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Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations

Crona, B. et al 2023

A framework and tool that enables decision-makers to assess blue food policy objectives most relevant to their context and compare associated benefits and trade-offs.

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Woman stands behind market of dried fish in boxes.
Image Credit: China Travel Fish Stall by dave.see is licensed under CC BY 2.0.jpg

Blue foods are extremely diverse and contribute to nutrition, economies, livelihoods and cultures all over the world. They have an essential role to play in the shift towards healthy, sustainable and just food systems, yet they have been overlooked in global food systems discussions of global food systems. A deeper understanding of their benefits is key to informing policies that address nutritional, social and environmental challenges associated with food systems while navigating trade-offs in between countries and different geographic contexts. 

Leveraging the findings of the Blue Food Assessment, this paper identifies four policy objectives to help decision-makers ensure that blue foods contribute to more nutritious, just, resilient, and sustainable food systems worldwide. The study assesses the relevance of each policy objective for individual countries and compares and contrasts the benefits and trade-offs associated with pursuing them. Results provide a guiding framework and interactive, digital tool for public- and private-sector decision-makers to assess blue food policies most relevant to their local context and geographies.

Key findings


Blue foods currently play an important role for nutrition, livelihoods or national revenue in 103 countries, particularly in the Global South.


Blue foods can help achieve four main policy objectives: 1) reducing nutrient deficiencies, 2) reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, 3) reducing the carbon footprints associated with food consumption and production and 4) safeguarding contributions to nutrition, economies, livelihoods and cultures under climate change. And for many countries multiple policy objectives are relevant.


Reducing nutrient deficiencies: 91% of countries with vitamin B12 deficiency also suffer from omega-3 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency appears to reflect more general under-nutrition of a population, while omega-3 deficiency (specifically DHA + EPA) is caused by low intake of blue foods.


Reducing nutrient deficiencies and carbon footprints: In a majority of the 89 countries where omega-3 enhancing policies are relevant, reducing carbon footprints is also a relevant objective.


Reducing cardiovascular disease and carbon footprints: Countries with high red meat intake who also grapple with high incidence of cardiovascular disease, are primarily located in the Global North, with the exception of several small-island states. 82% of these nations also have high dietary footprints from ruminant meat. If available and affordable, low-impact blue foods could be encouraged as a stepping-stone away from high red meat intake in such settings, promoting both health and environment.


Reducing carbon footprints: 124 countries were found to have a high intake of ruminant meat, contributing to high dietary greenhouse gas footprints. As with reducing cardiovascular disease risk, low environmental impact blue food could thus function as a transition from high red meat intake, towards less environmentally impactful protein sources (including plant-based alternatives).

Beatrice Crona*Emmy WasséniusMalin Jonell
Zachary KoehnRebecca ShortMichelle Tigchelaar
Tim DawChristopher D. GoldenJessica A. Gephart
Edward H. AllisonSimon R. BushLing Cao
William W. L. CheungFabrice DeClerckJessica Fanzo
Stefan GelcichAvinash KishoreBenjamin S. Halpern
Christina C HicksJames P. LeapeDavid C. Little
Fiorenza MicheliMichael PhillipsElizabeth R. Selig
Marco SpringmannU. Rashid SumailaMax Troell
Shakuntala H. ThilstedColette WabnitzRosamond L. Naylor
*Asterisk denotes shared first coauthorship.

“Our framework provides a guide for decision-makers to identify and leverage four key functions that blue foods can provide to achieve food system ambitions in local contexts.”

– Beatrice Crona, Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University

In many countries, blue foods will play a vital role in realizing an alternative future where food production and consumption is both sustainable and healthy.”

– Zachary Koehn, Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

“An appreciation of the diversity of blue foods is essential to navigating the trade-offs of pursuing different blue food policy objectives.”

– Rosamond Naylor, Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment

Learn more

  1. Read the press release