International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

Session 3

Fish in Food Security and Nutrition: from tide to table

FAO session lead: Molly Ahern

Speakers and panelists

Webcast link

Key messages

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 meat consumption growth from all terrestrial animals combined (FAO, 2018).

Peering below regional and national levels, many coastal and inland populations rely on fish as the primary protein source of a healthy diet, notably in rural settings and in poor communities with limited alternative sources of protein and essential micronutrients. Further, gendered social norms and male-dominated decision-making can lead to disparities in access to animal source foods (ASFs), often playing a role in household fish consumption patterns. Of the 34 countries where fish contribute more than one-third of the total animal protein supply, 18 are Low Income Food Deficit Countries (LIFDCs), and five are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where fish serve as the backbone to healthy diets. However, despite this long-standing significance of fish in diets worldwide, fish is strikingly inadequately represented in nutrition transformations, 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, and omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients, especially in lower-income communities that may lack access to alternative animal-source foods (HLPE, 2017). Furthermore, post-harvest loss and food safety issues with fish and other aquatic species pose challenges for ensuring availability and access to fish for human consumption.

Fish production systems worldwide are threatened by, and can contribute to, freshwater and marine ecosystem degradation, in turn threatening access to one of the most important protein sources for a healthy diet in many nutritionally vulnerable areas. 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 but that fish should not be separated from other parts of the food system. Yet defining an optimal level of consumption for fish and other ASFs has been a challenge, considering varied consumption patterns across countries, and the complex impact of fish and other 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 takes the most recent research, investments, and policy reform into consideration, to highlight how fish are increasingly evidenced for their crucial contribution to nutrition, how that contribution could be optimized in the future, and possible implications of the realization of fish's crucial role. Looking through the specific context of countries facing the 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 for successful fish food systems or policy change?
  • Why is fish still under-represented in food and nutrition security studies and policies? Where is this changing, and how?
  • What research interventions can guide nutrition-sensitive fisheries and aquaculture policy? for nourishing nations? And ultimately, 
  • What does effective, accurate messaging on fisheries and aquaculture for improved nutrition look like?

The ultimate outcome of the session will 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.

The outcomes of this session will support:

SDG 1 – Reduce poverty
SDG 2 – Food security
SDG 3 – Health and wellbeing
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 10 – Reduce inequalities
SDG 16 – Effective institutions
SIDS Samoa Pathways
FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries