Ep. 70 Rethinking How Fisheries Contribute to Global Food Need

It’s often said that one in 10 people on the planet is hungry, and that number is on the rise. Abigail Bennett is the lead author of a new report on the contribution of fisheries to food and nutrition security. Abby has served as a fellow at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and is a consultant at the World Bank. Here she talks about a new report Contribution of Fisheries to Food and Nutrition Security: Current Knowledge, Policy, and Research.

Conversation Highlights

Why did you focus on fish and fisheries?

We focused on fish and fisheries, first and foremost, because we know that fisheries produce food. But how important is that food that they produce?

And what we wanted to do was pull together the most recent data, policy information, and research on how important fisheries and the fish they produce actually are to food and food security and nutrition.

At the global level, 17 percent of animal source protein is from fish. There are 10 countries in the world that get more than 50 percent of their animal source protein from fish. And another 15 or so, beyond those 10, that get above 30 percent of their animal source protein from fish.

And … there are some specific communities and regions of the world that are almost entirely dependent on fish. One good example is [in] Brazil … there are communities in the Amazon that are almost 100 percent reliant on fish for protein.

What do you mean when you say “fisheries”?
Large scale fisheries are fisheries that typically use large fishing vessels, mechanized fishing gears, and they typically target a single species.

On the other hand, we have small scale fisheries, which often use smaller vessels, or even shore based operations, and kind of more low tech gear, typically.

And these fisheries harvest for both trade and household consumption and are particularly important for food security.

Another really important distinction that we think about is between marine fisheries and inland fisheries. And often inland fisheries don’t come to mind immediately when you think about fisheries, globally, but they can be really important.

What does governance of the world’s fisheries look like?

The governance of fisheries really varies from place to place and at different scales. Some fish stocks can be governed really locally, especially if they’re benthic or just living on the sea floor. Other fish stocks are highly mobile and require international governance. And a point that’s really interesting to think about, too, is how governance may look different if our goal is food security or maximizing economic benefits.

Are there specific reforms in governance that you think would be helpful?

One of the findings of this report is that many of the authors who are publishing works on fishers and food security have a sense that fisheries are underrepresented in the broader policy discourse on food security and nutrition and that that’s something that needs to change, [and it] is starting to change.

… it seems that there’s a lot of work that remains to be done in bringing fisheries more squarely into the food security and nutrition policy dialogue and I think that’s going to depend on continuing to do research in that space and continuing to enhance the types of data and data sets that we have available to really understand fisheries contributions to food security and nutrition.

The report’s authors include Abigail Bennett of Duke University’s World Food Policy Center, Pawan Patil of the World Bank, Kristin Kleisner and Doug Rader of the Environmental Defense Fund, John Virdin of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Xavier Basurto of the Duke University Marine Lab.