Knowledge for better food systems

Comment: Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy

This commentary article sets out five priorities for developing the so-called “blue economy” (i.e. ocean-based activities such as fishing, aquaculture, tourism, seabed mining and shipping) in a way that is both environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. The article notes that human activities are already negatively affecting ocean ecosystems and that future economic development of the oceans may have further, sometimes poorly understood, impacts on both the environment and people.

The five priorities are:

  • Prioritise sustainability and equity in international agreements on the oceans and ocean development. Ideally, the paper suggests, the United Nations should set up an agency to develop best practices and establish international guidelines for the blue economy.
  • National governments should address gaps that exist in their current marine governance frameworks.
  • National governments should require treat local populations to be treated fairly and for wealth generated in the blue economy to be shared. For example, Indigenous populations should be able to access fisheries; ownership of businesses by local communities should be encouraged, e.g. through credit schemes; and labour and human rights should be respected.
  • As illustrated in the figure below, social equity and sustainability in the blue economy should be encouraged by including many different stakeholders, such as NGOs, scientists and marginalised groups, in decision-making processes.

  • Interdisciplinary ocean science should be both invested in and used to inform blue economy policymaking.



The global rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and human wellbeing. Bold policies and actions are urgently needed. We identify five priorities to chart a course towards an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable blue economy.



Bennett, N. J., Cisneros-Montemayor, A. M., Blythe, J., Silver, J. J., Singh, G., Andrews, N., Calò, A., Christie, P., Di Franco, A., Finkbeiner, E. M., Gelcich, S., Guidetti, P., Harper, S., Hotte, N., Kittinger, J. N., Le Billon, P., Lister, J., López de la Lama, R., McKinley, E., Scholtens, J., Solås, A.-M., Sowman, M., Talloni-Álvarez, N., Teh, L. C. L., Voyer, M. and Sumaila, U. R. (2019). Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy, Nature Sustainability, Published online.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource resource How do food systems affect fish stocks and marine habitats?

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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