With the consumption of fish-derived fatty acids a major factor in fetal brain development and general mental health, maintaining a supply of those fatty acids is essential. Fishing sustainably is a therefore one of the key food issues of our generation.
In the wealthy bubble of the western world, the signs are mildly encouraging. Spending on fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) rose 6% over the last year. MSC-stamped products now account for nearly 10% of the total seafood caught globally, rising to over 40% in the Northeast Atlantic and 83% in the Northeast Pacific.
However, the conclusion must be that 90% of seafood on sale is still from unsustainable sources. With demand rising in line with population growth, this is a huge issue. Areas such as the Mediterranean and Black Sea are being massively overfished. Recognising its own role in the problem, the EU recently called for a cut to the subsidies that encourage over-fishing.
The panic over stock levels often ignores the fact that not all fish is sourced from the sea. Fish taken from locally-managed lakes and rivers, on a sustainable basis, have to be part of the answer to the problem. Five hundred years ago, no European town or village was without its fish ponds, supplying trout, carp and other species, and that’s one relic of the past that must surely be revived. Encouraging the trend to convert ornamental garden ponds into carp ponds could put edible fish-keeping on a par with chicken-keeping.
Intensively farmed fish have to be in the equation too; although the fish farming industry is not without its problems. This has always been a controversial area, and issues with sea lice, anti-biotics and the contents of fish food need addressing.
Faced with the enormity of the task of feeding the world with fish, it would be unwise to write off developments such as the Genetically Modified AquAdvantage Salmon (AAS). The GM factor in this trademarked product makes the fish grow faster, with the side-benefit that they need less feeding to reach the market. Not an ideal world, you may well argue, but with billions to feed, these are produces that demand serious attention.
Fatty acid supplements must play an increasingly important role in ensuring brain health too. But no solution to the problem of feeding the metaphorical five thousand with the metaphorical two fish is without its controversial angle. As a species we have to use our skills, innovation and ingenuity to ensure the continued brain health that will ensure a conduit for all that ingenuity in the future.