Global demand for fish is expected to almost double by 2050

Catch of sardines on a fishing net, Furadouro beach, Portugal

Tobias Weber / Alamy Stock Photo

Global hunger for fish is expected to nearly double by 2050 due to affluence and growing populations, according to an assessment that predicts demand will be fueled by a surge in farmed seafood.

Global fish consumption has already doubled since 1998, but a team led by Rosamond Naylor at Stanford University in California predicts a further 80% increase by mid-century. Whether this turns out to be good or bad for the environment and nutrition will depend on the types of fish people choose to eat, the researchers say.

“We talk about fish as a monolithic thing, but in reality it’s very diverse,” says Naylor’s colleague, Beatrice Crona at the Stockholm Resilience Center in Sweden.Preferences will play a big role in whether we can convince some people to eat small pelagic fish [such as sardines] or mussels, which are also weak [environmental] impact but very nutritious.

Meeting the increased demand with a large expansion of farmed salmon, as Norway and Chile have done, would not be feasible due to the environmental side effects and inefficiencies of a species so high in the food chain, says Crona. Salmon farming is linked to water pollutionoverfishing for food and the spread of parasites to wild fish.

Brazil, Ghana, India, Mexico and Nigeria are all expected to more than double the weight of the fish they consume by 2050. China, meanwhile, will remain the biggest consumer, increasing its appetite for fish. from just over 50 million tonnes of fish in 2015 to just under 100 million by 2050. This growth is expected to reduce per capita demand for meat and dairy products in some countries, including China and the United States , and increase iron, calcium and vitamin B-12 intake.

The researchers arrived at their figures using modeling based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on the species of fish people ate in 10 countries which account for 55% of world fish consumption, and on estimates from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. economic and population growth. The researchers considered the 10 countries indicative of global trends. The projections don’t just assume a linear increase from 2015, but take into account changes in the species people eat as they get richer.

However, the analysis is based on certain assumptions which are questionable. The first is that supply matches demand perfectly, so that prices do not rise relative to income. This is based on growth in supply coming “primarily” from farmed fish – Naylor says it is expected to increase by 90% – which the researchers say is “plausible” given the past growth of the industry. “We can say with certainty that there is little opportunity to increase the adoption of capture fisheries [wild caught fish] globally,” says Crona.

But it is uncertain whether farmed fish can meet growing demand. “As aquaculture accounts for only about 5% of global marine fish production, it is difficult for aquaculture to bridge the gap between future demand and supply of marine fish, especially with public images generally negative views of aquaculture in many countries,” says Junning Cai to the FAO, which did not participate in the study.

Shifts to plant-based diets in some countries due to environmental concerns also mean that history may not be a good guide to the future, Crona says. “We are facing an environmental crisis that we have never seen before. In response to this, younger generations are making different choices.

A third factor highlighted by the team is the wild card of climate change, which could disrupt the growth of farmed fish through extreme weather conditions.

If the growing demand materializes, the diversity of cultural tastes could mitigate the negative impacts. “The diversity of fish consumption is high around the world. This indicates that there are many opportunities in the role of “blue food” [food derived from aquatic animals, plants or algae] can play in food systems. It’s not just salmon, it’s not just anchovies,” says Crona.

Journal reference: Nature Communication, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-25516-4

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