2010-03-25 / News

Islander co-authors new study on seafood, security and sustainability

Jamestown resident Dr. Cathy A. Roheim is one of several authors of a new study that examines seafood’s contribution to global food security and the challenges of ecosystem health and trade pressures on fisheries and aquaculture.

Seafood is an important contributor to global food security, and the ability to sustain this needed resource is closely tied to the ability of institutions worldwide in maintaining healthy ecosystems amidst increasing pressure from international trade, according to an international working group of economists, marine scientists and seafood experts led by Duke University, including faculty from the University of Rhode Island, in a new study, “Sustainability and Global Seafood,” published in the Feb. 12, 2010, issue of Science.

Seafood is one of the most highly traded foods internationally, offering significant health benefits and providing food and millions of jobs to more than 560 million people worldwide. Both developing and developed countries benefit from this market, but current policies regarding food distribution and ecosystem health, according to this study, need to create incentives for better governance and enhance seafood’s role in food security.

Martin D. Smith, lead author and associate professor at Duke University, along with coauthors, including Dr. James L. Anderson and Dr. Roheim from the University of Rhode Island, examines the economic, environmental and political challenges of global seafood supplies and associated livelihoods, and offers potential policy options that would help sustain global seafood production.

“The price of seafood has to reflect the cost of maintaining ecosystem health in the countries that capture or farm most of it,” Smith said, adding that in an ideal world, all countries would have the capabilities to manage their resources and contribute to global economic growth and food security.

According to the study, developing countries often lack institutions

that serve to preserve the ecosystems. Little or no regulations

concerning gear use, overfi shing or aquaculture management can disrupt and degrade the supporting ecosystem, having adverse effects on the fisheries and aquaculture industries, which, in turn, depletes potential production capacities that would contribute to global food security.

Dr. Roheim has done extensive research in this field. As the director of URI’s Sustainable Seafood Initiative, a collaboration of the R.I. Sea Grant college program and the College of Environment and Life Sciences at URI, she says that this study suggests private incentives that raise the price of seafood to help pay for sustainable practices, such as ecolabeling, are an option.

“However, it’s not clear from the studies we’ve conducted that enough consumers will voluntarily pay more for seafood,” she said.

Other policy options, such as import bans and tariffs, as well as foreign aid to support sustainable production in developing countries, are also considered in this study as ways to promote sustainable seafood production. Trade policies used to punish countries failing to meet sustainability standards are often too blunt, according to Roheim, hurting the poor in developing countries.

The study suggests a third option – allocating more foreign aid for sustainable infrastructure in developing countries – which provides clear advantages. By specifically earmarking aid for things like sustainable fishing gear, improved management, sustainable aquaculture facilities or traceability systems to verify sustainability compliance, developed countries will foster food security and ecosystem health, and strengthen seafood trade, without causing short-term hardships to consumers or producers.

The Duke-led working group is funded by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. Larry Crowder, director of the Nicholas School’s Center for Marine Conservation, and Mary Turnipseed, a PhD student at the school, co-founded and co-direct the group with Smith.

Other members come from National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; University of Rhode Island, University of California-Santa Barbara; University of Stavanger, Norway; Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology; University of Georgia; University of Arizona; Stanford University; World Wildlife Fund; Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Memorial University and Dalhousie University, Canada; Norwegian University of Life Sciences; Whole Foods Market; and Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., Mexico.

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