Thursday, January 9, 2020

Micronutrients, Global Fish Catches and Sustainability

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Writing in the British journal Nature, Daniel Pauly summarizes a research report on the nutrient content of fish around the globe.

The researchers determined the "nutritional content of 367 species of fish" and then "for 43 countries, the authors mapped the relationship between the fish-derived nutrients available from fisheries' catches and the prevalence of nutrient-deficiency diseases in communities living within 100 kilometres (~62 miles) of the coast." The abstract of the paper is found here; the full paper is behind a subscription wall.

The nutrients, actually micronutrients (trace chemicals essential for normal growth and development) measured are essential for good health: calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3, and vitamin A.

What the research team found was that "for 22 of the countries...studied, 20% or less of the fish caught could provide enough key micronutients to meet the needs of all children under five years old," critical years of development. However, global fisheries are being challenged by overfishing for export "to match the insatiable demand for fish in the markets of high-income Western countries and East Asia." Some of this is used for the production of fishmeal used to feed farmed fish.

Pauly notes that construction of industrial fish-processing plants is growing. Most of them are Chinese industries. He also raises an important question about western consumer patterns. We tend to be careful when we purchase or order fish that these fish are sustainably caught. "If, Pauly writes,"such fish come from fish farms, as is the case for most considered a good thing, because it is widely thought that fish farming relieves pressure on capture fisheries."

That eating fish is good for us is a bumper sticker. This leads Pauly to ask who is this elusive "us." Does it include all of us, the them from whom they have been taken or just us?  This research, Pauly, writes can be "used to put a spotlight on fish availability when thinking of ways to prevent human disease cased by micronutrient deficiencies."

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