The seafood industry is confronted with a major challenge. Based on numerous scientific studies, most of the world’s major fisheries are over-exploited and current wild catch levels are projected to be at their maximum sustainable yields. Given that capture fisheries are maxed-out, growth in demand will need to be satisfied by marine aquaculture where harvests would need to increase by more than 75 percent by 2025 – and that assumes per capita consumption stays flat. Without rapid implementation of sustainable fisheries management practices, supply cannot meet growth in demand and the reduction in seafood supply is inevitable as we deplete one of the world’s most valuable food resources. Unfortunately, fisheries management is immensely complex involving disputed allocation rights over a global resource, issues of national sovereignty, private and public sector interests, economic development, employment and basic food security. This is further complicated by scientific uncertainties over the amount and distribution of edible marine life in the oceans. FAO conservatively estimates that the global fishing fleet is approximately 30 percent larger than it needs to be to fully harvest the available resources. Other studies estimate global overcapacity at 150 percent, meaning there is 2.5 times the catching power needed. This promises a vicious capitalistic cycle whereby rising prices for fish will continue to create financial incentives for further investment in industrial-scale fishing.
As a more informed public understands the impact of plundering of our oceans sustainable seafood certifications and eco-labeling will become de rigueur for “green” consumers. The proliferation of seafood tracing applications for mobile devices and social networks will provide the mechanism for mass-scaling the adoption, compliance and enforcement of sustainable seafood. Walmart reached its goal of only selling 100 percent sustainable seafood in 2011 and Target and Kroger both plan to achieve that goal by 2015. Costco, Shaw, and other big box chain grocery stores are now selling certified seafood. McDonald’s restaurants in Europe and Russia only sell 100 percent certified sustainable seafood. Since global capture fisheries are at their maximum sustainable yield and while marine aquaculture continues its impressive growth rate, there will be a gap between supply and demand. Over the longer-term sustainability certifications may result in greater supply, but compliance over the near-term, will further drive up prices.
Economics 101: Seafood supply will diminish and prices will soar from demand.