Since 1992, the United Nations has designated 8 June as World Oceans Day. This year’s theme “The Ocean: Life and Livelihoods” highlights how the ocean is a life source for humanity and every organism on Earth. It holds incredible biodiversity—from microscopic plants to massive whales—and provides vital nutrition for billions of people. The ocean also supports the livelihoods, economies, and cultures of many coastal communities. To celebrate World Oceans Day, we caught up with Beatrice Crona and Rosamond Naylor, co-chairs of the Blue Food Assessment (BFA), to learn how blue foods obtained from the ocean can play a critical role in sustaining life and livelihoods.
Beatrice Crona is the deputy director and associate professor in systems ecology and sustainable science at the Stockholm Resilience Center. She is also the executive director of the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere program at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Rosamond Naylor is the William Wrigley Professor in Earth Systems Science, a professor by courtesy in economics at Stanford University, and the founding director of the Stanford Center on Food Security and the Environment.
What brought you to this area of research?
Crona: I started in marine ecology and tropical marine fisheries, and did my PhD in restorative ecology. I worked on restoring mangroves because of their importance in supporting ecosystems and artisanal fisheries in East Africa. I then realized we can’t just focus on natural sciences. We also must look at fishers’ behaviors, their knowledge and their governance. This is how I came to the social side of small-scale fisheries and then eventually into trade. I’ve had a windy road but one that touches on a lot of different aspects of aquatic food production.
Naylor: I began working on global agricultural systems during my PhD with a focus on poverty alleviation and food security in low-income communities. Early on in my career, I traveled to Ecuador to climb volcanoes and see the countryside. During the trip, I saw a lot of shrimp production in the mangroves off the coast. These aquaculture operations were expanding rapidly throughout the mangroves, ultimately destroying the habitat that the shrimp, as well as the coastal communities, depended on. I knew I needed to learn more, so I began exploring the underlying ecology and economics to see how they might better align. Within a year, I had expanded my research to include aquaculture and the role blue foods play a role in the global food system.
What excites you about the Blue Food Assessment?
Crona: There’s a lot that’s been done in the blue food realm. There is excellent research and researchers out there. But what I think is great about the BFA is how it brings aspects of equity, nutrition, environmental impacts and vulnerabilities together. The fact that it has these multiple dimensions is very important. We live in a world where there are limited resources, so we need to address these issues along multiple dimensions at the same time.
Naylor: With the UN Food Systems Summit happening later this year, it’s an exciting time to think about how we redesign global food systems to be more sustainable, nutritious, equitable and just. The BFA has assembled a group of people who are so knowledgeable in many fields like nutrition, justice and equity. The UN Food Systems Summit is a great vehicle for sharing our work with the global community and finding ways to improve these systems.
What are your hopes for the Blue Food Assessment?
Crona: In the short term, I hope we embed these issues into ongoing food system discussions, especially those happening at the UN Food Systems Summit. I hope that people outside of the traditional aquatic realm will understand how placing aquatic foods alongside terrestrial foods in food system discussions benefits everyone. Aquatic and terrestrial food systems are tightly interconnected in so many ways and this needs to be more widely understood.
In the long term, I hope the interconnectedness between aquatic and terrestrial systems is recognized by both policymakers and consumers.
Naylor: First, I hope that it convinces people who are interested in solving issues of hunger, malnutrition and sustainability in food systems to integrate aquatic foods into their overall thinking. A lot of these conversations only focus on terrestrial systems, so I hope the global community can come together in bridging these two ways of thinking.
Second, I hope to bring an objective assessment of the science behind blue foods. What’s typically presented is two extremes in terms of sustainability and nutrition. We want to present a balanced and objective view of the science and showcase lessons from systems that work well, ultimately finding ways to scale them up.
What do you think will be the key challenges to developing sustainable blue food livelihoods?
Crona: First, we must recognize the importance of small-scale producers and traders in the value chains of aquatic foods and the ocean. They account for two-thirds of blue food production globally.
Second, we must support them. In many ways, they are a critical insurance mechanism. They are diverse, use a lot of diverse practices, and hold local and contextual knowledge about what works now and what will probably work in the future as we begin to see more climate change impacts. If we don’t enhance and promote their capabilities, I think we will all be much worse off.
Naylor: The key challenge I see is that blue food livelihoods are about being able to survive in this larger supply chain. The economics are important. People need to make enough money to put food on the table for their families, and sometimes that means cutting corners or not necessarily following the most sustainable practices. To avoid these big trade-offs, we have to think about the whole supply chain and create incentives for people all along. This means finding the most nutritious and sustainable avenues for blue foods that are also profitable. When we can align objectives with incentives, we can start to make progress.
This year’s theme of the UN World Ocean Day is “ocean: life and livelihoods.” If you had one message to share, what would it be?
Crona: Embrace the diversity of aquatic foods and those who trade and produce it.
Naylor: Fisheries and aquaculture are not just about producing fish, they’re also about the people who produce fish. The message then is how to take care of the people in those systems to make aquatic foods most sustainable and nutritious. If you ignore the people, you ignore the system.
Image Credit: Quang Nguyen Vinh