Washington — Fisheries and aquaculture offer opportunities to increase food and nutrition security, generate economic growth and improve use of resources, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
However, the sector faces several challenges including poor governance, weak fisheries and aquaculture management, and conflicts over the use of natural resources. There also is a need to train small-scale fishers in improved feed and fertilizer management techniques. The sector supports the livelihoods of 12 percent of the world’s population, and nearly 55 million fishers are small-scale producers — more than half of them women, FAO reported in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012.
In 2010 fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 148 million tons of fish, of which 128 million tons was used for human food — an average of 18.4 kilograms per person, FAO said. Most of the rest of the fish produced was processed into fishmeal and fish oil.
Fisheries are concerned with catching, processing and selling fish and shellfish. Aquaculture involves all aspects of marine life.
Fish is nutritionally rich. It is the primary source of protein for 17 percent of the world's population and nearly 25 percent in low-income countries. It also is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids believed to benefit the heart and brain development.
Fisheries and aquaculture production — worth more than $217 million in 2010 — is growing faster than agriculture. That reflects higher prices and stronger demand, Richard Grainger of FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department said at the agency's office in Washington.
The sector also is growing in another way. Since 1961, world fish food supply has outpaced global population growth, he said.
FAO recommends that international voluntary guidelines be developed for new policies that benefit small-scale and women fishers, Grainger said. “By developing good governance of the sector, we are making sure that benefits reach the people who need them,” he said. In addition, the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries adopted in 1995 can contribute to achieving a global sustainable fisheries system by providing support for political commitment and for strengthening management capacity, the report states.
The report notes that fuel-efficient fishing practices also are needed to maintain long-term profitability and sustainability of fisheries worldwide. For example, it says that FAO wants researchers to find alternative sources of affordable, high quality plant- and animal-based ingredients to replace fishmeal in aqua-feeds.
Fish are a major trade commodity worth $109 billion in 2010. This has led to growth in “ecolabels,” or labels that guarantee a fishery or an aquaculture product has been sustainably managed.
The report notes that many marine fish stocks remain under great pressure. According to the latest statistics, about 30 percent of these stocks are overexploited and more than half are close to their maximum sustainable production levels.
FAO is urging governments to work toward sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management and biodiversity conservation. It noted that fishing communities also need to improve their preparedness to effectively respond to disasters and to develop alternative sources of economic growth.
Through its Feed the Future initiative, the United States works to advance global food and nutrition security in environmentally sustainable ways.
FAO produces The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture every two years. More information is on the FAO website.