Seafood production could potentially provide up to a quarter of the estimated increase in meat required to feed the global population in 2050, according to a new study.
Annual global production of food from the sea could increase by 21–44 million tonnes by 2050 - 12–25 per cent of the increase in all meat needed to feed 9.8 billion people by mid-century.
Realising such an increase in sustainable food production would depend on various factors, including policy reforms, technological innovation and future demand.
The findings were reported in Nature last week.
As global food demand increased, it remained uncertain whether supply could increase without compromising other ecosystem services, especially given the potential effects of land-based expansion on climate change and biodiversity.
Food from the sea, produced from wild fisheries and farms (mariculture), accounted for only 17 per cent of current edible meat production around the world, but could potentially have an important role in global food and nutrition security.
Christopher Costello and colleagues used data from 4702 wild fisheries to model future production, and also estimated mariculture potential around the world.
They calculated global supply of food from the largest three ocean food sectors - wild fisheries, and finfish and bivalve mollusc mariculture - in 2050, using bioeconomic models that took into account factors such as economic management and feed constraints.
Comparing these supply estimates with demand scenarios, they calculated potential future production of food from the sea.
The findings indicated that all three sectors, and especially both of the mariculture sectors, were capable of sustainably producing substantially more food than today.
Under scenarios that accounted for policy reform and technology improvements, seafood production could potentially provide up to a quarter of the estimated increase in meat required to feed the global population in 2050.
The study also suggested that the composition of seafood could differ substantially in the future: while wild fisheries dominate today, up to 44 per cent of food from the sea could come from mariculture by 2050.