One of the things I focus on in my role as a climate scientist is understanding the effects of climate change on marine fish populations, as well as better fisheries management practices to ensure the continued supply of seafood to millions of people and the livelihoods of millions around the world . Crucially, the world faces the challenge of improving access to healthy food for a population that is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. This summer as people around the world head to beaches and coastlines to relax and enjoy themselves, it is valuable to remember the important role the oceans play in supporting human nutrition.

Aquatic foods offer an opportunity to increase the availability of nutritious foods if they are sustainably caught or farmed. However, fish is largely absent from major discussions and decision-making on global food policy. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2, Zero Hunger, neither mentions fishing nor aquaculture by name, nor does it offer any guidance on fish production systems. Fish are also underrepresented in development finance, such as the World Bank.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the number of undernourished people worldwide will rise from 678 million in 2018 to 841 million in 2030 if current trends continue – an estimate that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic does not taken into account. Fish provides 17% of the world’s animal protein consumed and is rich in micronutrients, essential fatty acids, and proteins that are essential for cognitive development and maternal and child health, especially for communities in developing countries where fish may be the only source of essentials Nutrients is. It is time to look at fish from a food system perspective and broaden the discussion about food security and justice – especially in the face of climate change.

Global decision-makers and donors can promote innovative strategies and support the role of fish in global food and nutrition security. That’s why my colleagues and I from the Environmental Defense Fund, along with other partners, are advocating the issue in the run-up to the United Nations Food System Summit, which explores bold new measures to make progress on all of the SDGs. The summit, which takes place this September, will make the world aware that we must work together to change the way we produce, consume and think about food – and we need to make sure aquatic foods are part of that discussion are.

ON to learn I helped identify four pillars of action to define fish as food:

Improve the metrics. At present there are only a few metrics that can be used to assess the current contribution of fish to food and nutrition security. Governments and researchers need to work together to develop better tools to track and improve the profile of fish in broader food security policies and investment priorities.

Promotion of nutrition-sensitive fish feed systems. We need to broaden our focus from rebuilding and conserving fish stocks to the sustainable management of nutrient-rich fisheries.

Control distribution for greater transparency and equity. Availability, access and stability are key features of food and nutrition security. While fish is one of the most traded foods in the world, little information is available about its distribution and links to food security. We must promote a fair distribution of capital and property rights for access to fisheries, especially recognizing the importance of small-scale fisheries and the role women play in fisheries and aquaculture.

Positioning fish in a food system framework. Policy makers need the tools to conceptualize fisheries and aquaculture as part of our food system. A “fish for food” framework requires a better understanding of the relationships between fish production and distribution, terrestrial agriculture and planetary health.

For many, aquatic foods are already a valuable source of nutrition and livelihood. These steps will help position sustainable fisheries and aquaculture to feed the world and alleviate malnutrition. Including a nutritional lens in demonstrating the multiple benefits of sustainable fisheries production can promote healthy populations, healthy newborns and optimal cognitive development in children. While we are enjoying the benefits of the ocean this summer, it is time to also recognize that aquatic foods are an essential part in ending hunger and malnutrition for billions of people around the world.