Global per capita fish consumption has risen to above 20 kilograms a year for the first time, thanks to stronger aquaculture supply and firm demand, record hauls for some key species and reduced wastage, according to a new FAO report published Thursday.
Yet despite notable progress in some areas, the state of the world’s marine resources has not improved, the latest edition of the UN agency’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA) says that almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now fished at biologically unsustainable levels, triple the level of 1974.
Global total capture fishery production in 2014 was 93.4 million tonnes, including output from inland waters, up slightly over the previous two years. Alaska pollock was the top species, replacing anchoveta for the first time since 1998 and offering evidence that effective resource management practices have worked well. Record catches for four highly valuable groups – tunas, lobsters, shrimps and cephalopods – were reported in 2014.
There were around 4.6 million fishing vessels in the world in 2014, 90 percent of which are in Asia and Africa, and only 64,000 of which were 24 meters or longer, according to SOFIA.
Globally, fish provided 6.7 percent of all protein consumed by humans, as well as offering a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, zinc and iron. Some 57 million people were engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture.
Fishery products accounted for one percent of all global merchandise trade in value terms, representing more than nine percent of total agricultural exports. Worldwide exports amounted to $148 billion in 2014, up from $8 billion in 1976. Developing countries were the source of $80 billion of fishery exports, providing higher net trade revenues than meat, tobacco, rice and sugar combined.
That the global supply of fish for human consumption has outpaced population growth in the past five decades – preliminary estimates suggest per capita intakes higher than 20 kilograms, double the level of the 1960s – is due in large measure to growth in aquaculture.
The sector’s global production rose to 73.8 million tonnes in 2014, a third of which comprised molluscs, crustaceans and other non-fish animals. Importantly in terms of both food security and environmental sustainability, about half of the world’s aquaculture production of animals – often shellfish and carp – and plants – including seaweeds and microalgae – came from non-fed species.
While China remains far the leading nation for aquaculture, it is expanding even faster elsewhere, the report notes. In Nigeria, aquaculture output is up almost 20-fold over the past two decades, and all of sub-Saharan Africa is not far behind. Chile and Indonesia have also posted remarkable growth, as have Norway and Vietnam – now the world’s No. 2 and No. 3 fish exporters.