Securing our need for food has become a major threat to the environment, driving increased emissions and over-exploitation of natural resources such as water, soil and fish. Our health and well-being have also been affected. Ensuring nutritious food for all in a fair and environmentally sound way has become a societal, economic and policy challenge across the world. A shared understanding of the food system and the roles different actors — policy makers, producers and other stakeholders in the food supply-chain — play will be crucial to a sustainable future, according to a new European Environment Agency report.
The report ‘Seafood in Europe; a food system approach for sustainability’ takes an in-depth look at the increasingly complex evolution of the global food system and what this means for Europe. With a focus on seafood, the report explores the knowledge base on food systems and assesses the implications of such a food system analysis for EU policy and knowledge development. The EU has committed to align its practices to new global sustainability goals, as recently set out in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and as part of the EU's 2050 goal of living well within the limits of our planet. The food system — which in general terms includes all the materials, processes and infrastructures relating to production, trade, transport, retail, and consumption of food products and the outputs of these activities — will have to change to meet these goals.
Fish as food matters for the EU
Global changes such as population growth, urbanisation and rising incomes explain the increase in global food demand. Part of this demand is to be met by fish, which will mostly come from aquaculture. Currently, most of the world´s fisheries are either fully fished (58 %) or overfished (31 %). In Europe's seas, overfishing remains high: 50 % of fish stocks in the north-east Atlantic Ocean and the Baltic Sea, and over 90 % in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are fished above their maximum sustainable yield. Globally, as we reach the natural limits for the oceans to provide more fish to our food supply, the rapid expansion of aquaculture will be the main driver of growth in production. Already, in 2014, for the first time in history, more fish for human consumption have originated from farms than from wild capture.
These trends matter for the EU's food and nutrition security since fish is already an important source of food. Europeans favour wild fish (75 % of consumed fish products come from fisheries) and the average fish consumption per capita in the EU is the second highest in the world (at around 22 kg/person/year). To meet this demand, the EU sources more than half (55%) of its seafood from abroad. It is the largest importer of seafood and fish products in the world, with a market share of 20 % of total global imports between 2013 and 2015.
Boosting efforts to implement an ecosystem approach to Europe's seas — a key principle in several EU policies — is critical, the report adds. Measures such as respecting sustainable levels in fisheries or implementing networks of marine protected areas are essential for ensuring the long-term viability of fisheries and the availability of resources on which the whole food supply-chain depends.
Mind the knowledge gap
Current assessments tend to focus on the environmental impact of fisheries and aquaculture on Europe’s marine ecosystems or the economic performance of the sectors, both of which are critical. However, significant information and knowledge gaps to understand key interactions on the journey of fish to fork exist. There is limited information available beyond market data that enables tracing the EU's need for seafood outside its borders. International trade and market dynamics mask vital signs from ecosystems, such as the state of local fish stocks. According to the EEA report, filling some of these knowledge gaps does not necessarily require big investments. There is already a wealth of existing data and information, such as those from the EU Common Fisheries Policy. These could be further explored to better link what is happening at sea to what and who is driving the production of seafood.
Source: European Environment Agency (EEA)