Global Per-Capita Fish Consumption Hits All-Time High, UN Warns on Over Harvesting

Human Wrongs Watch

A new report released on 7 July 2016 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that while growth in aquaculture has helped drive global per capita fish consumption above 20 kilograms a year for the first time, almost a third of commercial fish stocks are now over harvested at biologically unsustainable levels.*

Kenyan fishermen on Lake Victoria use special nets to conserve dwindling fish stock. Photo: FAO/Ami Vitale

The latest edition of the agency’s State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report attributes stronger aquaculture supply and firm demand, record hauls for some key species and reduced wastage as some of the reasons for the increased consumption.

It also notes that despite notable progress in some areas, the state of the world’s marine resources has not improved.

“Life below water, which the Sustainable Development Agenda commits us to conserve, is a major ally in our effort to meet a host of challenges, from food security to climate change,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said in a news release.

“This report shows that capture fisheries can be managed sustainably, while also pointing to the enormous and growing potential of aquaculture to boost human nutrition and support livelihoods with productive jobs,” he added.

On the nutritional aspect of the food source, the report notes that globally, fish provided 6.7 per cent of all protein consumed by humans, as well as offered a rich source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium, zinc and iron.

It further notes that some 57 million people were engaged in the primary fish production sectors, a third of them in aquaculture and 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,” said FAO.

Growth in aquaculture

A major factor attributed to the global supply of fish for human consumption outpacing population growth in the past five decades is the 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.

It is important to note that in terms of food security and environmental sustainability, about half of the world’s aquaculture production of animals such as shellfish and carp, and plants, including seaweeds and microalgae, came from non-fed species.

Aquaculture’s strengths and challenges are also influencing the types of fish consumed. The report showed that, measured as a share of world trade in value terms, salmon and trout are now the largest single commodity, replacing shrimp that held the position for decades.

State of global fish stocks

The report also reveals that about 31.4 percent of the commercial wild fish stocks were overfished in 2013, a level that had been stable since 2007.


Decreased fish landings have been observed in some regions due to the implementation of effective management regulations, like in the Northwest Atlantic, where the annual catch is less than half the level of the early 1970s. Halibut, flounder and haddock species in that area are showing signs of recovery but this is not yet the case for cod, according to FAO.

Furthermore, in the Mediterranean and Black Sea, where 59 per cent of assessed stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels, the report described the situation as “alarming,” particularly for larger fish such as hake, mullet, sole and sea breams.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, the possible expansion of invasive fish species associated to climate change is a concern.

FAO continues to work with all countries to improve the quality and reliability of annual landing figures. The doubling since 1996 of the number of species in the FAO data base – now 2,033 – indicates overall quality improvements in the data collected, according to the report.

The report further notes that supply-chain and other improvements have also raised the share of world fish production utilized for direct human consumption to 87 per cent or 146 million tonnes in 2016, up from 85 per cent or 136 million tonnes in 2014.

The growing fish-processing sector also offers opportunities to improve the sustainability of the fish supply chain, as a host of by-products have multiple potential and actual uses, ranging from fishmeal for aquaculture, through collagen for the cosmetics industry to small fish bones humans can eat as snacks. (*Source: UN).

World’s first illegal fishing treaty now in force

A fisheries worker unloading the morning’s catch. Photo: UNFAO


FAO announced that a groundbreaking international accord aimed at stamping out illegal fishing went into effect on 5 June 2016 and is now legally binding for the 29 countries and a regional organization that have adhered to it.**

“This is a great day in the continuing effort to build sustainable fisheries that can help feed the world,” said FAO Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva in a press release.

The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) – adopted as an FAO Agreement in 2009 after a years-long diplomatic effort – is the first ever binding international treaty that focuses specifically on illicit fishing.

The threshold to activation of the treaty – which called for at least 25 countries to adhere to it – was surpassed last month, triggering a 30-day countdown to today’s entry-into-force.

“We hail those countries that have already signed on to the agreement and who will begin implementing it as of today. We invite governments who have yet to do so, to join the collective push to stamp out illegal fishing and safeguard the future of our ocean resources,” Graziano da Silva added.

Currently, the parties to the PSMA are: Australia, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, the European Union (as a member organization), Gabon, Guinea, Guyana, Iceland, Mauritius, Mozambique, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Palau, Republic of Korea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand, Tonga, the United States of America, Uruguay, and Vanuatu.

The Organization has been informed that additional formal instruments of acceptance of the Agreement should be received shortly.

Hardening ports against pirate fishers

According to FAO, parties to the Agreement are obliged to implement a number of measures while managing ports under their control, with the goals of detecting illegal fishing, stopping ill-caught fish from being offloaded and sold, and ensuring information on unscrupulous vessels is shared globally.

These include requiring foreign fishing vessels wishing to enter ports to request permission in advance, transmitting detailed information on their identities, activities, and the fish they have onboard. Landings can only happen at specially designated ports equipped for effective inspections.

Ships suspected of being involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing can be denied entry into port outright – or permitted to enter for inspection purposes only and refused permission to offload fish, refuel, or resupply.

Vessels that are allowed into ports may be subject to inspections conducted according to a common set of standards. They will be required to prove that they are licensed to fish by the country whose flag they fly, and that they have the necessary permissions from the countries in whose waters they operate. If not, or if inspections turn up evidence of IUU fishing activity, vessels will be denied any further use of ports and reported as violators.

Once a ship is denied access or inspections reveal problems, parties must communicate that information to the country under whose flag the vessel is registered and inform other treaty participants as well as portmasters in neighboring countries.

A first of its kind

Operating without proper authorization, catching protected species, using outlawed types of gear or disregarding catch quotas are among the most common IUU fishing activities. Such practices undermine efforts to responsibly manage marine fisheries, damaging their productivity and in some cases precipitating their collapse

While there are options for combating IUU fishing at sea, they are often expensive and -especially for developing countries – can be difficult to implement, given the large ocean spaces that need to be monitored and the costs of the required technology. Accordingly, port state measures are one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to fight IUU fishing.

The now-active port state measures agreement provides the international community with valuable tool for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes a stand-alone goal on the conservation of and sustainable use of oceans and a specific sub-target on IUU fishing. (**Source: UN).

2016 Human Wrongs Watch

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