By Gro-Ingunn Hemre
In a society of plenty, we get too much energy in relation to other nutrients. This results in obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. In poor parts of the world, children still suffer from malnutrition. Iodine deficiency is the world’s most prevalent, yet easily preventable, cause of brain damage. Iodine deficiency disorders, which can start before birth, jeopardize children’s mental health and often their very survival. . Many people are still losing their sight because of too little vitamin A. Whole sections of the population experience high stress levels and a low learning aptitude because of a lack of zinc and the marine fatty acids EPA and DHA. Getting enough quality protein is also a challenge.
Almost all arable land is already cultivated, the population is growing, and the need for nutritiously balanced food is increasing in step with the growing population. At the annual meeting of the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea in May, the only topic on the agenda over three days of discussion was how fish can contribute to food security, and prevent malnutrition. Huge fish resources can be exploited in a more strategic manner. Peru harvests more anchoveta than any other country in the world. Today, this catch is mainly for fishmeal and fish oil, but Peru’s goal is to increase the proportion that is used directly for human consumption. In some cases, it may be possible to exploit the catch better, but there is broad international consensus that aquaculture has the greatest potential when it comes to producing more seafood. We can group fish into four nutritional categories: fat and lean freshwater fish, and fat and lean saltwater fish. Each of these categories is special with respect to their content of nutrients. For our health’s sake, we should eat a mixture of both fat and lean fish. Today, the world’s population eats far more freshwater fish, such as carp and catfish. Pelagic fish such as sardines, mackerel and anchoveta come a close second. Although there are great differences between the four categories of fish, they are all sources of high quality protein. Depending on the fat content of the species, they will also provide a varying amount of EPA and DHA, but they all provide some. Sardines are a particularly good source. If you eat 100 grams of whole sardines, you will have covered your EPA and DHA requirement for more than ten days. In addition to high quality protein, sardines also have a high vitamin D content, are rich in phosphorous, calcium and zinc, and they are a good source of iodine. Although seafood will obviously not solve all the global nutritional challenges, there’s no doubt that fish can make an important contribution providing enough and nutritionally rich food on a global basis. In this context, it is important to exploit fish caught in the wild as optimal as possible, both from freshwater and saltwater. It is also very important to exploit the potential for sustainable fish farming. This is valuable both for the section of the population who eat too much and often nutritionally unbalanced food, and for the section of the population who lacks important nutrients and suffering from malnutrition.
Printed in the newspaper FiskeribladetFiskaren, 18 June 2014.