Hunger is the world's leading health risk, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. It kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. But despite our advances in medicine, food production and technology, 925 million people still do not have enough to eat. Of this 925 million, at least 420 million live in major fishing countries.
With a growing population and an onslaught of new planetary pressures expected to limit terrestrial food production, the conversation about how we're going to feed a hungry planet should include the oceans. We need to produce 70 percent more food to meet the coming hunger needs, with meat production alone increasing from 270 million metric tons in 2009 to 470 million metric tons in 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The oceans will provide us an opportunity to meet that demand in a way that's eternally renewable, but only if we start taking the appropriate steps right now.
Restoring the health of the oceans through a few basic principles in targeted areas around the world will benefit marine ecosystems and allow us to responsibly feed 700 million people every day, up from 450 million people at current levels.
The places we need to focus on are fortunately located in waters controlled by just a few nations, which means policies implemented on a country-by-country basis can help protect the majority of the world's marine fish. In fact, 75% of global marine wild fish catch is caught in waters controlled by only 25 countries. Much of these waters are currently being ransacked by irresponsible fishing, but can be protected by policies that combine to stop overfishing, protect nurseries and limit bycatch.
Asia and the Pacific region are home to nearly two thirds of the world's hungry people, as reported by the World Food Programme. As it happens, China, Indonesia, India and Japan all fall in the top 10 countries that control 53% of global marine fish catch. These are some of the very countries that will benefit most from having healthier oceans and, ultimately, more wild fish. Restoring fish stocks back to (or above) historical levels in these countries creates a huge opportunity to feed their hungry citizens with the fish found right off their coasts. Artisanal fishermen in some of the hungriest coastal countries will once again be able to rely on the oceans to feed themselves and their families like those who came before them generations ago. And the more fish in the water, the more readily available they'll be to anyone with a hook or a net.
Wild fish not only has the potential to feed hundreds of millions of people a day, but it can do so in a healthy, cost-effective way. Besides being healthier (switching from red meat to fish can lower heart disease by 24%) it costs significantly less per metric ton than aquaculture fish, poultry, pork, beef, and lamb. It really is the perfect protein for hungry, money strapped individuals all around the world.
What we have here is an opportunity to make a tangible difference in the battle against global hunger while restoring the health and bounty of the world's oceans. What a rare opportunity to benefit both man and ocean all at the same time.