There are expected to be nine billion people on earth by 2050. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the planet must produce 70 percent more food to meet the needs of the increased population. Right now, 795 million people go hungry on a daily basis — we simply don’t have enough arable land and fresh water to feed 2 billion more people without severe environmental impact. How do we meet this challenge?

A crucial part of the answer will come from healthy, abundant oceans. Harvesting wild fish requires no freshwater, produces little carbon dioxide, doesn’t require arable land, and provides healthy protein at a lower cost per pound than beef, chicken, lamb, or pork.

Unfortunately, studies show that irresponsible fishing has reduced many wild fish populations to historically low levels at a moment when the world needs its oceans more than ever. We’re steadily eroding the most sustainable source of animal protein we have, at a huge cost to our oceans and the people who rely on them.

Improved resource management is key

There is, however, a solution. Studies show that by implementing better and duly proven management measures we can potentially increase the global fish yield by up to 15 percent from current levels in a sustainable fashion. If we implement these changes, we can rebuild ocean biodiversity and volume and feed one billion people a healthy seafood meal each day.

Canada has a critical role to play in the rebuilding of our oceans. We’ve lost 50 percent of the biomass — the sheer total weight — of our marine fish population since 1970. While we’ve stopped many of the worst cases of overfishing, we have not yet invested in the rebuilding of these resources. Many of the collapsed stocks — of which Atlantic cod is the most famous — remain at very low levels, with no rebuilding plan in place. Oceana Canada’s Fishery Audit 2017 revealed that only one third of stocks are considered healthy and 13 percent are in critical condition.

During our expedition with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in August of 2017 we saw a school of Capelin being fed on by Atlantic cod in the American Bank. These photos were captured using a remotely operated vehicle, the ROPOS. Credit: Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility/ROPOS, Oceana Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada

If we take action quickly, we can make our oceans more abundant. We have the potential to provide more fish on a sustainable basis. We know what’s needed and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when we act, marine life recovers. Better management, including stopping overfishing and setting science-based catch limits, reducing bycatch, and protecting habitats will bring our fisheries back.

Canada has the raw material needed to restore the health of our oceans. We have diverse coastal communities, a sophisticated fishing industry, a dedicated community of activists, world-class scientists, and a shared understanding of the importance of the oceans and the impact of mismanagement. With smart decisions, Canada can help save the oceans and feed the world.

Photo Credit: Capelin and Cod American Bank Gulf of St Lawrence