The state and sustainability of Fisheries and Aquaculture

1. What is the future sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture?

    In 2015, the United Nations member states put together 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)1 an ambitious and comprehensive agenda for 2030 for a just and sustainable world, free of fear and violence, where no one is left behind. These goals are interlinked and call for integrated and wide raging approaches covering environmental protection, food security, gender equality, and many other topics that are linked in one way or another to the fisheries and aquaculture sector., and It is the Sustainability Goal 14 that, with its indicators, is the most directly relevant to fisheries and aquaculture: "Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development".

    For fisheries and aquaculture towards food security and nutrition, the 2030 Agenda sets aims for the contribution and conduct of, the sector’s use of natural resources within the context of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 1995). in a way that ensures sustainable development in economic, social and environmental terms.

    A major challenge in this context is the sustainability disparity between developed and developing countries which has partially resulted from increased economic interdependencies, coupled with limited management and governance capacity in developing countries. For example, stock assessment is not properly carried out in many developing countries, and assessed stocks represent only about 25 % of world catches. The global community needs thus to support developing nations to achieve their full fisheries and aquaculture potential to eliminate this disparity while making progress in particular towards the target for restoration of overfished stocks. Important achievements in the fight against illegal practices related to fisheries include the development and adoption of international guidelines to improve flag States’ compliance with their duties and to promote the use of catch documentation schemes. Port States for example have a significant role in the implementation of the CDS guidelines, with their capacity to deny access to the supply chain for catches derived from illegal practices.

    However, the fisheries sector is also highly relevant to nine other SDGs including Goal 1: Eradication of poverty, Goal 2: Zero hunger, Goal 3: Good health and well-being, Goal 5: Gender equality, Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation, Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth, Goal 12: Responsible consumption and production, Goal 13: Climate action, Goal 15: Life on land.

    In addition to the "Because the Ocean" declaration launched at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) on climate changes, the Oceans Pathway Partnership was launched at COP 23 to support the inclusion of oceans in the official negotiations on climate has been signed by an increasing number of countries to move from awareness raising and advocacy to the implementation of concrete actions and initiatives around the world to enhance the key roles of oceans and aquatic systems in adaptation and mitigation related to climate change.

    Regarding biodiversity, its erosion would not only affect the structure and function of ecosystems, but would also impair the potential for such systems to adapt to new challenges such as population growth and climate change. Since the 1992 adoption of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), considerations in relation to management of fisheries and aquaculture have been focused on policies and actions for the conservation of threatened species and vulnerable habitats. New initiatives incorporating more proactive management rules for species and habitats of particular conservation concern, increasingly in close collaboration with environment-sector interests. The twenty-seventh session of the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) in 2007 broadly agreed that an ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) was the appropriate and necessary framework for fisheries management and highlighted the need for aquatic production to follow an ecosystem approach to aquaculture. Both concepts imply the management of a resource sector in a way that is holistic and integrated and that accounts for all key factors affecting the entire ecosystem.

    Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), increasingly responding to recognized depletions of aquatic species, listed 20 commercially exploited fish species, while the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has listed 28, some of these listings coming with binding provisions that regulate trade.

    In July 2016, agencies issued a joint statement, "Regulating fisheries subsidies must be an integral part of the implementation of the 2030 sustainable development agenda"2, which emphasize the need to address harmful fisheries subsidies as specified in SDG target 14.6 and by 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies. Several initiatives are under way to improve and expand existing empirical information and to quantify the importance of the marine and inland small scale fisheries sector, including an update of the World Bank (2012) study Hidden harvest: the global contribution of capture fisheries.

    The Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) – which includes aquaculture and aquaponics – is also starting to be used to help develop the technical, policy and investment conditions needed to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change.


    2. How much fish is captured or produced?

      “Fish”, here, refers not only to fish, but also crustaceans, mollusks and other aquatic animals that fall under the “seafood” category but excludes aquatic mammals, reptiles, seaweeds and plants.

      Global fish production (by capture and aquaculture) has been steadily growing for the past decades, and peaked at about 171 million tons in 2016, with aquaculture representing now about 47 % of the total. The proportion of the production from aquaculture has grown greatly since the 1990s, when capture fisheries started to level off. Capture fisheries have not expanded in production since that time.

