Poor farm practices and a heavy reliance on wild fish for feed threatens long-term sustainability, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The FAO praised the industry’s efforts to reduce overfishing through ‘biologically sustainable’ farming but said there still needs to be greater diversity in farmed culture species and practices to take the pressure off wild fish stocks.
“For example, small-sized species can be an excellent source of essential minerals when consumed whole. However, consumer preferences and other factors have seen a switch towards larger farmed species whose bones and heads are often discarded,” it said.
Its new report on - ‘The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture’ – shows that global production of fish reached 15 million tonnes in 2012.Of the fish marine stocks assessed in 2011, 28.8% were estimated as fished at biologically unsustainable levels and, therefore, overfished. Fully fished stocks accounted for 61.3% and under-fished just 9.9%.
Nevertheless, the report noted a fall in the number of over-fished wild fish stocks, to just under 30%, with increasing numbers (70%) captured at biologically sustainable levels. Of these, fully fished stocks – those close to their maximum sustainable production – account for over 60% and under-fished stocks about 10%.
Wastage was another concern raised in the report with an estimated 1.3bn tonnes of fish lost post-harvest per year as a result of poor handling and processing, particularly in small-scale facilities.
In addition, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains a major threat to marine ecosystems and impacts negatively on livelihoods, local economies and food supplies, the authors wrote.
Committed to sustainable growth
However it added that poverty in developing countries and fishing as a last resort add to the problem of non-sustainable fishing, as well as overcapacity of the fishing fleet; IUU fishing; the open-access nature of many fisheries and intra- and inter-sectoral conflicts.
Moving forward there needs to be more focus on preserving the ‘blue world’, said FAO director general, Jose Graziano da Silva, as global demand stretches stocks to their limit.
“The health of our planet as well as our own health and future food security all hinge on how we treat the ‘blue world’. We need to ensure that environmental well-being is compatible with human well-being in order to make long-term sustainable prosperity a reality for all. For this reason, FAO is committed to promoting 'Blue Growth,' which is based on the sustainable and responsible management of our aquatic resources.”
Small-scale aquaculture driving growth
Fish is one of the most traded commodities in the world. It was worth 94.9m euros in 2012 and currently accounts for approximately 17% of the global population’s protein intake, the report points out.
Humans currently consume a record 85% (or 136mt) of the fish produced, up from 70% in the 1980s, meaning per capita fish consumption has leapt from 10kg in the 1960s to 19kg in 2012.
The rapid expansion of aquaculture, including the activities of small-scale farmers, is driving this growth in production and is boosting employment in developing parts of the world, the report said.
It is also playing an increasingly important role in improving the diets of many people in poor rural regions with little or no access to food containing essential nutrients.
Of the 60 million people employed by capture fisheries and aquaculture 84% were in Asia and 10% Africa. Overall the FAO estimates that fisheries and aquaculture supports the livelihoods of 10–12% of the world’s population.
Aquaculture production reached a record high of 90mt in 2012, including 24mt of aquatic plants. China accounted for over 60% of the total share but around 54% of total fishery value exports and more than 60% of volumes were generated by fisheries in developing countries.
“This means fisheries and fish farming are playing an increasingly critical role for many local economies. Some 90% of fishers are small scale and it is estimated that, overall, 15% are women. In secondary activities such as processing, this figure can be as high as 90%,” the report said.