With billions of people depending on the ocean as a primary source of nutrition and livelihood a significant challenge comes into focus: How can we ensure that the ocean’s resources continue to effectively nourish an expanding global population? The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030 (the ‘Ocean Decade’) responds to this critical concern through its Challenge 3: “Sustainably feed the global population”.
The high and growing prevalence of hunger and malnutrition in the world, combined with climate and environmental concerns, suggests that the global food system is failing to deliver safe, nutritious, sustainable, and equitable diets. As a result, the international community is calling for a transformation of food systems as highlighted in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and echoed during the 2021 United Nations Food Systems Summit.
The Ocean Decade seeks to facilitate a transition from the ‘ocean we have’ to the ‘ocean we want’ that supports a sustainable, equitable, and healthy future for all. Today, the ocean makes a significant contribution to food security and nutrition, and it holds the potential to play an even bigger role in the global food system, contributing to poverty and unemployment reduction by creating new opportunities in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. To realize the ocean’s potential, the Ocean Decade’s Vision 2030 Working Group 3 was established with the aim of generating knowledge, supporting innovation, and developing solutions to optimize the role of the ocean in sustainably feeding the world’s population under changing environmental, social, and climate conditions.
The Group is led by two expert Co-Chairs – Dr Vera Agostini, Deputy Director of the Fisheries and Aquaculture Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Dr Erik Olsen, Head of the Research Group for Sustainable Development at the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research (IMR). To defeat hunger, FAO promotes an approach for Blue Transformation to secure and sustainably maximize the contribution of aquatic food systems to food security, nutrition, and affordable healthy diets for all. Complementing these efforts, IMR, as a research institution, generates knowledge on aquatic foods, spanning every stage of the aquatic food system from production and harvest, through processing and packaging, to impacts on human health and well-being. Beyond their leadership role within Working Groug 3, both FAO and IMR further support the Ocean Decade by heading Decade Programmes and Projects.
With 14 expert members from diverse fields, including fisheries, environmental social science, the economics of oceans, climate change, nutrition, and food systems, Working Group 3 brings together the much-needed interdisciplinary knowledge and experience to engage with aquatic food systems.
Aquatic foods include all edible aquatic organisms, such as fish, shellfish, and algae, from marine and freshwater production systems (aquaculture and fisheries). Nutritionally vulnerable populations including many Indigenous populations are particularly dependent on this critical source of micronutrients for their diet. Aquatic food systems, from production to consumption, are also deeply connected to livelihoods, economies, and culture. According to the FAO State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) report, it is estimated that “about 600 million livelihoods depend at least partially on fisheries and aquaculture”. Along with their vital role in global food systems, aquatic foods have a lower environmental footprint when compared with other land-based production systems (e.g. reducing greenhouse gases, nitrogen, land and water use, etc.).
“Aquatic foods, in particular fish, are ‘superfoods’ packed with vitamins and nutrients crucial for health and development,” states Erik Olsen. “Ensuring sustainable and equitable access to these ‘superfoods’ for our growing population is key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.”
During the initial phase of the Vision 2030 process, Working Group 3 held a series of online meetings, conducted a literature review, and elaborated an initial document summarizing the current status, key gaps, and proposed solutions and future pathways for aquatic foods within the Ocean Decade. Over months of collaboration, the experts revealed that despite the wealth of available knowledge on aquatic food systems – and their incredible opportunity to address hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and sustainability concerns worldwide – governance and policy changes are slow, and knowledge deficits remain in critical areas, especially within behavioral and social sciences as well as technological innovation.
Extensively documented by the United Nations and international initiatives like the Blue Food Assessment, these challenges include Anthropocene-generated pressures (e.g. unsustainable practices in fisheries and aquaculture), Anthropocene-related ecosystem shifts (e.g. fisheries climate-induced shifts), and data availability. Pressures across the value chain, such as circularity between aquatic and terrestrial food systems, distributional issues and unequal access, loss and waste, lack of end-to-end traceability, and biosecurity, further obstruct progress. At a governance level, difficulties include a siloed approach to aquatic food systems, policies that impede transformation, poor integration of science in management, and weak integration of local and Indigenous knowledge and small-scale actors.
Co-Chair Vera Agostini emphasizes the importance of critically reassessing and reshaping our conventional approach to ocean-based nutrition to overcome these challenges. “If we want aquatic food production to contribute to nature-friendly and sustainable food systems, transformation is critical,” she says. “For this Blue Transformation to succeed, complex technical and policy decisions, broad and inclusive stakeholder engagement, strong partnerships, and international collaboration are required. Working Group 3 brings together a diverse group of expertise from across the world – a ‘partnership’ well-poised to make a difference for aquatic food systems.”
At present, the Working Group is refining areas for developing, furthering, and implementing solutions to finalize the strategic ambition for Challenge 3 and propose actionable steps under the Ocean Decade. A key approach will focus on integrated solutions for aquatic foods within the context of the ocean economy, food systems, health, and global environmental objectives. Progress and effectiveness in improving aquatic food systems will be measured through relevant indicators, leading to the creation of a comprehensive white paper outlining the strategic ambition of Challenge 3 for the Ocean Decade.
Get involved in the Ocean Decade transformative journey to 2030!
Review of the draft white papers developed by the Working Groups will be launched in early 2024. Your insights, feedback, and expertise will contribute to shaping the strategic ambitions and determining the milestones for each Challenge, ensuring a diverse and inclusive approach. More information will be available soon on the Ocean Decade website.
The final draft versions will be presented and debated during thematic ‘Science Solution Forums’ at the 2024 Ocean Decade Conference in Barcelona, a pivotal event for the Vision 2030 process.
Click here to meet Working Group 3 and find out more about the Vision 2030 process.
For more information, please contact:
Vision 2030 Team (firstname.lastname@example.org)
About the Ocean Decade:
Proclaimed in 2017 by the United Nations General Assembly, the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030) (‘the Ocean Decade’) seeks to stimulate ocean science and knowledge generation to reverse the decline of the state of the ocean system and catalyse new opportunities for sustainable development of this massive marine ecosystem. The vision of the Ocean Decade is ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’. The Ocean Decade provides a convening framework for scientists and stakeholders from diverse sectors to develop the scientific knowledge and the partnerships needed to accelerate and harness advances in ocean science to achieve a better understanding of the ocean system and deliver science-based solutions to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The UN General Assembly mandated UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) to coordinate the preparations and implementation of the Decade.
About the IOC/UNESCO:
The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC/UNESCO) promotes international cooperation in marine sciences to improve management of the ocean, coasts and marine resources. The IOC enables its 150 Member States to work together by coordinating programmes in capacity development, ocean observations and services, ocean science and tsunami warning. The work of the IOC contributes to the mission of UNESCO to promote the advancement of science and its applications to develop knowledge and capacity, key to economic and social progress, the basis of peace and sustainable development.
 “Digital innovation Hand-in-Hand with fisheries and ecosystems scientific monitoring programme” (FAO), “EAF-Nansen Programme on Supporting the Application of the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF) management, considering climate and pollution impacts” (FAO), and “Climate Resilient Aquatic Food: Feeding the Future (ClimeFOOD) project” (IMR).
 The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022. Towards Blue Transformation. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. https://www.fao.org/3/cc0461en/online/cc0461en.html