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The Vital Roles of Blue Foods in the Global Food System

Red shellfish.

Blue foods—fish, invertebrates, algae, and aquatic plants captured or cultured in freshwater and marine ecosystems—play a central role in food and nutrition security for billions of people and are a cornerstone of the livelihoods, economies, and cultures of many coastal and riparian communities. Blue food systems are extraordinarily diverse, involving thousands of species in many different production systems and supporting a wide array of cultures and diets. Many blue foods are rich in bioavailable micronutrients and can be produced in ways that are more environmentally sustainable than terrestrial animal-source foods. Yet despite their unique value and interconnections with terrestrial food systems, blue foods are often left out of food system analyses, discussions, decisions, and solutions.

As part of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) agenda-setting process, members of the Blue Food Assessment team were invited to contribute a “Food Systems Summit Brief” in cooperation with the Scientific Group for the UNFSS. This brief, “The Vital Roles of Blue Foods in the Global Food System,” highlights the importance of aquatic foods to global food dialogues.

Realizing the potential of blue foods to play a central role in ending malnutrition and in building healthy, nature-positive, and resilient food systems will require that governments embed blue foods in food-system governance. Given this, the team focused on three policy recommendations to enable diverse blue foods for food system transformation:

  1. Bring blue foods into the heart of food system decision-making.
  2. Protect and develop the potential of blue foods to help end malnutrition.
  3. Support the central role of small-scale actors in fisheries and aquaculture.

A recent peer-reviewed publication in Global Food Security (Tigchelaar et al. 2022) expands on these recommendations and includes examples of blue food systems. In the paper, members of the Blue Food Assessment team argue that to ensure blue foods continue to make a significant contribution to global food systems, governments need to incorporate them in their food-related decision-making. By combining recent blue food science, examples of management approaches and other evidence, the paper can serve as a resource for blue food transformation into the future.

Figure: Overview of blue food benefits and challenges and the three areas of policy action identified in this paper that would help realize the potential of blue foods to contribute to sustainable, healthy, and just food system outcomes. (Tigchelaar et al. 2022, Icons from the Blue Food Assessment)

Read the recent Global Food Security paper >

Read the full text of the Food Systems Summit Brief >

Learn more about the Blue Food Assessment >