      World total marine catch decreased by almost 2 million tons in 2016 (79 million tons from 81 million tons in 2015) with capture fisheries in the world’s inland waters representing 12.8 % of total marine and inland catches.

      Almost 80 % of the inland fishery catch is made by sixteen countries, mostly in Asia, where inland catches provide a key food source for many local communities, also an important for several countries in Africa, which accounts for 25 % of these global inland catches. Concerning the major species groups in inland waters, the group “tilapias and other cichlids” has shown a continuous increase, reaching 1.6 million tons in 2016 and doubling the 2005 catches. Freshwater ecosystems, although they contain less than 1 % of all water, hold about 40 % of the world’s fish species.

      Aquaculture (a total of 598 “species items” dominated in volume by a small number of “staple” species or species groups at national, regional and global levels) continues to grow faster than other major food production sectors and although the average annual growth declined to 5.8 % during the period 2000–2016 as compared to the 1980s and 1990s, but double-digit growth still occurred from 2006 to 2010 in a small number of individual countries in Africa.

      Marine aquaculture , also known as ‘mariculture’, is practiced in the sea, in a marine water environment, while coastal aquaculture is practiced in completely or partially human-made structures in areas adjacent to the sea, such as coastal ponds and gated lagoons. The growth of farming of fed aquatic animal species has outpaced the farming of unfed species in world aquaculture, the share of unfed species in total aquatic animal production decreasing to 30 %.

      In 2016, global aquaculture production represented 80 million tons of food fish and 30 million tons of wild-collected and cultivated aquatic plants, as well as 37 900 tons of non-food products.

      The responsible use of veterinary medicines, including antimicrobials, has benefits in terms of improved on-farm biosecurity and husbandry (e.g. through the use of vaccines and disinfectants). Such medicines are useful in treating chronic diseases that cause reduced growth, low food conversion rate and poor survival, and in battling epizootic diseases that can cause mass mortalities. However, the imprudent use of antibiotics in aquaculture has led to issues concerning antimicrobial residues and antimicrobial resistance.

      3. How much fish is consumed?

        Fish and fish products have a crucial role in nutrition and global food security, as they represent a valuable source of nutrients and micronutrients of fundamental importance for diversified and healthy diets.

        Between 1961 and 2016, the average annual increase in global food fish consumption (3.2 %) outpaced population growth (1.6 %) and exceeded that of meat from all terrestrial animals combined (2.8 %). In per capita terms, food fish consumption grew from 9.0 kg in 1961 to 20.2 kg in 2015, at an average rate of about 1.5 % per year. In 2015, fish accounted for about 17 % of animal protein consumed by the global population providing about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 % of their average per capita intake of animal protein. Despite their relatively low levels of fish consumption, people in developing countries have a higher share of fish protein in their diets than those in developed countries.

        Fish and fish products are thus some of the most traded food items in the world today. Of the 171 million tons of total fish production in 2016, about 88 % were used for direct human consumption, a share that has increased significantly in recent decades. This expansion has been driven not only by increased production, but also by other factors, including reduced loss or wastage in fish processing and distribution practices, which anyway still accounts for an estimated 27 % of landed fish.

        As fish can spoil more rapidly than many other foods, post-harvest handling, processing, preservation, packaging, storage and transportation require particular care to maintain its quality and nutritional attributes and avoid waste and losses. Preservation and processing can reduce the rate of spoilage and thus allow fish to be distributed and marketed worldwide in a wide range of product forms destined for food or non-food uses.

        Live, fresh or chilled is often the most preferred and highly priced form of fish and represents the largest share of fish for direct human consumption (45 % in 2016), followed by frozen (31 %). The greatest part of the 12 % used for non-food purposes is as fishmeal and fish oil.

        In 2016, about 35 % of global fish production entered international trade in various forms for human consumption or non-edible purposes. China is the main fish producer and since 2002 has also been the largest exporter of fish and fish products, although the rapid growth of the 1990s and 2000s has subsequently slowed. After China, the major exporters in 2016 were Norway, Viet Nam and Thailand.

