Noumea – In the ongoing battle against obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the Pacific region, a new study reveals that allocating sufficient tuna for local consumption and keeping it affordable could significantly improve health outcomes.
Pacific Island communities have the highest rates of obesity and diabetes in the world, primarily because traditional foods such as root crops, fish and shellfish are being replaced by relatively cheap, energy-dense and nutritionally-poor imported foods.
Increased consumption of fish and shellfish, which are rich in protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, is seen as an important part of the solution.
The study, published in the journal, Marine Policy, found that by 2020, people in the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories will need 268,000 tonnes of fish per annum for food security, increasing to 344,000 tonnes by 2035. Current total fish consumption is around 210,000 tonnes per annum, and most of this fish is caught from coral reefs.
However, coastal fisheries based on coral reefs in many Pacific Island countries and territories do not have the capacity to produce more fish. In fact, there will be fewer reef fish per person as human populations increase.
“A gap is emerging between how much fish can be harvested sustainably from well-managed reefs and the quantity of fish recommended for good nutrition,” the Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Fisheries Aquaculture and Marine Ecosystems Division, Moses Amos, said.
“The gap will increase dramatically in some countries in the years ahead. This study shows how the rich tuna resources of the region can be used to fill the gap and supply the fish needed for healthy diets.
“Pacific Island countries and territories derive significant benefits from tuna in terms of government revenue and in the way fishing fleets and canneries contribute to their GDP. We now need to diversify the benefits by taking steps to allocate a suitable portion of the tuna catch to feed our people,” Mr Amos said.
The study argues that the goal of making more tuna available for local food security should be included in regional and national tuna management plans to ensure sufficient quantities are allocated.
It found that relatively small percentages of the average tuna catch from the exclusive economic zones of Pacific Island countries are expected to be needed for food security – about two per cent in 2020, rising to six per cent by 2035. Less than one per cent of the average tuna catch is estimated to be used currently for local consumption.