World Fish Consumption Peaks, But Stocks and Aquaculture Production Falling

More people are eating fish than ever before, but wild fish stocks are declining alarmingly and aquaculture is failing to fill the gap in demand, as reported by a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) review.

As predicted by many, the world's populations are increasingly clamouring for fish to provide the much needed protein in their diets. Fish now provides more than 15% of the world's animal protein intake. Aquaculture and wild Fisheries supplied the world with about 145m tonnes in 2009. A recent report from the UN has shown that global fish consumption has hit a record high of about 17kg per person. Even the recently released USDA nutrition guidelines 2010 urged Americans to eat more fish

However FAO also stressed that the status of global fish stocks had not improved. The wild fish production has peaked and is starting to decline alarmingly. The FAO has said that about 32% of wild fisheries were overexploited, depleted or recovering (but slowly).

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The report also highlighted that the level of overexploitation had gone up since 2006. Only 15% of the stocks monitored by the FAO were classed as either "moderately exploited" or "underexploited". There are probably very few major fisheries that remain to be discovered.

Nearly 40 % of fish output is exported to another country and sold internationally, making seafood one of most highly traded food commodities in the world. Fish product exports from developing countries represent about 20 % of agricultural and food exports – more than products such as spices, cotton, nuts, sugar and confectionery combined. These exports are likely to increase with growing demand for fish products.

The report also showed that fish marketing was very big business and remained the most-traded food commodity, worth an estimated US $102bn (£63bn) in 2008, which was about a 10% increase over the previous 12 months.

China remained its position as the largest fish-producing nation, producing about 47.5m tonnes in 2008 (consisting of 14.8m tonnes from wild fisheries and about 32.7m tonnes from aquaculture).

The total global fish production stood at about 90m tonnes, with about 80m tonnes from marine waters and an increasing production from freshwaters which reaches a record 10m tonnes.

As had been predicted aquaculture was a stand-out as the fastest growing animal food-producing sector replacing the decline in wild fish capture rates, although aquaculture growth rates were slowing.

Aquaculture was dominated by production from the Asia/Pacific region, accounting for about 90% of global production and 79% in terms of value.

Problems ahead - declining wild fisheries stocks and failure of aquaculture to fill the void.

The growing percentage of marine fish stocks that classed as 'overexploited' was highlighted in the report as a major concern. Despite millions of dollars spent on fisheries management there very few examples of turn around's where depleted stocks have recovered and management has worked to produce a sustainable fishery.

Most stocks of the top 10 commercial species, that represent about a third of global catches, were fully exploited and not sustainably managed.

"Of the 23 tuna stocks worldwide, about 60% are fully exploited, 35% are classified as overexploited or depleted and very few species are underexploited (for example skipjack tuna).

Because of the significant overcapacity of tuna fishing fleets, ineffective management and lack of political will implement controls the study has warned that the status of tuna stocks is likely to deteriorate further.

One major threat to the long-term sustainability of fish stock is illegal fishing and unreported or unregulated fishing which may account for as much as $23.5bn a year. This illegal and unaccounted fishing is derailing management efforts and controls.

In an effort to tackle the illegal fishing problem, the FAO has established the Port State Measures Agreement (PSMA). This would require all "port state" to ban the landing of fish from any vessel listed as being involved in IUU activities (Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Activities).

Researchers have recently reported that global measures to regulate the fishing industry lacked the capability to tackle illegal catches. They also reported that only about 30% of the vessels listed on IUU registers could be tracked.

The FAO report also highlighted another major problem threatening world fisheries: High levels of Bycatch and Discards, that are seldom reported and including the capture of ecologically important species. It has been estimated that global discards represent about 7 million tonnes per year.

FAO has said that they will develop international guidelines on bycatch management and methods to reduce discards.

The Future of Aquaculture - Will It Fill the Void as Wild Fisheries Decline?

Aquaculture is at the cross-roads, facing many different complex trends and issues which must be foreseen and dealt with if the industry is to achieve its potential. These issues relate not only to the productions systems and the science, but also to social issues, water quality and a growing trend for consumer back-lash against cruelty and heath issues.

More than 75 % percent of aquaculture occurs in developing countries, and this has highlighted Aquaculture's importance as a source of revenue and food security.

The 'clean image' of the industry is crucial and not easy to control because of the segmentation of the market. A company that is producing low value fish products for the local Indian market under sub-optimal conditions and non-stringent controls could well damage the entire product image in western markets and those companies producing fish in optimal conditions. The whole aquaculture process and marketing of the product could be threatened by doubtful practices in poorer nations. This includes the heavy use of chemicals and antibiotics. There is a growing trend for ethics and quality issues to affect export markets http://hubpages.com/hub/Does-Adopting-the-Moral-High-Ground-Work-Commercially . The international new system means that any negative reports are broadcast internationally, and decimated reputations or consumer perceptions are had to re-establish once tarnished.

Ethical Considerations - A typical example is genetically modified animals and plants animals such as GM modified salmon. With salmon that have been produced that contain human genes and that can grow to four times the size of non-GM salmon in a farm in 12 months, the big question is do people want to eat them? People are much more sensitive to ethical issues than they were 15 years ago.

The key is being able to show how your products and services create a better kind of world, not only for individual people and their families, but also for the community and for the whole of humanity. Aquaculture needs to foster and maintain a squeaky image clean image, to take and sustain the high morale ground, to maintain ethical standards and retain the natural image.

Grave ecological concerns have been raised about aquaculture including water contamination, increased salinity and decimation of mangrove forests and other coastal ecosystems. Critics have furthermore pointed to the extensive reliance on fish meal as feed, that is made from wild-caught fish and by-products, which is forecast to put a further nail in the coffin of depletion wild fish stocks.

Such operations are net consumers of protein -- more goes in than comes out the other end. Although investors get rich, in nutritional terms it is highly inefficient. Others have emphasised socio-economic problems, producing for example from expanded market concentration at the expense of small-scale aquaculture manufacturers and processors.
Aquaculture procedures occasionally make the poor much worse off.

While some types of aquaculture contribute to local nutritional needs, most intensive aquaculture developments are focused on export markets and replace local supplies for local communities. Many major developments completely transform local communities and provide initial financial benefits.

However, many only last 5-10 years, after which the aquaculture fails due to disease, water quality problems and marketing. Most prawn ponds discharge waster water into the same environment as the fresh water is drawn from. As the number of ponds grows the contamination and pollution increases and disease problems may force the ponds to close. The local communities that have been transformed by the venture are left completely decimated as their traditional enterprises have been destroyed.

In some situations juvenile fish which before had been caught and eaten by the poor are now grown-out in aquaculture ponds which cater for export markets and the local lose their food supply. Coastal shrimp mariculture has replaced numerous customary seaboard fisheries, and has impaired or decimated mangrove ecosystems which have a crucial role as breeding and rearing grounds for endemic fisheries.

For example, in the Philippines, the cultivation of milkfish for domestic markets was replaced by lucrative shrimp production in large ponds. The result was the loss of valuable rice growing areas due to conversion into shrimp ponds. When the shrimp ponds failed the local community was decimated as the ponds were too saline for growing rice of traditional fish species.

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© 2011 Dr. John Anderson

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PADDYBOY60 profile image

PADDYBOY60 4 years ago from Centreville Michigan

Very interesting hub.

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