Losing Wild Fish Would Be a Nuisance in Some Places, a Health Crisis in Others
By Amy McDermott
Local, wild seafood is essential for global health. Around the world, more than 3 billion people rely on fish as a substantial part of their diet. Nearby fisheries offer vitamins and minerals otherwise unavailable in poor coastal areas.
But local seafood, and the nutrients it provides, is at risk. More than half of wild fisheries are threatened. Without seafood, many coastal communities would lose access to key nutrients, leading to chronic illness.
"There's a large proportion of the planet, where losing access to seafood will drive people further and further into undernutrition," said Chris Golden of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "derailing much of global progress in food security."
Fishermen clean their catch in San Pedro, Belize. Oceana / A. Ellis
A Global Need
Fish is a staple in dozens of countries according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. The majority are developing nations, where coastal people often turn to fish as their main source of essential micronutrients like zinc, iron and iodine, that the body needs in small amounts for proper development.
In Bangladesh, for example, whole small fish are a major source of vitamin A. Madagascar's coastal Vezo people rely on wild seafood for the majority of their diet, said economist Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor with the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia. Coastal indigenous peoples eat 15 times more seafood per capita than non-indigenous populations, and often live in remote areas, far from grocery stores, he added. Without seafood, many of these communities wouldn't have zinc, iron and other essential micronutrients. Chronic health problems would likely plague such remote and rural areas, researchers say, if fish disappeared.
Prevention is key because micronutrient deficiency is hard to recognize. It's an insidious kind of malnutrition often called hidden hunger. "In the vast majority of cases, you'd never be able to look at someone and know if they were deficient," Golden said. "It's in the details of their blood that you gain understanding of this."
More than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, and so face an elevated risk of disease. Many more would be afflicted without wild fish.
A woman holds a fish at market in Moalboal, Philippines. Oceana / Jenn Hueting
Wealth and Access
Dig into the connections between wild fisheries and food security, and patterns start to emerge.
In wealthy nations like the U.S. and Japan, offshore fisheries could collapse, and plenty of people wouldn't even notice. Grocery stores and restaurants would absorb the shock by importing fish from somewhere else.
Most of the fish that Americans eat aren't local or wild anyway, said fisheries scientist Eddie Allison at the University of Washington in Seattle. And if people can't get hold of fish, "there are plenty of other things to eat," he said.
Less affluent countries have fewer options. People will respond in one of several ways, depending on their access to nourishing food, and its cost, Golden said.
In places like Madagascar, where cheap and nutritious alternatives to wild fish are hard to find, many people would suffer from zinc, iron and vitamin A deficiencies. Other countries, like Brazil, Mexico and Pacific island nations, are already turning away from traditional diets, to cheap fast food. Collapsing fisheries would only accelerate the transition. Fish farming could temper nutrient deficiencies and worsening diets in some places, like Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam, Allison said, but not everywhere.
Divisions exist inside countries, not just between them, said Cisneros-Montemayor. "Even within countries, there are segments that are much more vulnerable than the rest," he said. Towns fringing the coast tend to rely most heavily on fisheries, especially in developing nations.
Some of these are indigenous communities, in remote areas. They need seafood for nutrition and often as a connection to their cultural heritage, Cisneros-Montemayor said. Familiar issues of access and cost dictate how they can respond when fisheries change. "In many places there are just no stores, or the roads are bad," he explained. When stores do come to very rural areas, like the Canadian Arctic, "a liter of orange juice is, like, $20."
Fishermen unload their boat in Ramena, Madagascar. Oceana / LX
Wealthy and impoverished regions will have very different responses to a changing ocean. But no coast exists in isolation; the sea touches them all.
Fishing has globalized in the last century. Now, wealthy countries send their fleets around the world, often taking fish off the coasts of developing nations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, Allison said. It depends what foreign fleets are catching, and if they help or hurt local economies.
It's hard to tell the extent to which wealthy nations drive developing nations into fisheries decline, Cisneros-Montemayor added. But it would be foolhardy to think of rich and poor as separate. "When it comes to seafood, the whole world is connected," he said. "And unfortunately, it's always the poorest people who suffer the biggest impacts."
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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