27 May 2014
Press Release

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Facing New Challenges, States to Consider Seafood’s Role in Global Food Security

During Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans, 27-30 May

Concerned that the availability of fish and fishery products may not be able to keep pace with increased demand, Member States will consider the role of seafood in global food security at United Nations Headquarters this week as part of a continuing examination of issues facing the world’s oceans.

The United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea, which is considering the issue from 27 to 30 May, facilitates the General Assembly’s annual review of developments in ocean affairs and the law of the sea.  It is open to all Member States, as well as representatives of industry and civil society.  In 2013, Member States and countries considered the impacts of ocean acidification on the health of the marine environment.

Seafood plays an important role in human nutrition, particularly as a key source of protein and essential micronutrients.  Fish contributes about 17 per cent to the world’s consumption of animal protein, and is also the main source of essential micronutrients and fatty acids for 3 billion people.  Populations in Africa and Asia rely even more on fish for their intake of animal proteins, and that contribution can reach or exceed 40 per cent in some small island developing States.  Other types of seafood, including seaweed, are an increasingly important source of nutrition for people around the world, as well as a key input in food production.

As described in a new report by the Secretary-General, there is concern that the availability of seafood and seafood products may not be able to keep up with demand because the world’s population is expected to grow by 20.2 per cent from 2010 to 2030.

The role of adequate seafood is also emerging as a critical concern in terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goal of halving the proportion of people suffering from hunger, persistent hunger and malnutrition.  Close to 842 million people around the world still suffer from hunger, approximately 2 billion from micronutrient deficiencies, and more than 200 million children under the age of five years from malnutrition.  More than 2 billion people, especially in developing countries, are currently undernourished due to a lack of essential vitamins and minerals, some of which are contained in fish and other forms of seafood.

While production from wild fisheries has been fairly stable in recent years — at around 80 million tons in 2007-2012 — growing demand for fish and fishery products has been steadily met by a robust increase in aquaculture production.  That growth has been estimated at an average 8.1 per cent annually in the period 1970-2012.  Over the last three decades, world food fish production from aquaculture has expanded by almost 12 times, with developing countries accounting for 90 per cent of the growth, primarily from small-scale aquaculture.

But, the pace of sustained growth in fish production, made possible by improved distribution channels over the last five decades, may be difficult to sustain.  In addition, the world’s oceans are facing pressures from over-fishing, pollution, marine degradation and the effects of climate change, which may have a negative impact on the role of seafood in global food security.  For example, the share of overexploited marine fish stocks has grown from 10 per cent in 1970 to nearly 30 per cent in 2012.

Among other things, the Secretary-General’s report found that harmful subsidies, such as support for vessel construction and fuel tax waivers, have contributed to overcapacity in the fishing industry, resulting in marine capture fisheries under-performing.  The subsidies, estimated to be in the order of $2 trillion, reduce the real costs of fishing and enable unprofitable fishing to continue.

During its discussion panel, the Informal Consultative Process will hear from experts on global food security and the current role of seafood and the role of seafood in the context of the three pillars of sustainable development.  The experts will also highlight opportunities for, and challenges to, the future role of seafood in global food security.

In that regard, the Secretary-General’s report calls attention to potential opportunities for optimizing the role of seafood in global food security by more effectively managing human activities that affect the productivity of marine ecosystems and the safety of seafood.  It also highlights the potential roles of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the importance of mainstreaming seafood into global, regional and national measures to ensure food security.

The Secretary-General’s report can be found at:  http://www.un.org/Depts/los/consultative_process/documents/A_69_71.pdf.

More information on the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea can be found at:  http://www.un.org/Depts/los/consultative_process/consultative_process.htm.

For further information, please contact Dan Shepard, United Nations Department of Public Information, at tel.:  +1 212 963 9495, e-mail:  shepard@un.org.

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For information media • not an official record