Not enough fish in the sea

Global fish stocks are under growing pressure from healthy eating guidelines advising us to eat more seafood.

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Sifting through 124 years of fisheries landings records, our marine conservation experts have found that UK domestic fishery landings have fallen to their lowest point for over 70 years.

Aquaculture

Current domestic fish supplies fall far below consumption levels recommended by the Food Standards Agency, supplying just one fifth of the two portions per week advice. The shortfall has been masked by increased imports and aquaculture with half of our seafood now coming from farms.

But the report’s authors Dr Ruth Thurstan, now a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, and Professor Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation in the Environment Department  at York, say that fish farming is not a win-win solution.

Professor Roberts said: “Many aquaculture operations inflict heavy environmental costs on wild fish stocks and coastal ecosystems, such as habitat loss, pollution, disease and pests. To be viable in the long-term and help feed the world, there has to be a Blue Revolution in fish farming to sustainable production methods. Better management of wild fisheries could also boost production while helping heal damage to ocean life.”

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Fish imports

Although fish production is increasingly globalised, the trends observed in the UK, of falling domestic supply and an increased reliance on imports, are emblematic of many other developed nations. Europe imports 55 per cent of the fish it consumes, while America imported 91 per cent last year.

Dr Thurstan said: “Our paper shows the serious disconnect between healthy eating recommendations and the finite capacity of wild fish stocks to meet those aspirations. It demonstrates how UK consumers have so far been protected from falling domestic production by increasing imports, but this demand is often filled at a high social and environmental cost in producer nations, many of them very poor.

“These findings are a wake-up call to the UK government that our national health aspirations have to be considered on a global stage, and that we need to think carefully about the implications of promoting greater fish consumption in a world where many people are already protein deficient.”

The study was published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

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There has to be a Blue Revolution in fish farming to sustainable production methods.”

Professor Callum Roberts
Environment and Geography
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Callum Roberts

Callum Roberts

Professor of Marine Conservation in the Environment Department

Marine conservation biologist whose research focuses on the impact of humans on marine ecosystems

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