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6. How much fish is consumed worldwide?

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    Fish consumption 21

    Fish22 consumption has undergone major changes in the past four decades. World apparent per capita fish consumption has been increasing steadily, from an average of 9.9 kg in the 1960s to 11.5 kg in the 1970s, 12.5 kg in the 1980s, 14.4 kg in the 1990s and reaching 16.4 kg in 2005. However, this increase has not been uniform across regions. In the last three decades, per capita fish supply has remained almost static in SSA. In contrast, it has risen dramatically in East Asia (mainly in China) and in the Near East/North Africa region. China has accounted for most of the world growth; its estimated share of world fish production increased from 21 percent in 1994 to 35 percent in 2005, when Chinese per capita fish supply was about 26.1 kg. If China is excluded, per capita fish supply is about 14.0 kg, slightly higher than the average values of the mid-1990s, and lower than the maximum levels registered in the 1980s (14.6 kg). Preliminary estimates for 2006 indicate a slight increase in global per capita fish supply to about 16.7 kg.

    The global increase in fish consumption tallies with trends in food consumption in general. Per capita food consumption has been rising in the last few decades. Nutritional standards have shown positive long-term trends, with worldwide increases in the average global calorie supply per person and in the quantity of proteins per person. However, many countries continue to face food shortages and nutrient inadequacies, and major inequalities exist in access to food, mainly owing to very weak economic growth and rapid population expansion (Box 4). The majority of undernourished people in the world live in Asia and the Pacific, with the highest prevalence of undernourishment found in SSA.

    There are large variations across countries and regions of the world in the amount of total fish supply for human consumption, reflecting different eating habits and traditions, availability of fish and other foods, prices, socio-economic levels, and seasons (Figure 41). Per capita apparent fish consumption can vary from less than 1 kg per capita in one country to more than 100 kg in another. Differences are also evident within countries, with consumption usually higher in coastal areas.

    Of the 107 million tonnes available for human consumption in 2005 (Table 9), consumption was lowest in Africa (7.6 million tonnes, with 8.3 kg per capita), while Asia accounted for two-thirds of total consumption, of which 36.9 million tonnes were consumed outside China (13.9 kg per capita), with 33.6 million tonnes in China alone (26.1 kg per capita). The corresponding per capita consumption figures for Oceania, North America, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, and South America were 24.5, 24.1, 20.8, 9.5 and 8.4 kg, respectively.

    There are significant differences in fish consumption between the industrialized and the less-developed countries. In 2005, apparent fish consumption in industrialized countries reached 27.5 million tonnes (live weight equivalent), 14.2 million tonnes more than in 1961, for a growth in annual per capita consumption from 20.0 to 29.3 kg in the same period. The share of fish in total protein intake was 7.9 percent in 2005, back at the levels prevailing in the mid-1980s. The contribution of fish to total protein intake grew significantly in the period 1961–89 (between 6.5 and 8.6 percent), before gradually decreasing following the growth in consumption of other animal proteins. Since the early 1990s, the consumption of fish protein has remained relatively stable at about 8.2–8.6 g per capita per day, while the intake of other animal proteins has continued to grow.

    In 2005, the average per capita apparent fish supply in developing countries was 14.5 kg, and 13.8 kg in LIFDCs. If China is excluded, these data become 10.6 and 8.3 kg, respectively. Although consumption in LIFDCs excluding China has increased in the last four decades, and especially since the mid-1990s (+1.5 percent per year since 1995), the per capita fish intake is only half that of industrialized countries. Despite this relatively low level of fish consumption, the contribution of fish to total animal protein intake in 2005 was significant at about 20 percent. It may be higher than indicated by official statistics in view of the unrecorded contribution of subsistence fisheries. However, since 1975, when it peaked at 23.4 percent, this share has declined slightly notwithstanding the continued growth in fish protein consumption (from 2.0 to 2.5 g per capita per day in the period 1975–2005); this decline in relative share reflects the increased consumption of other animal proteins.

    It is estimated that fish contributes to at least 50 percent of total animal protein intake in some small island developing states, as well as in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea, French Guiana, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia and Sierra Leone (Figure 42). The contribution of fish proteins to total world animal protein supplies rose from 13.7 percent in 1961 to a peak of 16.0 percent in 1996, before declining to 15.3 percent in 2005. Corresponding figures for the world, excluding China, show an increase from 12.9 percent in 1961 to 15.4 percent in 1989, then declining slightly to 14.7 percent in 2005. Figures for 2005 indicate that fish provided about 7.6 percent of animal protein in North and Central America and more than 11 percent in Europe. In Africa, it supplied about 19 percent, in Asia nearly 21 percent, in the LIFDCs including China about 19 percent and in the LIFDCs excluding China 20 percent. Globally, fish provides more than 1.5 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein, and nearly 3.0 billion people with 15 percent of such protein. Figure 43 presents the contributions of major food groups to total protein supplies.

