Solution Cluster 3.2.5

Aquatic and Blue Foods

Realize the Full Potential of Blue, or Aquatic, Foods for Nourishing People and Planet

Blue foods – fish, invertebrates, aquatic plants and algae captured or cultivated in freshwater and marine ecosystems – play a central role in food and nutrition security for billions of people; they are a cornerstone of the livelihoods, economies, and cultures of many coastal and riparian communities. Blue, or aquatic, food systems are extraordinarily diverse, involving thousands of species in many different production systems. They support a wide array of cultures and diets. Many blue foods are rich in bioavailable micronutrients, essential fatty acids and protein, and can be produced in ways that are more environmentally sustainable than terrestrial animal-source foods.

About this Solution Cluster

Despite their unique value and interconnections with terrestrial food systems, aquatic foods are often left out of food system analyses, discussions, decisions, solutions and resource allocations.

Realizing the potential of blue foods to help end malnutrition and build healthy, nature-positive and resilient food systems will be a game changer. It will not only increase the supply of nutritious food but also contribute to healthy diets, community resilience, good jobs, gender equity, and poverty alleviation. To realize these benefits requires system-level change. Governments will need to embed aquatic foods in food system strategies, governance, planning and resource allocation top to bottom.

  1. Bring blue foods into the heart of food system decision-making. Integrate aquatic foods into holistic food policymaking, for example in a Ministry of Food, to govern the entire food value chain, from producers to consumers, for terrestrial farming and capture fisheries and aquaculture. Protect, manage and restore aquatic systems for their multiple environmental, nutritional and livelihood values, being explicit about trade-offs between caught and cultivated blue foods and between terrestrial and aquatic production. Recognize that setting aside well-chosen areas – selected and managed through an inclusive process – can enhance the overall productivity of food systems, protect and enhance critical spawning and breeding habitat, and build resilience to climate change.
  2. Protect and develop the potential of blue foods to help end malnutrition. In keeping with the Right to Food and leaving no one behind, manage aquatic foods as a source of essential nutrients that can help end malnutrition. To that end, food policy should research, recognize and harness the nutritional diversity of aquatic foods; include aquatic foods in national food-based dietary guidelines, school feeding programs, and social safety net programs; reduce loss of nutrients from waste, environmental change and management failures; and ensure equitable distribution of aquatic food production and consumption. Specifically, use suitable fish by-products as inputs to terrestrial and aquatic farming; encourage multi-trophic systems like rice-fish cultivation, to maximize nutrient value; and implement FAO International Guidelines on Bycatch Management and Reduction of Discards that prioritize selective gear and fishing area management to avoid discarding of fish.
  3. Support the central role of small-scale actors in fisheries and aquaculture. Small-scale actors supply most of the aquatic foods for direct human consumption. Women make up approximately half the fishing and aquaculture workforce; governments need to ensure that small-scale actors – including women and other vulnerable groups – are included in aquatic food decision-making. Pursuant to UN FAO Voluntary Guidelines, implement programs of secure tenure for small-scale fishers and aquaculturists, on par with small-holders on land. By expanding investment in small-scale actors, balancing capture and cultivated aquatic food production trade-offs at the local level and supporting local supply chains, governments can support sustainable development and diversification of the sector, and can ensure that trade and economic policy take account of how small-scale and artisanal fishers and aquaculturists can provide equitable economic opportunity and nutrition.
  4. Protect inland and ocean food production against external threats: Healthy ecosystems underpin the vitality of aquatic foods and must be prioritized for their full nutritional and livelihood potential by controlling harmful practices and regulating competing uses. Governments must:
    • Control nutrients, pesticides and other types of water pollution, from agriculture and other sources, to enable aquatic animals and plants to thrive;
    • Fully implement the Port State Measures Agreement and end harmful fishing subsidies that fund illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and are linked to forced labor and trafficking;
    • Institute effective measures to eliminate harmful and dangerous at sea labor practices by fully implementing ILO and IMO conventions;
    • Implement effective and inclusive spatial marine and river basin planning to ensure that proper priority is given to fishing and aquaculture, and that uses which harm aquatic life are kept away from productive harvesting grounds.
  5. Scale up research and collaboration in science, management and markets for aquatic food production to maximize nutrition and health, ecological and economic benefits. As more is learned about climate resilient fisheries management, speed up delivery of guidance on implementation. Apply lessons from COVID about ways to improve local supply chains and ways to ensure that imported food provisioning and direct-to-consumer sales (e.g. via Community-Supported Fisheries) and other market innovations build overall resilience to shocks from nature and beyond.
  6. Unlock the great potential of sustainable aquatic farming: The world now produces a larger quantity of farmed fish than beef. Aquaculture is the fastest growing source of food production, and now is the moment to steer its ramp-up into equitable and sustainable paths to realize its full potential to produce healthy food and minimize and mitigate environmental degradation, by (1) focusing on sustainably managing freshwater aquaculture and encouraging polyculture to enhance nutrition and as a development tool to lift small-scale producers out of poverty; (2) investment in further improvements to already fairly sustainable forms of freshwater aquaculture; and (3) ensuring through rapid adoption of rigorous standards that large scale offshore aquaculture is regulated by feed, pharmaceutical, siting and escapement standards that protect ecosystems and human health.
  7. Raise global awareness of the value of inland fisheries and their importance to nature-positive food and nutrition security, and of the importance of the health of inland fisheries into development decisions, will be a game changer that can be launched by Member States acting to:
    • Establish a High-Level Working Group on Inland Fisheries to develop a global plan of action
    • Incorporate explicit mention of inland fisheries within SDGs (SDG 14 and 15)
    • Develop guidance for governments on management plans suitable for inland fisheries
  8. Fund Blue Food research, innovation, governance and management at a level commensurate with their contribution to global nutrition and livelihoods: Less than 1% of Official Development Assistance is directed at sustainable ocean activities, yet fisheries contribute an average of 17% of the world’s animal protein supply. And despite consisting of at least 13% of the world’s fish catch, and feeding some of the world’s poorest communities, freshwater ecosystems receive an even smaller share. The funding gap will never be filled by private investment since the need is for investment in governance and management. By redirecting government resources away from harmful fishing subsidies, and by investing in (1) innovation to develop aquatic food systems that offer sustainable, resilient and affordable sources of highly nutritious food; (2) development of vibrant supply chains of small and medium-sized enterprises; and (3) improved governance for climate resilient management of capture fisheries and aquaculture systems, we can secure the world’s supply of sustainably captured aquatic foods, and properly usher in an era of sustainable aquaculture of finfish, bivalves and seaweed that will significantly increase available healthy and nature-positive aquatic foods.
  9. Call on industry to innovate and lead: As users of public aquatic resources, industry should commit to innovation and robust sustainability standards for capture fisheries and aquaculture:
    • Adhere to “best practices” and continuous improvement in existing dominant sectors
    • Shift to diverse species and production systems that have lower environmental costs
    • Nudge consumers toward more sustainable choices through marketing and new blue foods
    • Find ways to support small-scale fisheries and aquaculture in supply chains.

In addition to the processes already outlined above, support for blue and aquatic foods contributes to at least 10 of the 17 SDGs (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 17).

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