Sustaining Fisheries for Food Security | Daily News

Sustaining Fisheries for Food Security

Sri Lanka is an island blessed with a bountiful variety of fish. It comes naturally that our cuisine includes succulent seafood dishes. Tourists flock to venues like the alluring Negombo fish market, to witness how our fishermen operate. The fishing industry is subject to changes and challenges. Fish is an important part of our diet, especially for those who don’t eat beef and pork owing to religious and cultural choices.

Fishing seems to have been one of the earliest human production activities. Archaeological research abounds with evidence of fish and other aquatic organisms featuring in human diets from the origins of the human race. Providing adequate food for a rapidly increasing human population is one of the greatest challenges this day in the world. To be more specific, seafood bases play an important role in filling the nutritional requirements of human beings. Demand for fish continues to increase in most of the world – in line with population growth associated with urbanization and rising incomes.

In 2018, world aquaculture fish production reached 82.1 million tons, 32.4 million tons of aquatic algae and 26, 000 tons of ornamental seashells and pearls, bringing the total to an all-time high of 114.5 million tons. Fish farming is dominated by Asia, which has produced 89 percent of the global total in volume terms in the last 20 years. Over the same period, the shares of Africa and the Americas have increased, while those of Europe and Oceania have decreased slightly. Outside China, several major producing countries (Bangladesh, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Norway and Vietnam) have consolidated their shares in world aquaculture production to varying degrees over the past two decades. China has produced more farmed aquatic food than the rest of the world combined since 1991.


Fishing methods

In ancient Egypt, one of the oldest cultures for which there is reliable historical information, fisheries seem to have been of major economic and nutritional importance. For instance, early Egyptian stone reliefs show fishermen bringing in fish, and splitting the fish for salting. The most important fish seem to have been Nile perch. From scenes illustrated in tombs, drawings, and papyrus documents it appears that ancient Egyptians invented various implements and methods for fishing. Later cultures such as the Greeks and the Romans also pursued fishing as evidenced in their writings and pictorial art.

According to the available evidence, aquaculture in ponds and enclosed inlets also emerged early on in human existence. Aquaculture is not really compatible with a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. It basically requires the same kind of organisation and property rights technology as agriculture. Therefore, aquaculture probably emerged somewhat later than fishing. There has been significant growth in this business in Sri Lanka, and this must be extended with government support.

Substantial fish farming certainly existed before, especially in Southeast Asia. The great diversity of climatic and environment conditions in locations across the world where aquaculture is practiced has given rise to a rich and diverse number of species utilized in different types of aquaculture production practices with freshwater, brackish-water, marine water and inland saline water. Aquaculture in Sri Lanka must be promoted as a significant growth sector, and as an activity that can empower women and young people, notably by facilitating women’s decision-making on the consumption and provision of nutritious food.

Scientific developments of the last 50 years have led to a much improved understanding of the functioning of aquatic ecosystems, and to global awareness of the need to manage them in a sustainable manner. Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the importance of utilizing fisheries and aquaculture resources responsibly is now widely recognized and prioritized. Where refined cuisine is concerned Tuna is of great importance because of their high catches, high economic value and extensive international trade. Moreover, their sustainable management is subject to additional challenges owing to their highly migratory and often straddling distributions. In Chile, aquaculture production of Atlantic salmon, coho salmon and rainbow trout has grown into a modern multibillion dollar industry, second only to Norway in global aquaculture production. In comparison Sri Lanka has its own desired species of fish, for both domestic use and in tourism for restaurant menus.

Shrimp and prawns have historically been one of the most heavily traded fish products, with the bulk of production taking place in Asia and Latin America and the major markets located in the United States of America, the European Union and Japan. Prawns remain a delicacy in Sri Lanka but come at a high price in comparison to fish. We have not cultivated the taste for eating fish in its raw and very healthy form as sushi, as a nation.

In terms of the people in the industry one area of lack is social stigma. It’s sad that Sri Lankans look down on fishermen and fish vendors. They have been segregated to a lower caste. These attitudes hinder our development as a nation. On the other hand, the majority of sea going fishermen and fish vendors also need to adapt to new technology, understand and practice new trends in storage of fish. The families of fishermen also face some social issues, with children dropping out of school as teenagers and taking to sea. With regard to the fleet trawlers and small boats must enhance their safety, without depending on age-old superstitions. Fishermen must take pride in their work, because they feed this nation. Many coastal areas still need modern cold storage and planned transport routes to save time and costs. Men and women who work hard in making dried fish also need some change. There are so many modern ways of preserving fish. Consumers also must change their attitude to be more flexible in adjusting to new fish products that match the oceans yield and season, instead of craving for their fish curry only.


Nutritional attributes

As fish is a highly perishable food, particular care is required at harvesting and all along the supply chain in order to preserve fish quality and nutritional attributes, and to avoid contamination and waste. Nutritional attributes of fish can vary according to the way in which fish are processed and prepared. Heating (by sterilization, pasteurization, hot smoking or cooking) reduces the amount of thermo labile nutrients, although their concentration can increase by cooking, which reduces the relative moisture content of foods, thereby increasing concentration of some nutrients.

Fish silage, a rich protein hydrolysate, a less expensive alternative to fishmeal and fish oil, and it is increasingly being used as a feed additive, for example- in the pet-food industry. Obtained by acidification and natural protein hydrolysis, silage has potential to improve growth and reduce mortality of fed animals.

With regard to direct human consumption, fish oil represents the richest available source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which perform a wide range of critical functions for human health. Fish is also rich in iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin C, and marine fish is a good source of iodine. Have we tapped into this market in Sri Lanka?

Fish bones, in addition to being a source of collagen and gelatin, are also an excellent source of calcium and other minerals such as phosphorus, which can be used in food, feed or food supplements. Calcium phosphates present in fish bone, such as hydroxyapatite, can help regenerate bones after major trauma or surgery.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems, undermining efforts to manage fisheries sustainably. International forums, associations and conferences are increasingly drawing attention to the need to address and tackle IUU fishing, as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the G20 and the Commonwealth of Nations have recently done through various mechanisms. Fishermen of Sri Lanka and India continue to accuse each other of invading their waters and fishing. These petty issues must be solved, as India has been a helpful neighbour and a partner in our maritime defence cooperation.

Many deep-sea living resources have low productivity and are only able to sustain low fishing rates. Moreover, once depleted, their recovery is long and not assured. Some experts feel the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture towards development has consistently been underestimated both in national development and poverty reduction strategies. Fisheries are a vital industry for this island. All stakeholders need to work collectively with a new long term vision to increase the yield of fish and also enhance the lifestyle of the fishing community.


Add new comment