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International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

Session 3 – Fish in Food Security and Nutrition: from tide to table

Advisory Board oversight: Dr (Ms) Shakuntala Thilsted, Worldfish; Dr (Mr) Sloans Kalumba Chimatiro, Worldfish
FAO Session lead: Molly Ahern

Speakers and panelists

People have never consumed as much fish as they do today: per capita global fish consumption has doubled since the 1960s from 9.0 kg per year to 20.3 kg per year. Since 1961 the average annual increase in global apparent food fish consumption has outpaced population growth and the growth in meat consumption from all terrestrial animals, combined.

Peering below regional and national levels, many coastal and inland populations rely on fish as the primary source of healthy diets, notably in rural settings and in poor communities with limited protein and essential micronutrient alternatives. Of the world's top 30 fish consuming nations, 22 were in the UN's low income, food deficit (LIFD) category. Of the UN's 52 LIFD categorized countries, six are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where fish serve as the backbone to healthy diets. However, despite this longstanding significance of fish in diets worldwide, fish is strikingly missing from nutrition interventions, notably strategies for reducing micronutrient deficiency, precisely where it could have the largest impact.

The 2017 High Level Panel of Experts report reiterated how fish remains one of the best sources of high-quality protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients for the poor. However, this cornerstone of diets worldwide is threatened by, and can contribute towards, freshwater and marine ecosystem degradation. Recent reports on healthy diets from sustainable food systems provide new scientific targets for our global nutrition and food systems goals, recognizing that fish play a unique role. Yet defining an optimal level of animal-source foods (ASFs) consumption has been a challenge, considering varied consumption patterns across countries, and the complex impact of ASFs on both human and environmental health.

Surprisingly, while nutrition stands high on the global political agenda, it only attracts a fraction of development aid globally. In a world where an estimated 821 million people – approximately one out of every nine– are undernourished and require stable access to high-quality foods, it remains unclear how, where, and in what quantity fish can sustainably fit into the global food system.

This session brings to reckon the most recent research, investments, and policy reform, to highlight how fish are increasingly shown to make a crucial contribution to nutrition, how that contribution could be optimized in the future, and possible implications of its realization, or failure. Looking through specific contexts of countries facing double and triple burden of malnutrition, where and how can strategic regional, national, and community partnerships improve nutrition? Can fish play a primary role in healthy diets, becoming a possible major ASF consumed globally? Finally, the session aims to debate how to translate and scale up a vision of fish as a contributor to food security and nutrition across sectors historically less synchronized with fisheries.

Through the session, we will begin to refine messaging for fisheries in Agenda 2030 as an integral solution to food insecurity and malnutrition. Specifically, we will answer:

  • What are the limiting factors or threats in achieving data generation or policy change?
  • Why is fish still under-represented in studies? Where is this changing, and how?
  • What research interventions can guide nutrition-sensitive fisheries and aquaculture for nourishing nations? And ultimately,
  • What does effective, accurate messaging on fisheries for improved nutrition look like?

The ultimate outcome of the session would be to suggest policy and institutional reforms that properly advocate for fish to be part of global, regional and national food and nutrition policy agendas.