The blue economy should benefit fishing communities in the South, says WorldFish Chief – Global Issues

Dr Essam Mohammed

Dr.  Essam Yassin Mohammed explains the characteristics of corals adapted to turbid water.  Credit: Sean Lee Kuan Shern/WorldFish
Dr. Essam Yassin Mohammed explains the characteristics of corals adapted to turbid water. Credit: Sean Lee Kuan Shern/WorldFish
  • by Neena Bhandari (Sydney)
  • Inter-Press Office

“More than three billion people rely on aquatic foods as their main source of protein and micronutrients, and almost 800 million people depend on fishing for their livelihood. The Global South produces a significant portion of the world’s aquatic food and 95 percent of the fishing workforce comes from these regions,” notes Mohammed, who is also CGIAR’s Senior Director of Aquatic Food Systems.

Growing up in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, located on a highland plateau 2,325 meters above sea level, Mohammed learned the value of food early in his life. The country had recently gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991 and young children like him were motivated to contribute to the country’s food security.

“Eritrea, a coastal country on the Red Sea, had an abundance of fish and marine resources. We believed that these resources would be crucial in securing the country’s food supply, so some of us decided to study marine biology and fisheries science,” he added.

While working for Eritrea’s Ministry of Fisheries, he was tasked with increasing fish consumption among Highlanders, who traditionally had no connection with the sea. He then realized that achieving behavioral change in people’s diets, while taking cultural food preferences into account, is much more complex. To tackle this challenging task and to better understand the interaction between humans and ecosystems, he decided to train as a development economist.

“The integration of fisheries science with economics has profoundly changed my perspective and deepened my understanding of the complex interactions within social-ecological systems. This defined my career and I have never looked back,” says Mohammed, who is committed to improving fisheries and aquaculture amid the challenges of climate change, habitat degradation and aquatic animal diseases.

Changing ocean currents and warming waters are having a significant impact on fish stocks and coastal infrastructure, flooding land and altering marine ecosystems, affecting the productivity of some fish species and forcing them to migrate to more optimal environments.

He says: “While large-scale commercial fishing vessels can still chase and catch these fish from, say, 20 kilometers away, it is technically and financially prohibitive for small-scale operators with small boats to do so. This is where climate change becomes a social justice issue, affecting coastal communities’ access to food and causing loss of livelihoods and cultural identity.”

“Bee World fishwe go beyond helping communities become climate resilient by creating viable livelihood opportunities, including developing climate-resilient fish species, adopting sustainable aquaculture practices and helping governments strengthen their fisheries policies so that communities that depend fisheries and fish farming can thrive under a changing climate,” he adds.

WorldFish research helps prevent diseases in aquatic animals that are estimated to be the cause global annual losses of more than $6 billionby ensuring that the food produced is safe for human consumption.

“One of the crucial aspects of fish farming is that once fish are exposed to a disease, the entire fish stock can die.

We democratize fish health diagnosis with Laboratory in a backpack initiative. It is a compact digital tool that allows fish farmers to quickly diagnose the disease, contact service providers for treatment advice and also learn how to deal with antimicrobial resistant diseases,” he explains.

The initiative helps fish farmers build their capacity for best biosecurity management practices by integrating the One Health approach, which prioritizes fish, environmental and human health.

In addition to diseases, ocean plastic pollution poses a significant threat to marine life and ecosystems. In November 2024, governments will meet for the final round of UN negotiations global treaty to end plastic pollution.

Mohammed says: “Once plastic enters the ocean, it will stay there indefinitely. We’ve seen many cases of plastic harming marine life – straws stuck in the nostrils of turtles or dolphins – and now traces of microplastics have been found in fish tissue. It means that these microplastics are swallowed by people, which also affects their health.”

“We need a legally binding treaty to combat plastic pollution. There is now a global consensus, but this must be followed by action to minimize and eliminate plastic use and establish a robust waste management system,” he adds.

Mohammed warns that many developed countries are prioritizing short-term economic gain at the expense of long-term sustainability and the conservation of the global marine ecosystem. “We must view natural capital – marine life, oceans and water bodies – as economic infrastructure; and reinvest in them to ensure they can continue to care for us in the future,” he states.

According to the World Bank blue economy is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved living standards and jobs, while maintaining the health of the ocean ecosystem.”

Currently, investments in blue economy initiatives are not trickling down to developing countries. World fish research shows that between 2017 and 2021, the $5.9 billion allocated to blue economy initiatives was mainly concentrated in Europe and Central Asia, and 35 percent of the projects examined posed potential risks of creating or exacerbating social inequality.

“Investments in the blue economy should benefit developing countries and small island states. Those who are furthest behind should benefit the most,” says Mohammed.

According to the United Nations report, total fisheries and aquaculture production (excluding algae) is expected to exceed 200 million tons by 2030. Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Small-scale operators in the South supply up to 50 percent of the aquatic food consumed worldwide. Ensuring that investments in the blue economy benefit these communities is essential to achieving shared prosperity and addressing the impacts of climate change on food security,” said Mohammed.

IPS UN agency report

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© Inter Press Service (2024) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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