Blue Food

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Blue food is defined as aquatic foods captured or cultivated in marine and freshwater systems. This is opposed to “blue foods” as simply blue coloured foods, whether naturally or artificially coloured. The intention of this article is to discuss Blue food as in the former sense, based on the Nature Communications publication “Blue food demand across geographic and temporal scales” (Naylore, Sumaila, Issifu et al. 2021.)

It was shown that even as income goes up, people prefer seafood at similar rates. Figure 1 below shows no growth trend, due to a lower r squared value of 0.11 compared to 0.64 (lower r squared values for a curve represent a weaker trend for the data to correspond to that proposed curve). 

Figure 1:  Seafood vs Terrestrial Animals Apparent Consumption 2015

This study also showed that poultry consumption increased exponentially since 1961, although seafood and pork exhibited much slower growth trends, and beef consumption dropped (Figure 2 from the publication).

Figure 2:  Global meat and fish consumption in edible weight from 1961 to 2017

Figure 3 shows that there are distinct patterns of seafood consumption across regions. As stated in the publication, “for example, [we see] relatively large shares of freshwater fish consumption in Asia, pelagic and freshwater species consumption in Africa and South America, and demersal species in Europe, North America, and Oceania. Per capita fish consumption in Asia, Europe, and Oceania exceeds the global average, whereas Africa and South America are well below the global average. A co-author of the paper, Dr. Ibrahim Issifu observed that per capita fish consumption in Africa is declining partly due to population growth outstripping growth in the fish sector.

Figure 3:  Per capita apparent fish consumption by region and species group 2015

It is also shown that overall fish consumption is still increasing.

“During the 20-year period from 1998 to 2018, global average fish consumption per person rose from 15.6 to 20.4 kg/year on a live weight basis, and from 11.5 to 15.1 kg/year in edible weight.”

The study found that the production of aquatic foods, referred to as “blue food” captured from or cultivated in marine and freshwater systems, will need to expand in coming decades to meet population and income-driven demand. 

Another key factor is that “the availability and affordability of blue foods also influences demand.” For example, as explained in the paper, small island nations with an abundance of wild fish in their ocean territories observe high per capita fish consumption. The expansion of aquaculture in Asia has driven down prices for farmed fish, making them increasingly accessible to low-income consumers. However, wild-capture fish has become more expensive, restricting its accessibility to wealthier consumers.

Therefore, with the decrease in beef consumption, along with an increase in overall economic wealth combined with population increases, this creates a higher demand for seafood overall.

Another issue is that government organizations such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), have not clearly delineated which types of seafood are in demand over others.

“The FAO has created a global fish price index based on traded commodities which serves as a proxy for both traded and nontraded fish prices; however, this index and others do not target the wide range of locally produced and consumed species that are important for nutrition security throughout the Global South (Fig. 1).”

To summarise, this article highlights the need to go beyond the use of a single category to represent all blue foods in analyses of global food demand. It also questions persistent assumptions about the relationship between income and fish consumption and underscores the importance of analyzing socio-cultural drivers of demand across multiple species and geographic scales.” This study also addresses the intersecting issues related to environmental change, food equity and justice, with nutrition becoming increasingly important to address in the coming decades and beyond.

Naylor, R. L., Kishore, A., Sumaila, U. R., Issifu, I., Hunter, B. P., Belton, B., Bush, S. R., Cao, L., Gelcich, S., Gephart, J. A., Golden, C. D., Jonell, M., Koehn, J. Z., Little, D. C., Thilsted, S. H., Tigchelaar, M., & Crona, B. (2021). Blue food demand across geographic and temporal scales. In Nature Communications (Vol. 12, Issue 1). Springer Science and Business Media LLC.