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What happens when the oceans run out of food?

By Ellie Hudd
On March 28, 2014


UConn presented the latest in its Edwin Way Teale lecture series on Thursday, featuring lectures on nature and the environment. The lecture, presented by Dr. Steven Gaines, was titled "Can Oceans Help Meet the Global Demand for Food?"
Gaines, who currently serves as dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California Santa Barbara as well as a science advisor for the Joint Ocean Commission, has established a prominent name for himself in the marine biology community through his multiple prestigious appointments and publications in the field. His lecture focused primarily on a recent research project to which he has contributed, concerning the massive projected increase in worldwide demand for animal protein by 2050.
"I want to bring the oceans back into the discussion [of meeting this demand]," Gaines said, adding that discussions about demand for animal protein often focus on land-based meat sources.
Gaines combined his own wealth of knowledge about marine biological systems and the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture with an overview of the basic economics of food demand and the fishing and aquaculture industries. He spoke at both the macro and micro level about the impact of mining our oceans for food sources.
"Let me just dispel the myth that there are large untapped areas of the ocean," Gaines said. "Almost all of the ocean is being fished."
Gaines provided a clear, evidence-based demonstration of not only the vast areas of the ocean that are being mined for food and how they are being used, but also the areas that could stand to seek improvement to their maximum sustainable yield - in other words, the highest number of fish we can stand to harvest without depleting the fish population faster than it can recover. Gaines used dynamic graphs to indicate the depletion of stocks made by known fisheries, but that we only have access to information from about 300 of all fisheries worldwide (of which there are about 20,000) regarding their yield and their fishing behaviors.
Gaines posited multiple solutions that would keep us from depleting worldwide fish stock. He particularly emphasized the need to "fix" all fisheries to enable them to meet their maximum sustainable yield.
"There are nothing but benefits [to fixing all fisheries worldwide]," said Gaines. But he notes that this solution "still does not come close to meeting demand."
Gaines also said that fishing is not the only way to make marine animals a larger supplier of animal protein needs. Gaines also posited another potential solution via the discussion of aquaculture, arguing that perhaps we should all eat the kinds of food we are providing to farm-raised fish, rather than the "predators" we've developed a taste for. Sydney Twarz, an 8th-semester EEB and environmental science double major, was enthusiastic about this particular proposition.
"You learn in classes how when you eat at higher tropic levels, you lose energy," Twarz said. "But seeing the real statistics was much cooler than learning that in theory."
While the possibility of eating lower on the food chain is one worth considering, if anything, it was one example Gaines presented of a massive global change that barely makes a dent in fixing the issue. In reality, Gaines posited aquaculture as the closest thing we have to a marine-based solution to the demand for animal protein.
When it comes to increasing the supply of animal protein via fish, Gaines says, "aquaculture is the least constrained way."

 


Uconn presented the latest in its Edwin Way Teale lecture series on Thursday, featuring lectures on nature and the environment. The lecture, presented by Dr. Steven Gaines, was titled "Can Oceans Help Meet the Global Demand for Food?"
Gaines, who currently serves as dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California Santa Barbara as well as a science advisor for the Joint Ocean Commission, has established a prominent name for himself in the marine biology community through his multiple prestigious appointments and publications in the field. His lecture focused primarily on a recent research project to which he has contributed, concerning the massive projected increase in worldwide demand for animal protein by 2050.
"I want to bring the oceans back into the discussion [of meeting this demand]," Gaines said, adding that discussions about demand for animal protein often focus on land-based meat sources.
Gaines combined his own wealth of knowledge about marine biological systems and the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture with an overview of the basic economics of food demand and the fishing and aquaculture industries. He spoke at both the macro and micro level about the impact of mining our oceans for food sources.
"Let me just dispel the myth that there are large untapped areas of the ocean," Gaines said. "Almost all of the ocean is being fished."
Gaines provided a clear, evidence-based demonstration of not only the vast areas of the ocean that are being mined for food and how they are being used, but also the areas that could stand to seek improvement to their maximum sustainable yield - in other words, the highest number of fish we can stand to harvest without depleting the fish population faster than it can recover. Gaines used dynamic graphs to indicate the depletion of stocks made by known fisheries, but that we only have access to information from about 300 of all fisheries worldwide (of which there are about 20,000) regarding their yield and their fishing behaviors.
Gaines posited multiple solutions that would keep us from depleting worldwide fish stock. He particularly emphasized the need to "fix" all fisheries to enable them to meet their maximum sustainable yield.
"There are nothing but benefits [to fixing all fisheries worldwide]," said Gaines. But he notes that this solution "still does not come close to meeting demand."
Gaines also said that fishing is not the only way to make marine animals a larger supplier of animal protein needs. Gaines also posited another potential solution via the discussion of aquaculture, arguing that perhaps we should all eat the kinds of food we are providing to farm-raised fish, rather than the "predators" we've developed a taste for. Sydney Twarz, an 8th-semester EEB and environmental science double major, was enthusiastic about this particular proposition.
"You learn in classes how when you eat at higher tropic levels, you lose energy," Twarz said. "But seeing the real statistics was much cooler than learning that in theory."
While the possibility of eating lower on the food chain is one worth considering, if anything, it was one example Gaines presented of a massive global change that barely makes a dent in fixing the issue. In reality, Gaines posited aquaculture as the closest thing we have to a marine-based solution to the demand for animal protein.
When it comes to increasing the supply of animal protein via fish, Gaines says, "aquaculture is the least constrained way."
 


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