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New study finds seafood trade is shifting nutrients away from malnourished communities

Fish are an important source of micronutrients and essential fatty acids which can potentially reduce rates of malnutrition and its associated health conditions, such as maternal mortality, stunted growth and pre-eclampsia. But a new study has revealed that foreign fishing and the international seafood trade are removing fish from the waters of nations experiencing high levels of malnutrition – and diverting most of the catches to wealthier countries.

Lead author and Centre for Marine Socioecology (CMS) researcher, Dr Kirsty Nash, said the six-year international study found that these activities are exacerbating nutrition insecurity.

“There has been ongoing and vigorous debate about international fish trade and foreign fishing driving the unequal distribution of fish and their economic return. But their impact on the supply of nutrients to local populations was unknown until now,” Dr Nash said.

Researchers analysed global fish catches, trade and nutrient composition (calcium, iron, selenium, zinc, omega-3, vitamin A and protein) of global marine fisheries, and found that more than 60% of countries receive net gains in fish-derived nutrients through international trade. Meanwhile, around half the nations experiencing net losses from both foreign fishing and trade are small island states and African nations, many of which have populations where malnutrition is more prevalent.

“The findings suggest that when nutritional differences among fish species and nations’ nutritional needs are considered, distributions of fish supplies through foreign fishing, and amplified by international trade, may be undermining nutritional food security and international equity,” Dr Nash said.

“Marine fisheries hold unrealised potential to help address global nutrient deficiencies but we need to harmonise fisheries, health and trade policies to ensure nutrients reach people vulnerable to undernutrition. And decision-makers must consider nutrients derived from fisheries as a key resource that needs protection.”

Co-author, IMAS and CMS researcher Dr Julia Blanchard said climate change modelling predicts an overall decline in fisheries production, which will intensify the nutrient vulnerability of many nations, with the greatest impacts on tropical countries and small island states such as Papua New Guinea and Guyana.

“The growing and connected risks associated with climate change and food and nutritional security mean that redistribution of fished nutrients needs to be more carefully monitored, with stronger integrative policies that prevent these losses increasing and impacting vulnerable countries and communities,” Dr Blanchard said.

The study was published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)


Images:

  • Top right: Until now, the impact of foreign fishing  and international trade on the supply of nutrients to local populations was unknown (Shutterstock)
  • Centre: Around half of the nations experiencing net losses from both foreign fishing and trade are small island states and African nations, many of which have populations where malnutrition is more prevalent.

Published 25 May 2022

Authorised by the Executive Director, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies
25 May, 2022