THE BLOG
10/16/2012 06:49 pm ET | Updated Dec 16, 2012

World Food Day - Let's Talk About the Oceans

Today is World Food Day. Established in 1979 by the United Nations, the day was meant to bring attention to, and ignite political will for, the fight to end world hunger. At Oceana this day means a lot to us. We believe that ending world hunger and establishing food security on a more crowded planet will require not only innovations in land-based agriculture but an entirely new approach to managing what could again become a bountiful resource, our oceans.

The theme of this year's World Food Day is cooperatives, a model that has been proven to work both at land and at sea. But if any model of harvesting more food from the ocean (including cooperatives) is going to work, we need to make sure it's abundant and full of fish. This renewable source of food covers 70 percent of the world, but we're not maximizing its potential to feed people. If managed better, estimates show that the ocean could provide a nutritious meal to 700 million people every day at a sustainable rate.

Some of the very countries that are struggling most with food insecurity are also fortunate to control some of the most productive fisheries in the world. For example, India and the Philippines, which were just ranked poorly in terms of food security in the newly published 2012 Global Hunger Index, both rank in the top 15 countries in the world for fish catch. But their fisheries, like many others, are being overfished, limiting their potential to produce even more fish and feed more people. In fact, a new study published in the journal Science suggests a global fishery recovery could increase fish yield up to 40 percent. Many of the most food insecure countries have the ability to create more food for their hungry citizens just by better managing their fisheries.

There are clear examples of how to turn exploited fisheries around and ensure that they will be able to help feed the 2 billion more people expected by 2050. We've seen overfished species rebound quickly with this type of management. After discard bans were imposed for Norwegian cod in the late 1980s, the once overfished species came back quickly. The same story can be told of the Eastern Baltic cod which have recovered in the last decade. We see similar stories happening all around the world.

By combating overfishing and practically restoring key fish stocks, like it has been done in the U.S. and Norway, countries like India and the Philippines have it within their reach to make more wild seafood accessible to their hungry citizens. It takes the implementation of just three tried and true fisheries management policies to bring back fish stocks: enforcing scientific quotas, reducing bycatch and protecting habitat. Doing this in the places that produce the most wild fish will allow fish stocks to rebound enough to feed hundreds of millions more people.

While global fish catch has been declining since the late 1980s, we're not doomed to fish out the oceans. If India, the Philippines and the other 23 countries that control 75% of the world's fish catch begin to manage their fisheries in a sustainable way, we'll see global fish catch increase beyond historic peak levels. The oceans will be able to help offset the 70 percent increase in food production needed by 2050 -- and it can do so indefinitely.

Restoring the ocean's abundance will ensure that artisanal fishermen and fishing cooperatives all over the world will again have access to the kind of resources their ancestors once did. And with nine billion people projected to live on earth by 2050, we need everything on the table, including a healthy ocean full of fish.