    Aquaculture production is playing an increasing role in satisfying demand for human consumption of fish and fishery products. In the past few years, major increases in the quantity of fish consumed have originated from aquaculture. The average contribution of aquaculture to per capita fish available for human consumption rose from 14 percent in 1986, to 30 percent in 1996 and to 47 percent in 2006, and it can be expected to reach 50 percent in the next few years. China is mainly responsible for this increase. In 2006, overall per capita fish supply from aquaculture was estimated at 7.8 kg, but it was 26.5 kg in China and only 3.3 kg for the world excluding China (Figure 44). However, the share of fish from aquaculture has increased steadily in the world excluding China, rising from 9 percent in 1986, to 15 percent in 1996 and 24 percent in 2006. Further growth in the availability of fish for human consumption is expected to come mainly from aquaculture. Aquaculture production has pushed the demand for and consumption of several freshwater species, such as tilapia and catfish (including Pangasius species) as well as for high-value species, such as shrimps, salmon and bivalves. Since the mid-1980s, these species have shifted from being primarily wild-caught to being primarily aquaculture-produced, with a decrease in their prices and a strong increase in their commercialization. Aquaculture has also had a major role in terms of food security in several developing countries, particularly in Asia, with significant production of some low-value freshwater species, which are mainly destined for domestic consumption.

    Fish consumption differs among countries, and within countries it differs among segments of society. These differences reflect inter alia consumer preferences, availability, product developments, prices and levels of disposable income. Demersal fish are among the main species preferred by consumers in Northern Europe and in North America, whereas cephalopods are mainly consumed in Mediterranean and Asian countries. The consumption of crustaceans, being high-priced commodities, is concentrated mainly in affluent economies. However, as a result of the increased production of shrimps and prawns from aquaculture and the consistent decrease in their price, per capita availability of crustaceans increased more than threefold, from 0.4 to 1.6 kg between 1961 and 2005. The same reasons hold for molluscs (excluding cephalopods), whose availability increased from 0.6 to 2.0 kg per capita. The other broader groups did not show dramatic changes in their share in average world consumption, with demersal and pelagic fish species stable at about 3.0 kg per capita. Of the 16.4 kg of fish per capita available for consumption in 2005, about 74 percent came from finfish. Shellfish supplied 26 percent (or about 4.1 kg per capita), subdivided into 1.6 kg of crustaceans, 0.5 kg of cephalopods and 2.0 kg of other molluscs. Freshwater and diadromous species accounted for about 32 million tonnes of the total supply (about 4.9 kg per capita). Marine finfish species provided more than 47 million tonnes, of which 20.0 million tonnes were demersal fish, 19.9 million tonnes were pelagic species and 7.6 million tonnes were unidentified marine fish. The remaining share of the total food supply consisted of shellfish, of which 10.5 million tonnes were crustaceans, 3.5 million tonnes cephalopods and 12.9 million tonnes other molluscs.

    Significant changes in fish and overall food consumption have taken place in both developed and developing countries. In developed countries, where incomes are generally high and basic dietary needs have long been more than satisfied, leading consumers often look for more variety in their diets. At the same time, the average consumer, particularly in European countries, Japan and the United States of America, is increasingly requiring high standards on different fronts, such as food safety, freshness, diversity and convenience. Furthermore, consumption in these countries will be increasingly determined by quality assurances, such as traceability, packing requirements and processing controls, that reinforce an underlying preference for premium-quality fish. Among other factors that are increasingly influencing consumption decisions are health and well-being. The populations of many industrialized countries are becoming older, richer, more educated and more health conscious. The demand for food that promotes health and well-being has increased in recent years. Fish has a particular prominence in this respect, following mounting evidence confirming the health benefits of eating fish. More stringent demands for assurance concerning safety is another high-profile issue that has emerged in recent years. It is considered very important to earn and maintain consumer confidence in the safety of fish. Consumers are increasingly requesting product attributes that depend on the production process. They now demand guarantees that their food has been produced, handled and commercialized in a way that is not dangerous to their health, respects the environment and addresses various other ethical and social concerns. Customers as well as major distributors are increasingly concerned about the sustainability and risk of depletion of marine stocks.

    There are increasing calls for transparency in traceability systems – in order to trace the source, the quality, and the environmental and social impacts of food production and distribution. At the same time, consumers also want convenience and palatability. The response of the food industry has been to produce appealing and healthy fish products. Furthermore, societal changes, such as rising incomes, urbanization and greater female participation in the workforce, and media pressure are driving the demand for product diversification, higher-value products, semi-processed and processed products, and products that are ready to eat or require little preparation before serving. Markets have become more flexible, and new products and species have found market niches. Another trend is the increasing importance of fresh fish. Unlike many other food products, fish is still more favourably received on the market when it is fresh rather than processed. However, historically, fresh fish has been of little importance in international trade owing to its perishable nature and limited shelf-life. Improvements in packaging, reduced air-freight prices, and more efficient and reliable transport have created additional sales outlets for fresh fish. Food chains and department stores are also taking an increasing share of the fresh seafood sector. Many of them now provide fresh seafood counters with an extensive variety of fish and freshly prepared fish dishes or salads next to their frozen-food counters. Demand for products that cater to specific consumer tastes puts pressure on the whole value chain, especially on processors as well as on producers who need to provide what processors and consumers require. These developments involve fish originating from both capture fisheries and aquaculture. Aquaculture may have a potential advantage in providing raw material for higher-value processed products.

