Sea Food:  How do fisheries and aquaculture support human nutrition and health?

Since the global food price shocks of 2007-8 addressing food security has returned to the top of the international development agenda. Increased awareness of the ‘hidden hunger’ of micronutrient deficiencies and the importance of fish as a source of essential micronutrients have combined to make fisheries and aquaculture a key area of consideration for public health policy.  Environmental and ethical concerns for the way we harvest produce, distribute and consume our food are also reflected in a proliferation of consumer guidelines and seafood labeling schemes. 

The broad research questions our group is pursing under this theme are:

  1. How do fisheries and aquaculture contribute to food and nutrition security?  Which fish are most nutritious and who gets to eat them? 
  2. How do different fisheries governance regimes affect food and nutrition security?
  3. What are the environmental costs of producing and consuming fish and shellfish?  Should you eat fish? Which ones?
  4. What ethical concerns are raised by fish consumption choices (e.g. fair trade)?  Do seafood certification schemes include these concerns? 



1. Fisheries & Food Security

Supported by grants from the Wellcome Trust and SESYNC this large collaboration bridges the fields o f nutritional epidemiology, fisheries science, conservation biology, global change science and resource economics to quantify, for the first time, the importance of fisheries for different populations around the world. Our three primary objectives are:

  1. Characterize global dietary intake of seafood and model the vulnerability of different populations to particular micronutrient deficiencies based on these intake patterns;
  2. Conduct scenario analyses, examining how different environmental changes might affect different fisheries and how those changes would alter nutrient intakes and risk of deficiencies for different populations; and
  3. Evaluate the effectiveness of policy tools of different marine management approaches in optimizing fisheries and human health (marine conservation, improved fishery quota systems, etc.).

To achieve these aims we are modeling shifts in diets based on changes in access to fisheries, estimating per capita changes in fish consumption and calculating changes in the prevalence of risk for a number of micronutrient deficiencies. Using this modeling approach, we can estimate shifts in burdens of disease for particular populations associated with either increased or decreased access to seafood in the diet. Emerging from this effort will be an analytic framework and architecture that will allow decision-makers to calculate the health implications of different marine management strategies at a variety of scales from local to global.

Team members include those below (along with many others!):


2. US West Coast Fisheries and population health

With funding from UW’s Population Health Initiative, this project aims to explore the potential for underutilized U.S. West Coast fisheries to support human health and nutrition. Oily fishes, such as mackerel, herring and sardines, contain high levels of heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids that are unique to marine species, but are not targeted by West Coast fisheries due to  consumer taste preferences and economic incentives to catch a few popular species, like halibut and rockfish. While the smaller, more "fishy" tasting fish are generally turned into fish meal for animal and aquaculture feed or discarded as bycatch, they could provide an inexpensive source of valuable nutrients.

The aims of our project are to: 

  1. Determine West Coast fisheries’ potential to support population health in local coastal communities; 
  2. Identify current barriers that prevent nutritious, underused fish from reaching people who need them; and
  3. Explore possible pathways to connect fisheries with communities, such as delivery of bycatch to schools and meal programs from community-supported fisheries.

Led by Dr. Allison and PhD student Zach Koehn, other team members include:


Current Student projects

Zach Koehn (PhD, SAFS) – Nutritional value of fisheries

Kathleen Mifflin (MSc, Dalhousie University) – Food waste in the fisheries sector.  (Committee Chair: Peter Tyedmers)

Brittany Flittner, Kadie McShirley, Henry Peterson, and Emily Rhoades (MMA Capstone, SMEA) –  Mapping Seattle’s sustainable seafood landscape

Thao Huynh (MMA, SMEA) – Effects of high temperature on sablefish reproduction and implications for net-pen aquaculture

Lily Zhao (MMA, SMEA) –  Tracking the trade of octopus across East Africa and onto the global market


Former Student Projects

John Cheney (MMA, SMEA) – Health risks of oyster consumption in Washington State

Raye Evrard (MMA, SMEA) –   The carbon footprint of shellfish aquaculture

Hannah Russell (MMA, SMEA) – Changing role of fish in nutrition, Ghana

Teressa Pucylowski (MMA, SMEA) – Life cycle analysis of oyster farming in the PNW


Selected publications

Cinner, J. E., Adger, W. N., Allison, E. H., Barnes, M. L., Brown, K., Cohen, P. J., … Morrison, T. H. (2018). Building adaptive capacity to climate change in tropical coastal communities. Nature Climate Change, 8(2), 117–123.

Golden, C. D., Seto, K. L., Dey, M. M., Chen, O. L., Gephart, J. A., Myers, S. S., ... & Allison, E. H. (2017). Does Aquaculture Support the Needs of Nutritionally Vulnerable Nations?. Frontiers in Marine Science 4, #159.

Golden, C.D., Allison, E.H., Cheung, W.W.L., Dey, M.M., Halpern, B.S., McCauley, D.J., Smith, M. and Vaitla, B. (2016). Nutrition: Fall in fish catch threatens human health. Nature, 534, 317–320. 

Thilsted, S.H., Thorne-Lyman, A., Webb, P., Bogard, J.R., Subasinghe, R., Phillips, M.J. and Allison, E.H., 2016. Sustaining healthy diets: The role of capture fisheries and aquaculture for improving nutrition in the post-2015 era. Food Policy61, pp.126-131.

Bell, J.D., V. Allain, E.H. Allison, S. Andréfouët, N.L. Andrew, M.J. Batty, M. Blanc, J.M. Dambacher, J. Hampton, Q. Hanich, et al. (2015). Diversifying the use of tuna to improve food security and public health in Pacific Island countries and territories. Marine Policy, 51: 584-591

McClanahan, T.,  E.H. Allison and J.E. Cinner (2015). Managing fisheries for human and food securityFish and Fisheries, 16(1): 78-103. 

Hall, S.J., R. Hilborn, N.L. Andrew and E.H. Allison (2013). Innovations in capture fisheries are an imperative for nutrition security in the developing world.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 110(21): 8393-8398

Hughes, S., Yau, A. Max, L., Petrovic, N., Davenport, F., Marshall, M, McClanahan, T.J., Allison, E.H. and Cinner, J. (2012). A framework to assess national level vulnerability from the perspective of food security: the case of coral reef fisheries.  Environmental Science & Policy 23: 95-108.

Allison, E.H. (2011). Fisheries, aquaculture, poverty and food security. WorldFish Center Working Papers 2011-65, Penang, Malaysia.

Béné, C., M. Phillips and E.H. Allison (2011). The forgotten service: Food as an ecosystem service from estuarine and coastal zones. In: Wolanski E. and McLusky D.S. (eds) Treatise on Estuarine and Coastal Science, Vol 12, Waltham, MA: Academic Press, 147-180.


Photo: Atlantic and sockeye salmon by Jack Cheney.