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How Saving the Oceans Can Feed the World

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This week, 200 of the world's leaders in ocean conservation are descending upon Capella, Singapore for the World Oceans Summit.

The U.S. is strongly represented among the international community, with top representatives from government and nonprofits. Oceana is joining world leaders from Iceland, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines (to name a few) to continue the urgent conversation about how we're going to protect the oceans. But all the talking in the world won't do a thing. Unless there's action, we're wasting our breath.

These global "meetings of the minds" are great in a lot of ways. But history has shown that they often do very little in terms of real change. More "talking" won't save the oceans. We need action, real, tangible results that will protect them. It's not just about environmentalism. It's about humanity.

We need to ensure biodiversity in our seas (which is essential to providing more food from the seas, by the way) and protect the wonder that is our oceans. But the big news is what the oceans can do to help feed the world, a world that will be demanding more and more food from fewer and fewer viable resources.

This is the sentiment Oceana is bringing to Singapore. The reality is that there will be 9 billion of us by 2050. The planetary pressures of this 34-percent population increase over 2009 levels will be magnified by an expected, general rise in the standard of living. Experts estimate that people's demand for food will grow 70 percent over current levels. How are we going to feed everyone?

The oceans can play a big part of the solution. Wild seafood has huge advantages over terrestrial livestock. It is cheaper to produce per pound. It requires no land. It is much more CO2-efficient. It uses only trivial amounts of fresh water (in processing).

On a global basis, a fully productive ocean could provide the entire animal protein diet for a billion people, or 13 to 15 percent of the animal protein produced on the entire planet. However, too often, plans for how feed in the world in the future overlook the ocean's potential vital role in feeding humanity for many years to come.

Restoring ocean productivity and biodiversity requires that we take practical action at the national level to better manage the world's commercial fishing fleets, and you will be surprised how manageable this task is. Sixty-one percent of the world's wild ocean fish are caught in the ocean territory of just 10 countries, and 86 percent in 25 countries.

And, we know -- from Oceana's own experience -- that it is possible to win real, meaningful ocean victories in these countries for a relatively small investment (compared to the enormous return and payoff for the world's food supply and future food security).

What many of our world leaders should come to appreciate is that conservation can be good for humanity -- in this circumstance they go hand in hand. By restoring and strengthening natural marine systems, we can help feed people far into the future. It's a win/win situation. We simply need to put in place smart, low-cost, science-based policies on national levels that protect wild fish.

By avoiding overfishing, minimizing bycatch, and protecting habitat, we can reverse the trend that has sent our global fish catch into steady decline since the late 1980s. Here's to hoping that the conversations in Singapore lead to real change. Our oceans and the people who depend on them can't afford otherwise.

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