Every two years my former employer FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the Unites Nations) publishes its report over the status of fisheries and aquaculture worldwide. Is the best source of information available on the topic, here are some of it key findings.
According to the latest edition of FAO’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, global fisheries and aquaculture production totalled 158 million tonnes in 2012 - around 10 million tonnes more than 2010.
The rapid expansion of aquaculture, including the activities of small-scale farmers, is driving this growth in production.
At the same time per capita fish consumption has soared from 10 kg in the 1960s to more than 19 kg in 2012.
The new report also says fish now accounts for almost 17 percent of the global population’s intake of protein -- in some coastal and island countries it can top 70 percent.
FAO estimates that fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of 10–12 percent of the world’s population.
Since 1990 employment in the sector has grown at a faster rate than the world’s population and in 2012 provided jobs for some 60 million people engaged in capture fisheries and aquaculture. Of these, 84 percent were employed in Asia, followed by Africa with about 10 percent.
Fish remains among the most traded food commodities worldwide, worth almost $130 billion in 2012 – a figure which likely will continue to increase.
An important trend sees developing countries boosting their share in the fishery trade – 54 percent of total fishery exports by value in 2012 and more than 60 percent by quantity (live weight).
This means fisheries and fish farming are playing an increasingly critical role for many local economies. Some 90 percent of fishers are small scale and it is estimated that, overall, 15 percent are women. In secondary activities such as processing, this figure can be as high as 90 percent.
Global marine capture fishery production was stable at about 80 million tonnes in 2012, the new report indicates.
Currently, under 30 percent of the wild fish stocks regularly monitored by FAO are overfished – a reversal in trend observed during the past few years, a positive sign in the right direction.
Just over 70 percent are being fished within biologically sustainable levels. Of these, fully fished stocks – meaning those at or very close to their maximum sustainable production – account for over 60 percent and underfished stocks about 10 percent.
Global aquaculture production marked a record high of more than 90 million tonnes in 2012, including almost 24 million tonnes of aquatic plants. China accounted for over 60 percent of the total share.
Aquaculture’s expansion helps improve the diets of many people, especially in poor rural areas where the presence of essential nutrients in food is often scarce.
However, the report warns that to continue to grow sustainably, aquaculture needs to become less dependent on wild fish for feeds and introduce greater diversity in farmed culture species and practices.
The report also notes that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains a major threat to marine ecosystems and also impacts negatively on livelihoods, local economies and food supplies.
Food chain traceability is increasingly a requirement in major fish markets, especially in the wake of recent scandals involving the mislabelling of food products. FAO provides technical guidelines on certification and ecolabelling which can help producers demonstrate that fish has been caught legally from a sustainably managed fishery or produced in properly run aquaculture facility.