What does the world eat?
On the surface, this website is meant to provide information on seafood and fishery science; however, at a deeper level, we aim to show how fisheries matter for people. Ultimately, sustainable seafood is about preserving the benefits that people receive from fish.
Fish are a resource for people.
Fish provide nutrition, jobs, and well-being to people. We eat them for health and tradition; we snorkel with them for spirituality and fun; we hunt them for sport and recreation; we go to aquariums to watch them with family; we rely on them for community and employment. The United Nations estimates that fish support the livelihoods of 10-12% of the world. Ensuring their sustainability is important!
Seafood plays an important role in global sustainability and conservation, but is not often seen in a global, environmental context. Understanding how seafood consumption fits into global food systems and conservation is important for understanding why fish is often the best animal protein to eat in order to combat deforestation, water scarcity, and climate change—the largest threat humanity faces.
What does the world eat?
Your body needs calories with the right balance of fats, carbohydrates, proteins, and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals). The amount of food the body needs is determined by a person’s weight and metabolism, though dietary guidelines set by the U.S. government suggest getting 45-65% of calories from carbohydrates; 20-35% from fats, and 10-35% from proteins. Foods are categorized by their dominant nutrient (e.g., bread contains protein, but is mostly grain so thus considered a carbohydrate); fish is a protein, specifically an animal protein.
Proteins can be used for energy, but their main role is to provide structure for cells in the body—especially muscle and tissue cells. Proteins are composed of amino acids, of which there are 9 different kinds deemed “essential amino acids” that our bodies need to function properly. Food proteins that contain all 9 of these amino acids are called “complete proteins.” FAO states that people consuming 75% of their weight (in kg) in grams of protein per day are protein sufficient (for example, if someone weighs 80kg, they should consume 60g of protein per day).
Humans as omnivores
All meat, from pork to poultry to beef, and fish, are complete proteins with a high, balanced amount of the 9 essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are not considered “complete” because nearly all plant proteins lack one or more essential amino acids. Plant-based proteins are also often imbalanced—high in some kinds of amino acids, but low in others. This is not to say that vegetarians and vegans are not getting all of their necessary amino acids—consuming the right variety of plant-based proteins can supply the body with all 9 essential ones. However, it can be difficult to do without access to a range of foods. Many people around the globe are limited to foods produced in their local climates; a consistent variety of food requires stable systems of trade, transport, and refrigeration—a challenge in much of the world. Even those who live in countries with many food imports can still struggle with access. For example, in the USA, over 25 million people live in a “food desert” without convenient access to a grocery store or supermarket. For many people, it is easiest to get all essential amino acids by eating meat.
However, not all meat is equally healthy; the fat content determines how many calories a serving contains. High-fat meats, like beef, contain far more calories for the same amount of protein than leaner meats like poultry or seafood.
Where do people get their protein?
With the benefits of wealth and trade, developed countries consume much more protein, especially complete proteins, than poorer countries. As countries develop and acquire wealth and trade, demand for meat rises, nutrition improves, and overall human health gets better.
Fish as protein
Though fish compose a small amount of global protein intake (6.7%), they are an important source of animal protein, providing 17% of the world’s meat consumption. And, fish play an outsized nutritional role for many people; 3.1 billion people rely on fish for 20% of their daily protein intake, with some coastal communities reliant on fish for upwards of 70%.
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This post is part of Sustainable Seafood 101.
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