Press releases

 Back to archive

Press Release 98/09


Rome, February 23 -- The number of people fishing world-wide has more than doubled since 1970, according to a new survey (*) published by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today. This compares with an overall growth of 35 percent in employment in agriculture.

In 1970 around 13 million fishers produced 65 million tons of fish, aquaculture included, FAO said. In 1990, the number of people deriving their income from fishing and aquaculture more than doubled to 28.5 million people, producing 98 million tons. For 1997 FAO estimates that around 30 million fishers and fish farmers produced 116 million tons of fish.

"This growth is mainly related to the increase in the size of fishing fleets and to the expansion of aquaculture," said Adele Crispoldi, FAO Fishery Statistician. The majority of fishers, 95 percent, are from developing countries.

According to FAO's findings, around 85 percent of the world's fishers are concentrated in Asia, the largest number in China, but also in India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines; this compares to 77 percent in 1970.

Africa, where artisanal fisheries still dominate but are gradually industrialising, represents 6.5 percent, compared to 10.4 percent in 1970. Between 1970 and 1990 the number of fishers in Africa grew by 37 percent to 1.9 million people. South America has maintained a share close to three percent (786 000 fishers in 1990).

In Europe, the number of fishers dropped markedly from 440,000 in 1970 to 390,000 in 1990 (1.4 percent of the world total). In North and Central America the number of fishers doubled between 1970 and 1990 to reach 840,000 people (3 percent).

In many countries fishing is a seasonal occupation or a part-time one. In the early 90's, full-time-fishers, who receive at least 90 percent of their income from fishing or aquaculture, were close to 12 million people (41 percent), while an additional 10 million people worked as part-time fishers. About 6.5 million occasional fishers derived less than 30 percent of their livelihood from fishing.

Fishery labour productivity and capital intensity vary widely among countries. Highly industrialised fisheries generally employ few fishers per unit of output. For instance, in Iceland in 1995, each of the around 5,600 fishers produced on average 280 tons of fish, whereas a few tons of fish per person annually are common in developing countries with small boats and traditional fishing gears.

Around 300,000 Japanese fishers, including 54,000 women, produced 6.7 million tons of fish in 1995, while it took nearly six million Indian fishers to produce about five million tons of fish.

FAO warned that many fishery resources are overexploited and declining. About 35 percent of the 200 major marine fish resources are showing declining yields, around 25 percent are plateauing at high-exploitation levels. FAO estimated that a drastic reduction of at least 30 percent of world fishing capacity is needed to rebuild overfished resources.

"In addition, the increase of coastal fishers due to population growth as well as pressure of growing local demand has contributed to increasing exploitation of inshore waters. Most small-scale fishers find it increasingly difficult to survive in an over-exploited environment," Ms. Crispoldi said.

During the last ten years, international seafood prices have risen almost five percent a year on average, while an increasing proportion of fish production is exported. As a result a traditionally cheap source of protein has become less and less accessible to the poor.

FAO has given emphasis to the improvement of socio-economic conditions for fishing communities and has recommended that community-based fisheries management and environmental conservation programmes should be urgently applied.


(*) FAO Fisheries Circular No.929: Numbers of Fishers, Rome 1997. Statistics are presented for 1970-1995.

* * * * * * *

Contact Erwin Northoff at (396) 5705-3105, or for further information.





 FAO Home page 


 Search our site