Up to 90% of global blue food faces “substantial” environmental risk 

Environmental stressors impact key "blue food" producers such as Norway, China, and the United States, both in aquaculture and fisheries.
The Blue Food Assessment initiative has identified 17 environmental stressors threatening the quantity and quality of blue food production worldwide. Photo: Adobe Stock.
The Blue Food Assessment initiative has identified 17 environmental stressors threatening the quantity and quality of blue food production worldwide. Photo: Adobe Stock.

A new study published in the journal Nature Sustainability this month has highlighted the vulnerability of blue food production to human-induced environmental change, finding that over 90% of the global output faces significant risk.

According to the research, conducted by a team of international experts, the countries most affected include major blue food producers such as Norway, China, and the United States.

Titled "Vulnerability of Blue Foods to Human-induced Environmental Change," the study provides a comprehensive analysis of environmental stressors affecting the quantity and safety of aquatic foods worldwide. The authors rank countries based on their exposure to 17 stressors, including sea level rise, changing temperatures, harmful algal blooms, and pesticide exposure.

Norway at most risk of eutrophication, while U.S. is vulnerable to multiple factors including ocean warming

China, as the world's largest blue food producer, is most vulnerable to severe weather events and inland eutrophication that heavily impact freshwater aquaculture.

In the United States, the primary threats are from species invasion, inland eutrophication, ocean warming, and sea level rise, with fisheries, both freshwater and marine, facing disproportionately high risks.  

The authors found that Russia and Canada were most likely to be affected by ocean warming, while Thailand was most at risk from diseases, both in its marine and freshwater blue food production.

Greenland topped the risk ranking for marine acidification, while parasites were one of the top threats for countries around the North Sea, particularly the Netherlands and Belgium. Cyprus was found to suffer the highest exposure to antibiotics.

However, the authors noted, countries in the developing world face the toughest challenges, being highly exposed to environmental change but lacking the capacity to adapt. Particularly vulnerable countries include Bangladesh, Benin, Eswatini, Guatemala, Honduras, Togo, and Uganda.

The study indicates that globally, marine fisheries are more susceptible to climate-related stressors such as rising temperatures and acidification, while aquaculture faces increased risks from diseases and hypoxia.

Aquaculture and fisheries need strategies to adapt to complex environmental threats 

Published as part of the Blue Food Assessment (BFA) initiative, a global project aimed at ensuring the sustainability of aquatic food, the research is intended to support informed decision-making to develop strategies to adapt and mitigate against the primary threats faced by aquaculture, fisheries and seafood worldwide. 

"We have only scratched the surface in our understanding of how environmental stressors are connected, and how they can both negatively impact the production and safety of the resulting blue foods," said Ling Cao, co-lead author and professor at the State Key Laboratory of Marine Environmental Science at Xiamen University

"Understanding the complexity of these stressors, and their cascading impacts, will be essential in developing successful adaptation and mitigation strategies," she added.

International collaboration needed to ensure future of blue food production, say authors 

"Although we have made some progress with climate change, our adaptation strategies for blue food systems facing environmental change are still underdeveloped and need urgent attention," said Rebecca Short, co-lead author and researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre

The authors call for better international "transboundary" collaboration and adaptation measures that acknowledge the interconnectedness of ecosystems supporting blue food production. Environmental change in one area has potential knock-on effects elsewhere, they explain.

"In addition to studying the direct effects from stressors, it is also important to broaden the scope and consider how supporting systems are impacted – for example feed production systems providing inputs for aquaculture," said Max Troell, co-author and associate professor at the Stockholm Resilience Centre. 

The study also emphasizes the crucial role of stakeholder engagement in understanding, monitoring, and mitigating pressures on blue food production systems. Indigenous knowledge holds significant value in strategic planning and policy development to combat environmental change, particularly in artisanal and marine fisheries-dependent countries like Small Island Developing States (SIDS). 

About The Blue Food Assessment 

The Blue Food Assessment is an international joint initiative that brings together over 100 scientists from more than 25 institutions around the world. The Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and Stanford University's Center for Ocean Solutions and Center on Food Security and the Environment are lead science partners and EAT is the lead impact partner. This interdisciplinary team supports decision-makers in evaluating opportunities, trade-offs and implementing solutions to build healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems. 

Related Stories

No stories found.