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Thriving Oceans Create Nourished Communities

And Resilient Food Systems, Let’s Dive In

Columns 2024-06-07, 12:38am

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Danielle Nierenberg



Danielle Nierenberg

It is easy to forget how much we depend on the world's oceans.  

All together, the world’s oceans cover nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface and plunge to an average depth of more than two miles. But even though oceans contain 97 percent of all the water on the planet, it can be surprisingly easy to forget about what we can’t see.

“So much of what happens, happens underneath the water,” Mark Zimring, Director of Large Scale Fisheries at The Nature Conservancy, tells Food Tank.

But, as he and other advocates point out so powerfully, we cannot ignore what happens in the ocean! The health of our oceans is directly tied to nourished communities, strong local food systems, and long-term climate stability.

That central truth is at the heart of World Ocean Day, which takes place this Saturday, June 8. It’s a relatively new observance in the grand scheme of things—it became an annual United Nations observance in 2008 and the first U.N. Ocean Conference took place in 2017—which only serves to highlight the urgency of focusing on oceans at this moment in time.

Like many other complex ecosystems on the planet, the oceans face plenty of challenges. Primary threats, per United Nations data, include litter and pollution that harms marine life, water acidification that degrades ecosystems, rising temperatures and sea levels, and overfishing. 

“We have got to invest in managing these systems for resilience because they are critical, ultimately, to our wellbeing and the global biodiversity,” Zimring said on the Food Talk podcast.

He’s right. The livelihoods of more than 800 million people depend on blue food systems, or ones that rely on aquaculture to feed communities—and more than 90 percent of blue food production faces substantial risks from climate change and environmental degradation. And fish, which are rich in micronutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A, and selenium, are an important component of nourishing a growing global population.

So let’s talk about some action steps we can take in our own lives, as eaters and food system advocates, to stand up for the health of the oceans:

Buy from sustainable small-scale fishers. When we have a choice about what seafood we eat, let’s use our dollars to prioritize small-scale fisheries. About 90 percent of folks employed in fisheries around the world are working in small-scale operations, but these account for only about 40 percent of the global catch—which means, when we buy small, we’re able to support the people whose livelihoods are dedicated to blue foods.

Demand transparency. About 75 percent of industrial fishing vessels around the world are going untracked, according to a major new study. By going “dark,” especially in waters around Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Africa, it’s much harder to monitor these vessels for potential illegal activity.

Companies and food producers—of all sizes!—need to be held accountable to the public, since we all depend on oceans. It’s cool to see how companies like Envisible are using emerging technologies to bring transparency to seafood supply chains.

Be a citizen eater. Because so much of the oceans lie outside the legal jurisdiction of any particular country, ocean health often relies on international treaties. Believe it or not, our national elected officials really do listen to us when we reach out to them, so let’s make our voices heard so ocean health can stay a priority at the federal level.

Link arms with other advocates. Plenty of organizations worldwide are dedicating resources and elevating voices of fishers and advocates. The Global Seafood Alliance provides education, advocacy, and certifications for seafood to advance responsible practices. And WorldFish, a nonprofit working to reduce hunger across Africa, Asia and the Pacific via sustainable aquaculture, has created an innovative program called the Asia-Africa Bluetech Superhighway to secure a future for aquatic food systems that’s led by sustainable small-scale fishers.

A few years ago, we compiled a list of 24 amazing organizations around the globe supporting sustainable fishing, traditional aquaculture systems, and good stewardship of oceans. Check out the list HERE to find out what’s happening in your area.

Hear more stories of success. Our friends at WWF are doing great work to highlight and protect oceans. Their new Oceans Futures Platform can help predict and prevent potential fisheries conflicts that might result from a changing climate. And a six-episode podcast series called “Breaking Waves” shines a spotlight on ways top visionaries are bringing topics like geopolitics, artificial intelligence technology, and more into the future of ocean conservation. 

And I hope you'll tune in this month to “Hope in the Water,” an incredible docuseries premiering on PBS on June 19. It was produced by the chef and advocate Andrew Zimmern and television producer David E. Kelley alongside Fed By Blue, and it features folks like Martha Stewart, José Andrés, Shailene Woodley, Baratunde Thurston, and more. Before the official premiere, you can check out previews HERE.

And as Jen Bushman of Fed By Blue told us at an event last year, "We can't create the solutions around blue foods if we forget they exist."

What are you going to do on World Ocean Day this weekend to recognize and prioritize sustainable waters and blue food systems? Let’s expand this list of ways to make sure we’re not ignoring our oceans! Email me your ideas at danielle@foodtank.com so we can keep the conversation flowing. See what I did there?

(Danielle Nierenberg is the President of Food Tank and can be reached at danielle@foodtank.com)