        4. What do fish products bring to human nutrition?

          Fish by-products can serve a wide range of purposes. Heads, frames and fillet cut-offs and skin can be used directly as food or processed into fish sausages, cakes, snacks (crispy snacks, nuggets, biscuits, pies), gelatin, sauces and other products for human consumption. The internal organs of fish are also an excellent source of specialized enzymes. A range of proteolytic fish enzymes are extracted, e.g. pepsin, trypsin, chymotrypsin, collagenases and lipases. Protease, for example, is a digestive enzyme used in the manufacture of cleaning products, in food processing and in biological research.

          Fish bones, in addition to being a source of collagen and gelatin, are also an excellent source of calcium and other minerals such as phosphorus, which can be used in food, feed or food supplements. Even small quantities of fish can provide essential amino acids, fats and micronutrients, such as iron, iodine, vitamin D and calcium, which are often lacking in vegetable-based diets.

          By-products are also used in the production of feed (not only in the form of fishmeal and fish oil), biodiesel and biogas, dietetic products (chitosan), pharmaceuticals (including oils), natural pigments, cosmetics and constituents in other industrial processes. Some by-products, in particular viscera, are highly perishable and should therefore be processed while still fresh as a source of potential value-added products such as bioactive peptides for use in food supplements and in biomedical and nutraceutical industries.

          Experts from FAO and WHO agree that the positive effects of high fish consumption largely outweigh the potential negative effects associated with contamination or other safety risks.

          5. What is the state of natural fishery resources?

            Marine fisheries have continued to decline in term of sustainability since the 1980s. The percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 to 33 % between 1974 and 2015, with the largest increases in the late 1970s and 1980s. In 2015, 60% of the total assessed stocks were fished at their maximum sustainable capacity and only 7 % of the stocks underfished.

            The persistence of overfished stocks is thus an area of great concern. The situation seems particularly acute for some highly migratory, straddling and other fishery resources that are fished solely or partially in the high seas.

            In 2015, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the Southeast Pacific and Southwest Atlantic had the highest percentages of the 16 assessed stocks fished at unsustainable levels, whereas the Eastern Central Pacific, Northeast Pacific, Northwest Pacific, Western Central Pacific and the Southwest Pacific had the lowest.

            Most notable is the continuously rising trend in catches in tropical areas and an estimated 43 % of the stocks of the principal tuna species were fished at biologically unsustainable levels in 2015. The Northeast Atlantic, after a peak of 13 million tonnes in 1976. had, with 9.1 million tonnes in 2015, 73 % of the assessed stocks within biologically sustainable levels in 2015. Fishing mortality has been reduced for cod, hake and haddock stocks, with recovery plans in place for the major stocks of these species. Some species remained overfished and the likely vulnerability deep-water species to overfishing is of concern.

            By contrast, in the Eastern Central Pacific, 87 % of the assessed fish stocks were fished at biologically sustainable levels in 2015, a slight improvement in comparison with 2013 and in Northeast Pacific, 86 % of the assessed stocks were fished within biologically sustainable levels.

            One of the targets (Target 14.4) of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) includes regulating in the shortest time feasible the harvesting, ending overfishing and restoring stocks to levels corresponding to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY). However, it seems unlikely that the world’s fisheries can rebuild in the very near future the 33 % of stocks that are currently overfished, because rebuilding requires time, usually two to three times the species’ life span. Despite this continuous increase of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels, progress has been made in some regions. For example, in the U.S., the proportion of stocks fished within biologically sustainable levels increased from 53 to 74 % between 2005 and 2016, and in Australia from 27 to 69 % between 2004 and 2015. The potential for inland fisheries to contribute to nutrition and livelihood resilience in vulnerable countries may not be fully recognized, particularly in relation to competing demands for the use of water.

            6. What is the situation of the fishing workers and their fleet?

              Official statistics indicate that in 2016 about 60 million people were engaged (on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis) in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture : about 20 million in aquaculture and 40 million in capture fisheries with 96 % of all aquaculture engagement in Asia followed by Africa (10 %) and Latin America and the Caribbean (4 %). It is estimated that nearly 14 % of these workers are women even if when both the primary and secondary sectors of aquaculture and fisheries were considered, the work force could be evenly divided between men and women.

              In the world in 2016, the total number of fishing vessels (from small undecked and non-motorized boats to large sophisticated industrial vessels), was estimated to be about 4.6 million, similar to that in 2014 with Asia, accounting for 75 % of the global fleet. About 86 % of the motorized fishing vessels in all regions are in the length overall (LOA) class of less than 12 m, the vast majority of which were undecked. , Of all fishing vessels, 61% are estimated to be engine-powered vessels (2.8 million), similar to the number for 2014. Only about 2% are 24 m and larger and the proportion of these large boats is highest in Oceania, Europe and North America.

