Can we get more food from the oceans? A public debate in Cardiff

Can we get more food from the oceans? A public debate in Cardiff

With the world’s human population projected to grow to between 9 and 10 billion by 2050, should we look to the oceans to feed ourselves? This was the theme of a lively public debate held in Cardiff on 15th July, as part of the Food from the Oceans project, coordinated by the Cardiff Hub on behalf of SAPEA (Science Advice for Policy by European Academies).

Our panellists at the Food from the Ocean public debate
Our panellists at the Food from the Ocean public debate

The debate was chaired and introduced by Professor David Thomas of Bangor University. He advised the audience that we needed more food and biomass from the ocean, given the increase in population, but it is important that what we do is sustainable.  Slides available

Professor David Thomas, Panel Chair
Professor David Thomas, Panel Chair

The panellists then addressed their specific points.

Fancy a jellyfish burger for dinner?  Professor Matthias Kaiser, Bergen University

Professor Kaiser highlighted that food is an important part of our culture – we are what we eat. Foods that were once seen as novel, such as pizza, pasta and sushi, are now commonplace.  Yet there is a lot of food that we haven’t yet even tried.  The oceans seem like a rich and endless source of food.  However, fish resources are already coming under pressure in certain areas of the world, such as India.  Aquaculture may seem like the solution, but there are problems to contend with, such as disease and welfare.  What is certain is that we are likely to be eating food lower down the chain, such as seaweed.  Jellyfish is a ‘winner’ from climate change and we could be eating lots of it in future.  Many the audience claimed were willing to give it a try!  Slides available 

Dr Matthias Kaiser, Bergen University
Prof Matthias Kaiser, Bergen University

Using seaweed in new Nordic cuisine and some health considerations, Dr Arne Duinker, National Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research

Dr Duinker’s response is that we have to eat more seaweed but we must teach people how to source and cook it. The taste is fantastic and it has a great number of vitamins and minerals.  It is a super source of iodine, for example.  Seaweed has to become a new food tradition in Europe.

Dr Arne Duinker talks on seaweed as a food source
Dr Arne Duinker talks on seaweed as a food source

Hot, source and breathless: the future of food from the ocean, Professor Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University

Professor Schmidt reminded us that the ocean has a critical role to play in the future of climate change. There has been a rise in the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, as well as rising temperatures.  Rising CO2 leads to increasing ocean acidification.  These factors affect where creatures live in the ocean, affects their shells and skeletal production, and can lead to breakage of organisms whose skeletons build habitats for others.  The result is loss of biodiversity.  Slides available

Professor Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University
Professor Daniela Schmidt, Bristol University

Audience members put forward a series of questions.

A point was made about the damage caused by aquaculture. Dr Kaiser accepted there were problems and that regulations were now in place, but not in all parts of the world.  The answer was in better management systems and responsible consumption.

A question was asked about climate change and adaptation. Professor Schmidt agreed that adaptation might work but the challenge lay in multiple stressors and the speed of change.

Toxicity of seaweed was raised. Dr Duinker emphasised that there were no toxic seaweeds in Europe, with Professor Thomas adding that clean shores were also vital.

A further question came about the medical potential of seaweed. The reply was positive, as seaweed was used in wound dressings and heartburn remedies.  It might also be used for serious illness such as cancer in future.

The last question was about the sustainability of seaweed harvesting. Dr Duinker reassured that seaweed was plentiful and could also be cut in a way that it could be regenerated.

Panellists answer audience questions
Panellists answer audience questions