From the Land to the Sea

The capacity for the earth to produce food is under stress. The twin challenges of a rising population and stagnating crop yields demand a change in thinking.

The invention of agriculture paved the way for human civilisation, but now terrestrial farming capacity is nearing its limits. Instead, the solution could lie in the oceans, which cover twice the area of terra firma.

Protein sourced from the ocean has other advantages over that of land-based livestock: it doesn’t require the tending of herds, growing of feed crops or use of precious freshwater stores.  Used responsibly, the seas are a practically boundless food source.

Poachers Turned Gamekeepers

Of course this is conditional upon fish stocks being well managed, which unfortunately is not the case in general. A common factor at play is that fishermen often prioritise the size of the current catch at the detriment of fisheries’ long-term health.

Add to the mix the intricacies of international maritime law and you have a situation where overfishing is the normal practice. The tragedy of the commons strikes again.

That is not to say commercial success is inherently incompatible with ecological wellbeing. For instance, quota management systems along the lines of those devised by Iceland and New Zealand have demonstrated that good policy, coupled with strong enforcement can be beneficial to both fishermen and marine populations at the same time.

The key is to view commercial fishing as drawing a return on a valuable asset (the sea), rather than as an extractive industry. As stewards of our environment, we all have a duty to protect its future.

Author: Benjamin So , Chairman of The Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition

Photo courtesy: 178 Degrees

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