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A New Priority for Seafood Policy: Advancing Public Health

Study Identifies Opportunities for Aligning Policies on Fisheries & Healthy Diets

Jun 05, 2017

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Policies on fisheries management, aquaculture, and public health have important implications for seafood consumption in the United States, but coordination among these spheres is uneven, according to a new study published in the journal Agriculture and Food Security. Better integrating these policies could help support sustainable domestic seafood production and improve Americans’ access to healthy seafood.

The new study is the result of a yearlong collaboration by a team of researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF), the Bloomberg School of Public Health's Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, and the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries). The multidisciplinary research team brought unique perspectives from health and fisheries sciences to the study’s policy analyses, case studies, and recommendations.

“We need both healthy diets and healthy fish stocks, but policymaking in these fields is often motivated by different incentives and assumptions,” said study co-author Dave Love, associate scientist in CLF’s Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project. “Our core motivation for conducting this study was an interest in acknowledging the siloes we observed, and creating a roadmap for future collaboration and policy innovation.”

US health policies related to seafood focus primarily on promoting healthy diets, food access, and food safety. Researchers found that although these policies have important implications for seafood production, federal health policies do not actively support sustainable domestic fisheries and aquaculture. For instance, while health policies such as the US Dietary Guidelines indicate the need for Americans to consume more fish, little consideration is given to sustainability, the source of the fish, or fostering connections between consumers and US seafood production.

At the same time, fisheries and aquaculture policies can miss opportunities to support health policies. For instance, fisheries regulations generally focus on rebuilding overfished stocks and ensuring that overfishing is not occurring, but do not consider what happens to fish after it is landed or how regulatory actions might affect nutrition or food systems. There is also a general disconnect between fisheries and consumers, to the extent that the average citizen does not always know where their seafood comes from.

Despite these challenges, the research team also identified several examples of collaboration between health and fisheries communities at different levels of the food system. Some states have implemented “Fish to School” programs in school districts, and more opportunities for bulk purchasing of sustainably caught or raised seafood exist in nutrition assistance programs and institutional food buying programs.

The study recommends more collaboration among federal agencies; leveraging federal agency purchasing power to support sustainably harvested and farmed seafood; targeting federal investments in local fisheries; shifting assumptions about fisheries management; and the inclusion of health-oriented groups into Fishery Management Councils. Institutions including seafood-related businesses, hospitals, state government agencies, NGOs, and universities can also play a role in better weaving together fisheries, aquaculture, and health priorities.

“Fisheries policy is really a component of our regional and national food policy,” said study co-author Patricia Pinto da Silva, social scientist for NOAA Fisheries’ Northeast Fisheries Science Center. Translating that into management, while challenging, will help us derive the most benefits from our marine ecosystems in terms of human health and well-being.”

Fisheries, Food, and Health in the United States: The Importance of Aligning Fisheries and Health Policies” was written by David C. Love, Patricia Pinto da Silva, Julia Olson, Jillian P. Fry, and Patricia M. Clay, and published in the Agriculture and Food Security Journal on June 1, 2017.