              7. What is the state of reporting on fisheries?

                Preparation of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture relies heavily on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)’s fishery and aquaculture statistics, the only source of global fisheries and aquaculture statistics. Complete, accurate and timely national statistics are indeed critical for monitoring the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, for supporting policy development and implementation at the national, regional and international levels, and for measuring progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. The importance of country reporting of fisheries and aquaculture data to FAO, in accordance with the obligations of FAO membership, is highlighted and FAO continues to enhance countries’ capacity to collect these data.

                National reports are the main, although not the only, source of data used to maintain and update FAO’s capture fishery databases. Hence, the quality of these statistics depends in large measure on the accuracy and reliability of the data collected nationally and provided to FAO.

                These statistics are structured within different data collections: capture and aquaculture production, stocks status, fish commodities production and trade, fishers and fish farmers, fishing vessels, and apparent fish consumption. The data are then carefully and consistently collated, revised and validated, either directly (e.g. through food balance sheets) or indirectly (e.g. using consumption surveys). In the absence of national reporting – a concern noted in several sections of Part 1 of this publication – FAO may make estimates based on the best data available from other sources or through standard methodologies, or may simply repeat previous values, which diminishes the accuracy of the statistics.

                These statistics are then made available to external users through different formats and tools and the FAO has established a series of mechanisms to ensure that the best available information is submitted by countries according to international standards.

                8. What about the fish trade and commodities?

                  It is estimated that some 78 % of fish and fish products are exposed to international trade competition and supply and demand dynamics for many species are increasingly global in nature. Over 90 % of the quantity (in live weight equivalent) of trade in fish and fish products consisted of processed products (i.e. excluding live and fresh whole fish) in 2016, with frozen products representing the highest share.

                  The rapid rate of expansion of international trade in fish and fish products over recent decades has taken place in the context of a broader process of globalization, a large-scale transformation of the world economy driven by trade liberalization and technological advancements. Such globalization is mainly characterized by :

                  1. The widespread reduction and removal of trade barriers that inhibit the movement of goods, services, capital and labour;
                  2.  Increasing specialization, resulting in the geographic segmentation of economic activities;
                  3. Longer and more complex supply chains, enabled by new logistical technologies;  
                  4.  A proliferation of multinational corporations pursuing horizontal consolidation and vertical integration;
                  5. By a broadening of consumer tastes, concerns and expectations. 

                  A characterizing trend of global trade in fish and fish products over the past 40 years has been the significantly faster rate of growth in exports from developing countries compared with those from developed countries. However, some studies indicate that benefits are unevenly distributed along the value chain, with small-scale producers receiving proportionally smaller economic benefit than processors and retailers. In developing regions, rising incomes and the associated increase in fish consumption are also important factors behind the regionalization trend. As demand strengthens in neighboring countries, exports previously destined for developed markets are redirected to regional partners.

                  It appears also that large retail and food service chains, many operating in multiple countries, are imposing new requirements on their suppliers for consistency in quality, food safety, traceability and sustainability.

                  9. What are the most critical issues that are affecting the fisheries sector?

                    Globally, there are three most critical issues:

                    • Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: having control over the open oceans, especially over international waters, is a difficult task. In these areas, there are fishing vessels that are operating outside governmental jurisdiction. Despite international efforts in the last decade to address the problem, by addressing flag of convenience and port state issues, it remains a problem.
                    • Biodiversity: aquatic ecosystems are very diverse, and maintaining that diversity is vital to keeping ecosystems healthy and able to respond to change. It is important to establish and maintain protected areas, and to monitor the diversity, not just of fished species, but also of the species that are used in aquaculture.
                    • Climate change: the impact of ocean warming on fisheries and aquaculture is relatively straightforward: marine species are changing their distributions towards the poles, or towards deeper, colder waters. This can potentially affect whole ecosystems as species composition changes. The increase of CO2 in ocean waters increases acidity and can have an effect on organisms that have a calcium shell; since these species are often at the base of food webs, it could have a very disruptive effect on fisheries.

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