Protein for the Planet

Seafood Summit Examines Increasing Global Food Needs

Fisheries expert Steven Gaines is dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management.

“We want to try to understand how changes in the marine environment impact abundance of seafood, which impacts catch, which impacts consumption, which impacts nutrition and, ultimately, human health,” said Ben Halpern at the Food from the Sea summit held at UCSB to examine the demand for food by an ever-increasing population.

Halpern, director of UCSB’s Center for Marine Assessment and Planning and a lead scientist for the global Ocean Health Index, was one of many researchers gathered from the UCs at San Diego, Davis, Santa Cruz, and Santa Barbara to discuss fisheries and aquaculture, their relative health and environmental impacts, food security, and fishing as a livelihood.

The recognition that protein production on land results in “a big set of problems in terms of environmental impacts,” said Steve Gaines, dean of the university’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has placed seafood production squarely in the forefront as a source of increased protein.

But the overexploitation of certain fisheries — measured to be 17 percent by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization — and depletion of others, 7 percent of total global fish zones, represent how much food is needed to feed us all. Wild fisheries probably can’t provide much more than 15-20 percent more food, said Chris Costello, a cofounder, with Gaines, of UCSB’s Sustainable Fisheries Group.

Aquaculture, practiced for hundreds and thousands of years in places like Egypt and China, may be the key to meeting future protein demand, which is expected to grow 80 percent by 2050 when the population is expected to reach 9 billion. Hunter Lenihan, newly appointed director of the Bren School’s Sustainable Aquaculture Research Center, explained that about one-sixth of human protein needs are met now by aquaculture products — including carp, tilapia, salmon, white sea bass, shrimp, and algae — in what is a $100 billion industry.

Even tuna — which can reach up to a thousand pounds and more in the open ocean — are farmed, though “tuna ranches” can deliver negative consequences from the quantities of “forage fish” needed to fatten the big predators and pollution from the farms. More sustainable aquaculture involves eating “further down the food chain,” Lenihan said, or meals that involve carp, tilapia, and mollusks. China’s marine aquaculture develops clam and oyster harvests by seeding shallow seafloors and bays with baby mollusks and culling them after they grow larger.

In related news, to address one of the detrimental changes taking place in the ocean — ocean acidification — funding for specific research was proposed by Representative Lois Capps on Wednesday. The increasingly acidic ocean waters — caused by the absorption of increased amounts of CO2 — have grown to be harmful to organisms at the bottom of the food chain on which larger sea creatures depend and also harmful to shellfish such as sea urchins, oysters, scallops, and crabs.

The Ocean Acidification Research Partnership Act “would support research and partnerships between the seafood industry and the academic community that will lead to a greater understanding of ocean acidification and its impact,” Capps announced in a press release. Specifically, the bill amends the federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act of 2009 to provide grants for collaborative work between industry and academic researchers.


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