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November 2017

Food from the oceans

The only way to obtain significantly more food and biomass sustainably from the ocean is to harvest seafood that on average is from a lower trophic level than we currently harvest.

In our extraction of food from the oceans, ‘business as usual’ is not sustainable from social, economic and environmental viewpoints.

The oceans are home to a large number of resources that are either not exploited or are marginally exploited currently and which could improve food security and the wellbeing of humanity. Increased food production from the ocean could release some of the pressure that has been put on agriculture, as well as supporting a range of livelihoods and activities associated with the fishing and mariculture industries.

Key options for how to obtain more food and biomass from the ocean:

  • Tackling waste and discards. It is quite common that around one quarter of the catch constitutes unwanted species or undersized fish, termed ‘bycatch’. Part of the bycatch is landed and used, but the unused fraction is thrown back into the ocean (often dead or dying) as discards. This practice is a wasted opportunity for biomass and food production as the potential for utilisation of discard and other waste is significant.
  • Harvesting wild animal species at lower trophic levels, which today are either not exploited at all, or only marginally. Plankton, zooplankton and wild macroalgae could be used as as a food source for mankind.
  • Developing aquaculture, and especially supporting the mariculture of macroalgae, marine herbivores, such as bivalves and marine carnivores and introducing multi-trophic aquaculture which integrates the production of species from different tropic levels.
  • Providing trustworthy consumer information on industrial fishing and mariculture.
  • Cultivating new approaches to social responsibility, which focus on open innovation, co-production of knowledge and social responsibility on multiple levels.
  • Introducing financial strategies that promote sustainable fishing.

Scientific advice

Requested by

Delivery date

29 November 2017

Supports EU mission

Restore our ocean and waters

Supports UN sustainable development goals

Zero hunger
Life below water

The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors responds to the request for advice from the European Commission.

Their policy recommendations are based on the best available scientific evidence.

Food from the Oceans scientific opinion cover
Bibliographic information
Cite as
European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Group of Chief Scientific Advisors (2017). Food from the oceans – How can more food and biomass be obtained from the oceans in a way that does not deprive future generations of their benefits?
The Scientific Opinion is written jointly by the Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. Former Advisors (‘alumni’) may also contribute.
Portrait of Janusz Bujnicki

Janusz Bujnicki

Portrait of Pearl Dykstra

Pearl Dykstra

Portrait of Elvira Fortunato

Elvira Fortunato

Portrait of Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Portrait of Carina Keskitalo

Carina Keskitalo

Portrait of Paul Nurse

Paul Nurse



26 September 2019
Prime ministers cite SAPEA’s “Food from the Oceans” in oceans and climate change report
A high-level group of prime ministers and presidents from around the world has cited the SAPEA “Food from the Oceans” report in their own proposals for how to mitigate climate change.
20 June 2017
New topic: Food from the Ocean
SAPEA is playing a major role in providing timely, independent and evidence-based expertise on the topic of food from the oceans within the Scientific Advice Mechanism.


7 May 2019
Seafood Expo Global
In-person event
The recent work on food from the oceans by the European Group of Chief Scientific Advisors and SAPEA was discussed at the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels, Belgium on 25 April 2018.
28 February 2019
Cardiff Science Festival
In-person event
SAPEA participated in the Cardiff Science Festival 2019 to promote the Food from the Oceans reports’ key messages to the general public.
24 September to 
27 September 2018
ICES annual conference
In-person event
SAPEA presented the findings of its Evidence Review Report on Food from the Oceans at the annual conference of the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas in Hamburg.
23 May 2018
Food from the oceans (Portugal)
In-person event
The Lisbon Academy of Sciences is organising an event to discuss the food from the oceans.
4 April 2018
Royal Irish Academy breakfast briefing
In-person event
The Breakfast Briefing will highlight some of the important discussion points from the report that are of particular interest to Ireland.
5 October 2017
Wissenschaftsjahr 2016–2017
In-person event
How can we make use of the seas in a sustainable manner? How can a sustainable legal and political fisheries framework be applied globally?
Uncle SAM

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