A few of us working on sustainable seafood issues undertook the long journey to Hong Kong to attend the Annual Seafood Summit earlier this month. This year's theme was "Evolving Solutions for New Horizons". Delegates were present from 46 countries, including representatives from Asia and several island nations. The sold-out summit opened with speeches from the Ministers of Agriculture of the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong, and astounded us with a traditional Chinese dragon dance. Though the meeting focused on solutions, there was a stark lack of discussion about the declining state of ocean health.
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Dr. Stephen Hall, Director General of the World Fish Center in Australia, said projections indicate that fish consumption will rise exponentially over the next 20 years, to the point where they'll be in line with pork and poultry numbers. We repeatedly heard that the seafood world must pay attention to Asian markets as the global seafood trade is increasingly funnelled into this evolving economy, growing in population and wealth, and demanding access to all species at any price. Simply stepping outside the conference facility, the abundance of disposable income, and the energy around purchasing the latest, greatest, most desirable products was palpable. We were engulfed by millions of people, 70-storey skyscrapers, and a restless sense of always having to move forward and "progress".
On the other end of the spectrum, many developing parts of the world have a dependence on fish as their primary source of protein. In these regions, food security is a looming threat as food prices and populations rise and productivity declines. A sensible form of aquaculture starting to gain traction is of inland, vegetarian species, registering low on the food chain and small in size. These fish offer viable options to impoverished populations, and demonstrate that there are alternatives to the problems often inherent in farming large marine carnivores that developed countries have access to on a daily basis.
Overall, the conference left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I have lingering anxiety over the increasing rate of development and consumption in Asia. It is clear that we, as a species, are not living within our means, and are not pausing long enough to consider the ramifications of our food choices. On the other hand, being able to step out of the Canadian context for several days to hear there are more sustainable economic alternatives that can help lessen the stranglehold we've been putting on the planet's oceans, offered some hope to the current conundrum.
The question remains: Will we be wise and fast-acting enough to save ourselves from ourselves? Our power in the equation is to do as much as possible to demonstrate responsible sourcing of seafood and to serve as a model for sustainable seafood consumption. We're not there yet, but there's momentum building to get us there. I hope more people take the sustainable seafood challenge and become a growing part of the solution. Sign our petition today and start eating for healthy oceans.