeling slightly more despondent than I arrived. Yes, there is hope in the ocean, the rise of new protein options, the more effective use of by-products. But there is also increasing frustration that parts of the system remain uncoordinated, inconsistent and competitive (and no – blockchain is not the answer). Until events such as this demand action that is systematic, achievable and accountable, I fear that we will continue to have talkfests with little change. Give the youth the voice but then provide them the courtesy of listening, encouraging, mentoring and taking action.