Many times, we’ve heard how eating fish or other types of seafood is good for health, that’s why we sometimes eat it. In fact, a good portion of us humans actually love seafood and wouldn’t even dream of getting any other source of protein.
Some fishing practices, however, can result in negative impacts for our planet—not just the ocean. Those irresponsible practices can be direct, like massive, uncontrolled overfishing and deforestation; or indirect like pollution.
Benefits for the environment and people
Seafood or other food products that come from the water, now also known as blue food, is important to feed the ever-increasing human population. And according to a new study by UC Santa Barbara published in the journal Nature, it can in fact lead to a healthier environment; that is, when the practices are right.
One member of the UC Santa Barbara research Ben Halpern said, “Even though people around the world depend on and enjoy seafood, the potential for these blue foods to benefit people and the environment remains underappreciated,
“With this work, we bring attention to these many possibilities and the transformative benefit that blue foods can have for people’s lives and the environments in which they live.”
In the study, the research team reported that blue food is rich in many essential nutrients, especially vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids, which some people in some nations don’t have enough intake of globally.
The study suggests that it’s crucial to increase the food in vulnerable populations to diminish risks of malnutrition. In contrast, people of wealthy, developed nations like North America would benefit from aquatic foods to reduce red and processed meat consumption, which would lower the risks and rates of heart diseases.
When there is more blue food available, there can be an eco-friendlier food system. The study argues that food production that comes from water has a relatively lower environmental impact than livestock such as cows, sheep, and goats.
With good, well-developed aquaculture, mariculture and fishing, there will also be opportunities for people to make a living, therefore increasing the livelihood of many people worldwide.
Different solutions to different countries
Although the study mentioned positive things about blue food and how more nations can enjoy multiple benefits from it, the research team acknowledges that blue food isn’t a one-size-fits-all suggestion. Not all countries reap the good stuff in the same way.
Lead author Beatric Crona explained, “Blue foods can play important roles in our diets, societies and economies, but what exactly this looks like will differ greatly from one country and local setting to another.”
Crona went on to say that the goal of this study was to make policy makers aware of the advantages that blue food can provide as well as the tradeoffs which need to be included in considerations and negotiations so that they’d make the most of opportunities given by blue food.
And now, let’s take a look at Indonesia, a country that despite its seas, still use aquaculture systems to produce fish so that it can feed its own citizens and people across the globe.
Why use aquaculture? Well because wild capture fisheries production has slowed down, not only in this country, but worldwide. This system has generated over 45% of the world’s seafood, making it the current fastest-growing food production sector.
With aquaculture, the country can produce more than twice as much fish as captured fisheries. In numbers, the method has increased from 2.4 million tons in 2010 to 6.4 million tons in 2019. It doesn’t stop there; Indonesia aims that by 2024, its annual output volume growth for aquaculture reaches 10.4%.
Without a doubt, Indonesia’s government has made this sector a priority.
Unfortunately, the growth of aquaculture in this country comes with a price: environmental impacts. This system needs space—well, water, so deforestation of mangroves has become a concern, particularly when combined with waste from aquaculture activities.
Sustainable practices that ensure blue food
In their recent report, which was published by the World Resources Institute Indonesia, Ines Ayostina, Lucentezza Napitupulu, and their co-authors showed Indonesia’s reliance on aquaculture for food security and its challenges to achieve greener practices.
Titled “Trends in Marine Resources and Fisheries Management in Indonesia: A Review,” the report found that the country produces almost half of its blue food from farms, including freshwater, brackish water, and mariculture. And, Indonesians consume more than 70% of the country’s freshwater aquaculture.
It’s evident that Indonesia’s implementation of aquaculture on blue food benefits the country and the people. To help the country have eco-friendly, sustainable, development of aquaculture, the team suggested some steps. Although in this case, they focus on shrimp and seaweed farming.
Collaboration, education, and suitable policies
Shrimp aquaculture is the main cause of mangrove degradation in this country. So, the team stated that this fact could open doors for revitalizing and restoring efforts in degraded zones, which are worst along the north coast of Java, the east coast of Kalimantan, and in southeast Sulawesi.
Due to its profitability, Indonesia has set an ambitious goal of almost doubling shrimp aquaculture production to 2 million tons by 2024, threatening the mangroves across the country, which are thinning and not as healthy as they used to be.
The team argued that Indonesia’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries must collaborate with provincial governments. Hopefully this would result in planning and review that are suitable to each province’s development priorities.
As the UC Santa Barbara research stated, every nation needs different solutions. In Indonesia’s case which is an archipelagic state, the differing culture, economy, and history of each region will need different problem-solving.
That said, not all aquaculture methods apply the same management systems. The team said that seaweed farming in eastern Indonesia has caused and still is causing significant damage to seagrass ecosystems. As we all know, seagrass is highly important in combating climate change.
Indonesian government, per the report, is also in need of creating a national strategy to address and educate about the spread of diseases that can reduce the productivity of seaweed farming. In Konawe, Southeast Sulawesi, seaweed production has experienced an outbreak of ice-ice bleaching disease.
So, to increase productivity while at the same time making sure of responsible and sustainable practices of seaweed and shrimp aquaculture across the country, the team suggested that authorities must establish more suitable policies.
Not halting livelihoods with good management
Decisions making will lead to better results when accompanied by good management, meaning that planning aquaculture systems must consider important habits like mangroves and seagrass. Other sectors that involve water like tourism and maritime transport must also be put into consideration.
When the aquaculture systems have been refined, Indonesia can then encourage local companies to process the blue food within the country. This way, it could improve the value of exports, bringing more benefits to the people involved in the sector.
Aquaculture in the country has the potential to increase employment or retain employment. However, as for now, labor productivity is relatively low, with an average production of less than 1 ton per fish farmer in 2016.
“This is much lower than the rates in other countries like China and Norway, where it was much higher at 10 tons and 165 tons respectively,” the report stated.
To tackle this problem, the report suggested that the government could establish a training program for aquaculture farmers that focuses on proper environmental management for intensive aquaculture pond systems.
This way, the training could help fish farmers access and adopt innovative practices like types of technology to improve yields or access to subsidized insurance that reduces risk and incentivizes sustainable environmental management.
If Indonesia can apply more sustainable practices to get its blue food, it’s possible that more countries similar to this country will follow. And in the end, more blue food that also benefits the environment will be available to humanity.