A new study by a team of researchers from Ashoka University, InSeason Fish and Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning (FERAL), has found that urban seafood consumers in India are important contributors to unsustainable seafood trade. The main reason for this according to the study is that urban seafood consumers, which is the main market paying high prices for seafood in India reject diverse options and choose only few select seafood options. Urban seafood consumption focuses on only 6 species groups on average through the year despite marine fisheries in India producing highly diverse and seasonal seafood catch consisting of at least 200 edible species. Due to this mismatch between seafood harvest and consumption, sustainable fishing in India is being eroded.
In such circumstances, the researchers suggest that fisheries in India can be sustained only if all parts of the seafood supply chain are supportive. To ensure this, they suggest a novel, holistic approach, called the seafood commons, where fishers, traders and seafood eaters work together to support sustainable fisheries. According to the study, creating more seafood commons could be the best way to achieve lasting seafood sustainability in India. In terms of policy, researchers recommend that regulations move beyond those on fishing, and encompass the entire supply chain. The researchers believe building a community interested in creating larger structural change in seafood supplies is the need of the hour, particularly with respect to transparency and visibility of people at both ends of the supply chain.
The findings of the study have key implications for how fisheries and seafood sustainability policies should be implemented in India which is now the third largest harvester of marine captured seafood in the world, following China and Indonesia. Further, India’s fisheries are also highly integrated into globalised seafood supplies. It is critical to develop a form of management that can work in India because its marine fishing resources have begun showing symptoms of decline.
Funded by the Wipro Foundation through the Wipro Sustainability Seeding Fellowship, the study was conducted among seafood eaters in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Chennai. The research was initiated by gathering evidence from semi-structured interviews with 40 key informants which included 10 informants from each of the four cities. This was followed by a survey of 531 seafood eaters from the 4 cities. Data on seafood restaurants was collected independently of survey data using an online database of restaurant and food services.
Dr. Divya Karnad, lead author of the study and Assistant Professor at Ashoka University, says, “Seafood is a common ingredient in many people’s diet, but it is also the last wild food regularly eaten in the civilised world. As a result, most people don’t think of seafood as wildlife, which has deep consequences for sustainable fisheries. Managing fisheries alone is not resulting in global seafood sustainability. Instead globalised seafood supplies allow for some places to have sustainable fisheries at the cost of others, which have to make up the deficit. The only way forward is to bring the demand for seafood in sync with sustainable seafood supplies”.
According to the study, on average respondents ate 6 species and were willing to try 2.5 additional species. Further, a few respondents’ (4.52%) identified that there were<10 edible species, 25.42% identified between 51 and 100 species and 17.51% mentioned there were more than 200. According to researchers, the lack of knowledge about species diversity limits the choices that a seafood eater will make. The study suggests that awareness and education might be the first step towards encouraging seafood eaters to utilise the diversity of seafood available.
Dr. Chaitanya Krishna, co-author of the study says, “In addition to other fisheries governance and trade regulation mechanisms, the paper outlines the role that seafood consumers can play in our collective quest for ocean health and sustainable seas”.
Dhruv Gangadharan, a co-author of the study adds, “We all eat seafood, and have a lot in common. Our kitchens are connected to the oceans. To eat sustainable seafood, we need to support our local fish markets, learn from fishers, listen to their stories and come together as a community”.