We all know that a warming ocean is going to have an impact on fisheries in a place like Maine.

Cold-water species like lobster are probably going to follow the cod and grow increasingly scarce in the Gulf of Maine.

Research in places where the water is already warm may give us a picture of what to come, and not all the news is bad.

The World Food Prize, an annual award given each year to honor individuals who have contributed to global food supplies, went to Shakuntala Thilsted, a researcher whose work has been focused in the poorest parts of Asia. Thilsted has made important discoveries about how a diet rich in fish is a healthy way to make the world more food secure.

And it’s not just any fish diets that she has studied, but the consumption of small fish like anchovies, sardines and herring, which she has discovered to be nutritional superfoods that fight the diseases that come with malnutrition, including stunted growth and cognitive delays in children. They are also cheap and can be harvested sustainably, even grown in backyard ponds.

Thilsted’s work shows that fish are more than just a protein source. They are also rich in vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids that are especially important for pregnant women and young children.

Thanks to her research, said U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement for the World Food Prize, “millions of low-income families across many countries … are eating small fish regularly, dried and fresh, in everything from chutneys to porridge, giving kids and breastfeeding mothers key nutrients that will protect children for a lifetime.”

Because they have a short life span, small fish don’t concentrate as many heavy metals like mercury in their flesh as larger species, making a small-fish-based diet safer.

How might Maine’s seafood industry adapt to a world demanding small fish?

It’s hard to imagine, when swordfish, tuna and cod still compete for popularity with lobster on fish market shelves and restaurant menus.

But we are not far removed from an era when broiled smelts or pickled alewives were a common feature on Maine dinner tables. And historians tell us that the highly prized lobster was once considered only suitable for fertilizer or free food for the poor.

The climate is changing, so there is no reason that people’s tastes won’t change as well. And, in the face of so much uncertainty, it’s good for people who live on the coast to know that the sea will continue to feed the world.


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