Global challenges can be met by leveraging aquatic foods

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The role of food from oceans, rivers and lakes in tackling malnutrition, cardiovascular disease, and climate risk is still underutilised, according to new analysis.   

The new Blue Food Assessment paper, co-authored by Professor Dave Little of the University of Stirling’s Institute of Aquaculture, was published in Nature and entitled ‘Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations’.  

The research compiles and analyses a range of existing national data to uncover the four key roles that aquatic, or ‘blue’, foods can play to improve national food systems’ performance and sustainability.  

This, in turn, has broader implications for financiers, processors, retailers, development organisations and fishers themselves.  

Professor Little, who was a core member of the science team, said: “The potential importance of Blue Foods in reducing negative environmental impacts, improving nutrition and health and supporting livelihoods of low-income communities has been under-reported.  

“The study demonstrates that to understand their full importance its essential to embrace the full range of aquatic foods including those sourced from wild stocks and increasingly, the diverse range of farmed species.” 

The paper looks at the potential for blue foods to deliver benefits and improvements across four policy dimensions: B12 and omega-3 nutrient deficiency, high rates of cardiovascular disease associated with excessive red (particularly processed) meat consumption, high environmental impacts, and climate adaptation and resilience to safeguard the contribution of blue food systems to nutrition, just economies, livelihoods and cultures.  

For instance, researchers found that policymakers in countries with high environmental food footprints and high levels of cardiovascular disease – typified by developed countries in Europe and North America – should focus on improving production and access to blue foods, which can act as a substitute for the consumption of more impactful red meats.  

In contrast, the paper suggested that policymakers in nations characterized by high environmental food footprints and high nutrient deficiencies could choose to support greater diversity of blue food production and promote lower cost blue foods. The research indicated farmed bivalves or small pelagic fish, such as sardines and herrings, can benefit less affluent populations while having low environmental footprints.  

The landmark Blue Food Assessment is a comprehensive body of academic research aimed at informing the sustainable contribution of aquatic, or “blue”, foods towards the healthy diets of the future.  

The Assessment’s published research has already shown that 93 countries have 10 per cent or more of their population exposed to nutrient deficiencies despite blue food availability, and that access to more affordable blue foods could prevent 166 million micronutrient deficiencies worldwide.  

The Assessment has also shown that blue food consumption is set to increase by 80 per cent in edible weight by 2050, with blue foods already supporting the livelihoods of up to 800 million people worldwide. Yet the opportunities to take advantage of the positive contribution of blue foods to healthy and sustainable diets have not yet been fully realised.  

This latest paper brings together the insights from the entire Blue Food Assessment to provide a solid scientific base, and an interactive tool, to help policymakers explore blue food related data from their own nations, and be inspired to craft policies and actions that can realise the contributions blue foods can make to food systems around the world.  

The research paper ‘Four ways blue foods can help achieve food system ambitions across nations’ can be accessed via the Journal’s website

Dave Little
Professor Dave Little
Professor of Aquatic Resources and Development, Institute of Aquaculture
The study demonstrates that to understand their full importance its essential to embrace the full range of aquatic foods.