Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“Blue Food Revolution”

“With Earth’s burgeoning human populations to feed, we must turn to the sea with new understanding and new technology,” Cousteau presciently predicted in his 1973 television show The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. “We need to farm it as we farm the land.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), only about 2 percent of the world’s food is currently obtained from the sea with traditional marine fishing annually producing about 100 million tons. Simply maintaining current per capita consumption will require 1.6 million tons more fish every year by 2015, increasing to 4.2 million tons by 2030. Since 80 percent of the world’s fishing stocks are fully or over exploited, sea farming or marine aquaculture may be the only answer for filling the gap. Worldwide, half the fish consumed by humans are now produced by fish farms. Harvesting the sea is the fastest-growing form of food production in the world promising a “Blue Food Revolution” based upon greater productivity of the sea than that of land for feeding the future.

As a source of animal protein, farmed fish are a godsend in a grain-limited world. The estimated amounts of grain are far more economical for producing fish than for beef or pork and on par with that of chicken. Whereas seven kilograms of grain are required to produce each kilogram of beef, and four for each kilogram of pork, only two kilograms of grain are needed to produce one kilogram of either chicken or fish. In terms of how much of an animal is actually consumed by people, fish also trump: approximately 65 percent of the raw weight of finfish is eaten, compared with 50 percent of raw weight of chicken and pigs and 40 percent of sheep. This is because fish are supported by water so they don’t have to put as much of their growth energy into bone structure resulting in greater edible mass. Fish are also low in fat, cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids which helps reduce blood clotting and in turn the risk of heart attacks - all notable advantages over other meats.

300 million people, half living along the coast, populate the 16 states ensconcing the Gulf of Guinea and the livelihoods of millions are dependent on the fishing sector. Average per capita fish consumption is estimated at 20-25 kilograms, about double that of the world average, and marine fish provide over 80 percent of the supply. Annually, the region catches about 200,000 tons of fish, which is the same amount that it imports. Amazingly, there are no plans for the region to exploit its 2.6 million square kilometers of sea with a sustainable marine aquaculture industry. The Gulf of Guinea boasts one of the most bountiful Large Marine Ecosystems (LME) supporting significant biomasses of plankton, tuna, sardines, mackerel, shrimp and other species. However, the Gulf of Guinea’s LME is over-fished and terribly stressed creating a crisis for those who depend on fisheries for their livelihoods and jeopardizing food security for the region. j Since the Gulf of Guinea’s wild fisheries have reached or exceeded their maximum sustainable harvest, marine aquaculture should be given serious consideration for food security. Offshore marine farming operations contemplates cages deployed in pristine waters having optimum currents for cultivating “free range” fish not sequestered in polluted bays and estuaries. This concept softens the environmental footprint and reduces reliance on wild fishery resources.

By developing a modern marine aquaculture industry, the region could become a major producer of seafood for feeding its population and feed others. The Gulf of Guinea possesses the resources to capitalize on the sustainable Blue Food Revolution as its vast non-renewable petroleum resources are depleted.

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