As we enter a period of major world food shortages, the food we are able to harvest from the sea will prove vitally important. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), almost a billion men and women are undernourished and yet we are going to need to feed somewhere in the order of 50% more people in the next fifty years. Fish is rich in first-class proteins, fatty acids, and a whole range of other nutrients. Today already, 2.6 billion people receive at least 20% of their protein needs from fish. In many poor, densely populated countries, the figure exceeds 50%: this is the case in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Senegal, Thailand, and Guinea, for example.
The fishing industry also feeds, indirectly, the many families whose income depends upon it. The FAO estimates that there are 30 million people worldwide who live off fishing, 95% of them in developing countries. We have no statistics for other forms of employment indirectly connected with fishing, but it is important to take these into account too—jobs in the food industry, shipping and shipbuilding, commerce, transport, etc, probably totaling several hundred million. Fish exports from developing countries amount to some 20 billion dollars—a figure easily exceeding that of other major foodstuffs such as coffee, rice, and tea.
Whether viewed as a source of food or in broader economic terms, fishing is clearly an activity vital to humanity. This is why it needs to be sustainable and why we need to put a stop to particularly destructive practices, curb the mad scramble for ever more powerful boats and high-tech equipment, and promote fishing on a much smaller scale—such as is typically practiced in the southern hemisphere. While the latter should not be idealized, it is a richer source of employment than industrial scale fishing and more economical in terms of fossil fuels. Above all, smaller, less powerful boats are more easily converted to “greener” fishing methods than the high-tech monsters used by the industrialized nations.