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Better Choices for Blue Foods: Highlights from the U.N. Ocean Conference

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World Ocean Month 2022 culminated in a unique opportunity to catalyze better choices for our ocean and food systems. The U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon, co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal, came at a critical time as the world seeks to address challenges posed by climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine. At the same time, leaders from around the world continue to pursue shared solutions anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and set ambitions for the United Nations Ocean Decade (2021-2030).

“Sadly, we have taken the ocean for granted, and today we face what I would call an “Ocean Emergency,” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres told delegates at the opening of the conference. “We must turn the tide. A healthy and productive ocean is vital to our shared future.” Blue foods can provide critical contributions for healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems that help turn the tide. However, it is important for decision makers to evaluate both the opportunities and the tradeoffs in blue food systems to manage these systems more effectively. 

In the lead up to the conference, the Blue Food Assessment “Blue Foods: Better Choices” Twitter campaign highlighted how policymakers have the chance to make better choices that sustain blue food from oceans, rivers and lakes for both people and the planet.  In all, delegates announced over 300 voluntary commitments, with approximately 50 high-level commitments and pledges, including an investment of at least $1 billion to support the creation, expansion and management of marine protected areas and Indigenous and locally governed marine and coastal areas by 2030. Below, explore some examples of better choices from last week’s U.N. Ocean Conference:

Mobilizing global policy commitments: Official launch of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition

Blue foods need effective governance and policies to address inequities along value chains. At a “Future of Food is Blue” side event on Monday, June 27, 16 speakers united to formally launch a multi-sectoral Aquatic Blue Food Coalition, which will seek to address these needs. The Coalition includes the European Union, Fiji, Germany, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Palau, Portugal and the United States of America, in addition to representatives from intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, academic institutions, aquatic food producers and those along the value chain, consumer groups, financial institutions and philanthropies. Instead of focusing narrowly on blue foods only as a natural resource, the Coalition agrees to bring a holistic approach to food systems decision-making.

“The Blue Food Assessment highlights that the only way to realize the full potential of blue foods—and successfully address their challenges—is to incorporate them into food system decision-making,” said Jim Leape, co-director of the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and member of the Blue Food Assessment. “We celebrate this week’s commitment by global leaders to mobilize action towards better choices for a vibrant, more sustainable blue food future.”

Read more about the launch of the Aquatic Blue Food Coalition >

Read the White House press release with the Coalition announcement >

Private sector action on aquaculture: Blue Food Partnership Road to Sustainable Aquaculture report

According to Blue Food Assessment research, an 8% increase in the supply of fish by 2030, mostly from aquaculture, could prevent over 160 million cases of micronutrient deficiencies worldwide. However, how we harvest blue foods matters, too. Aquaculture can have significant environmental impacts from pollution, habitat destruction and unsustainable feed sources. The Blue Food Partnership Road to Sustainable Aquaculture: On current knowledge and priorities for responsible growth report, informed by the findings of the Blue Food Assessment, is a key foundational step to understand the current state of the aquaculture sector. 

A “Road to Sustainable Aquaculture” side event on Tuesday, June 28 explored the momentum building in the aquaculture sector for the development of more responsible practices framed by the SDGs. It brought together experts to discuss data tools and the development of a global roadmap that will guide the sustainable growth of aquaculture.

Read the Road to Sustainable Aquaculture report >

Centering small-scale fisheries and aquaculture: Portraits of Change

Small-scale fisheries and aquaculture are the backbone of blue foods. Policymakers and world leaders need to fully recognize the diversity of small-scale actors, the crucial roles they play in our global food system and their contribution to food security. At the beginning of the U.N. Ocean Conference, the Environmental Defense Fund, WWF and the Blue Food Assessment launched a Portraits of Change video series to call on governments, civil society and the private sector to fully recognize the diversity of small-scale actors, the crucial role they play in global food security and the contribution they make to livelihoods and economies around the globe.

The Portraits of Change videos are individual accounts by community champions whose lives are dedicated to addressing the ocean, food and climate crises. By adopting locally led solutions to produce equitable and nature-positive blue foods, these fishers and fishworkers are working to ensure a sustainable future for coastal communities, and their stories touch on many of the pillars of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Read the Portraits of Change press release and watch the videos >

A “Blue Transformation”: The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 report (SOFIA 2022)

In order to achieve the SDGs, blue foods need better management of fisheries and aquaculture. We need to foster the development of species that provide richer and more affordable sources of needed nutrients, that can be more sustainably produced, and that are suited to local culinary traditions. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 report (SOFIA 2022), released on Wednesday, June 29, is the biennial flagship report of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Division that analyses the status of global stocks as well as trends in fisheries and aquaculture at a global and regional level. This year’s report emphasizes the need for a “Blue Transformation” that aims to enhance the role of blue food systems in feeding the world’s growing population by providing the legal, policy and technical frameworks required to sustain growth and innovation.

“SOFIA 2022 is timely taking into consideration the recent growing global recognition that aquatic food systems can make important contributions in providing sufficient, diverse, nutritious and safe foods,” said Shakuntala Thilsted, Global Lead for Nutrition and Public Health at WorldFish and member of the Blue Food Assessment Scientific Leadership Team. “The Blue Transformation initiative of FAO outlines a roadmap for the transformation of aquatic food systems and will now require the commitments from governments, policy makers, academics and communities to adopt, adapt and operationalize the solutions to sustainably nourish people and the oceans.”

Read The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 report >

These examples shine a light on how blue food decision-makers can make better choices that contribute to both ocean and food system goals. Instead of thinking about the SDGs as 17 different silos, decision makers should consider the challenges and opportunities presented by interlinkages among them. Now, they have an opportunity to deliver on commitments made at this U.N. Ocean Conference and catalyze a “Blue Transformation” so that by the next conference in 2025, there have been further actions towards achieving the 2030 Agenda. 

Read more about the U.N. Ocean Conference and the “Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility” Declaration >