Home / Research & policy: two peas in a pod? Session 5 - Putting fish on the policy table

Putting fish on the policy table

Blog conference session 5 - Capture fisheries, aquaculture and food security
December 12, 2017 By: The Broker Image: NWO-WOTRO
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Despite its nutritious value and capacity to provide a livelihood for many in the developing world, fish is surprisingly missing from policy strategies for food security. The afternoon discussion session, “Capture fisheries, aquaculture and food security”, sought to address the “orphan status” of fish and explore ways in which this nutritious protein can be moved up the food agenda.

A concept note for this session can be found here.

The session on fisheries and aquaculture brought together researchers from the relevant  Applied Research Fund (ARF) and Global Challenges Programme (GCP) projects, practitioners and policymakers Brief presentations on the research projects testified to the fact that fish, despite their absence on the food agenda, have the potential to make a significant and sustainable contribution to food security. Examples of projects were highly varied, ranging from the development of new technology for tuna fisheries in Indonesia that enable fishermen to make their catch traceable, to the creation of small-scale “aquaponics systems” in Ethiopia that allow people to farm their own fish, even in the face of increasing drought.

After hearing these and other examples, Willem Schoustra, project manager for “Oceans, Aquaculture and Food security” at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, took the floor. According to Schoustra, the experiences shared by the project leaders are particularly valuable for his ministry, as reflecting on what is already being done for fisheries and identifying the key challenges for further development will help policymakers to carve out a direction for future interventions.

In three discussion rounds, participants in the session reflected on various issues and challenges related to the sustainable development of the fish sector. The first discussion, which revolved around the statement that fish are unjustifiably the orphan of the food security sector, did not find any major disagreement. Their “orphan status” is evident, and even appears to be ingrained, in domestic policy. As Edward Onumah (researcher from the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness at the University of Ghana) pointed out, when comparing budgets for agriculture to those allocated to fisheries and aquaculture across West Africa, the latter are lagging behind drastically. It was widely agreed this is a worrisome trend, which can be attributed largely to how fish are thought of in the region. The story of fisheries around the inland lakes of Benin is telling in this regard: these lakes and the fish that inhabit them are shared by over 40,000 fishermen. As clear fishing regulations are lacking, most of these fishermen are involved in (violent) conflict over the increasingly scarce fish stock. The rampant overfishing that results from this situation is also a problem in many other regions where fishermen are plenty and regulations lacking. Consequently, across the globe, fishing is framed as a problem, not an opportunity, for food security.

Although negative perceptions of fishing and fisheries persist, discussions revealed that many researchers, practitioners and policymakers do see beyond this image problem and are aware of the promise that fish hold. The development of aquaculture is regarded as particularly promising, as it has the potential to yield cheaper and more environmentally-friendly fish than capture fisheries. However, this does not mean that aquaculture is a panacea for the problems facing the fish sector. Although small-scale fisheries are the main source of livelihood for fishermen all over the world, serious challenges need to be overcome to make aquaculture a viable food supplier for the nutritionally vulnerable. For example, fish feed is very expensive, which has resulted in soaring fish prices, rendering fish unattainable for the poorer parts of the population. Thus, interventions are needed to create a value chain for the production of affordable and sustainable fish feed. However, these and other practical measures will remain mere drops in the ocean if the potential of the fish sector is not widely recognized. Ensuring that fish are given their rightful place in the food agenda must, therefore, be a top priority; a plea which will only be heard if policymakers and researchers voice it together.

Background information

Watch the interview with Frejus Thoto and Willem Schoustra (Video by The Broker)

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