    Per capita fish consumption in higher-income countries is expected to continue growing, but at a slower pace than in recent decades. New markets are emerging worldwide. Rising incomes and the ensuing diversification of diets are leading to a shift towards significantly higher fish consumption in developing countries. In emerging countries, especially in East and Southeast Asia, an expanding middle class is leading to increased fish consumption, in particular of high-quality and high- value products as purchasing power rises. In the last few decades, the increase in food consumption has been caused by growing consumption of red meat, fish, milk and eggs, at the expense of basic cereals. Protein availability has grown in both the developed and developing world, but the increase has not been equally distributed. There has been a remarkable increase in the consumption of animal products in countries such as Brazil and China and in other less developed countries. However, the supply of animal protein remains significantly higher in industrialized countries than in developing countries.

    The driving force behind the enormous surge in the consumption of animal products is a combination of population growth, rising incomes and increasing urbanization. Economic development and rising incomes usually lead to advances in the availability and quality of food, better overall nutritional status and the elimination of food shortages. This is normally accompanied by improvements in the supply chain of food, that is, in production, processing and marketing. Food distribution has undergone dramatic changes. Several developing countries, especially in Asia and Latin America, have experienced a rapid expansion in the number of supermarkets, which are not only targeting higher-income consumers but also lower- and middle-income consumers. Thus, they are emerging as a major force in developing countries, offering consumers a wider choice, reduced seasonality and lower prices for food products – and often safer food. Urbanization is a major force in global food demand. Growing urbanization usually modifies dietary patterns, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and changes the lifestyles of individuals. There is an increasing trend towards a global uniformity of urban consumer behaviour. Compared with the less-diversified diets of rural communities, city dwellers tend to have a more varied diet, richer in higher-energy foods, with more proteins from meat, poultry, fish and milk and fewer carbohydrates and fibres. Furthermore, urbanization stimulates development in infrastructure, including cold chains (which enable trade in perishable goods). In its 2007 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects, the United Nations Population Division indicated that the world population would reach a landmark in 2008.23 For the first time in history, the urban population would equal the rural population of the world and, from then on, the majority of the world population would be urban. Nevertheless, major parts of the world remain largely rural. In Africa and Asia, six out of ten people still live in rural areas. The world’s urban population is expected to nearly double by 2050, increasing from 3.3 billion in 2007 to 6.4 billion in 2050, with virtually all of the growth being absorbed by the urban areas of the less- developed regions.

    The above-mentioned trends in fish consumption are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. Population and income growth, together with urbanization and dietary diversification, are expected to create additional demand and to continue to shift the composition of food consumption towards a growing share of animal products in developing countries. In industrialized countries, food demand is expected to grow only moderately and, in determining demand for food products, issues such as safety, quality, environmental concerns and animal welfare will probably be more important than price and income changes.

    Box 4: Fish and nutrition

    Fish contributes to food security in many regions of the world, providing a valuable supplement for diversified and nutritious diets. Fish is highly nutritious. It provides not only high-value protein, but also represents an important source of a wide range of essential micronutrients, minerals and fatty acids. On average, fish provides about 20–30 kilocalories per person per day. It provides higher levels, up to 180 kilocalories per person per day, only in a few countries where there is a lack of alternative foods, and where a preference for fish has been developed and maintained (for example in Iceland, Japan and some small island developing states). The dietary contribution of fish is more significant in terms of animal proteins, which are a crucial component in some densely populated countries where total protein intake levels may be low. In fact, many populations, those in developing countries more than those in developed ones, depend on fish as part of their daily diets. For them, fish and fishery products often represent an affordable source of animal protein that may not only be cheaper than other animal protein sources, but preferred and part of local and traditional recipes. While the average per capita fish consumption may be low, even in small quantities fish can have a significant positive nutritional impact by providing essential amino acids that are often present only in low quantities in vegetable-based diets.

    21 Statistics reported in this section are based on data published in FAO. (forthcoming). Fish and fishery products. World apparent consumption statistics based on food balance sheets. Revision 9: 1961–2005. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 821. Rome. Some discrepancies may occur with other sections that quote data made available to FAO more recently. Food Balance Sheet (FBS) data calculated by FAO refer to “average food available for consumption”, which, for a number of reasons (for example, waste at the household level), is not equal to average food intake or average food consumption. It should be noted that the production of subsistence fisheries as well as border trade between some developing countries could be incorrectly recorded and might therefore lead to an underestimation of consumption.
    22 The term “fish” indicates fish, crustaceans and molluscs, including frogs and turtles, excluding crocodiles, alligators, aquatic mammals and aquatic plants.
    23 The database of the United Nations Population Division can be accessed at 

    Source & ©: FAO FisheriesThe State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2008 
    PART 1:World review of fisheries and aquaculture, Fish consumption, p. 58-65

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