Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Overfishing on the increase in Asia-Pacific seas

06 Aug 2004 -- DECLINE IN VALUABLE FISH SPECIES, BETTER MANAGEMENT REQUIRED: FAO REPORT

Chiang Mai - The management of fishery resources in Asia-Pacific needs to be improved, as overfishing is increasing and the abundance of more valuable species has declined, according to an FAO report presented to the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission during a meeting this week in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

FAO's report affirmed that fisheries and aquaculture are of vital importance for food security and the economies of the region, but cautioned that improved management of these activities is required in order to secure the sector's future. In particular, two specific evolutions were stressed: the abundance of more valuable marine fish species has declined, and the demand for low-value ‘trash fish’ has fuelled increasing pressure on fish stocks.

Production has already peaked
Asia-Pacific is the world’s largest producer of fish, for both aquaculture and capture fisheries (which account for 91 and 48 percent of total world production, respectively). In 2002, this amounted to 46.9 million tonnes from aquaculture and 44.7 million tonnes from capture fisheries.

FAO reported that there was rapid growth in marine capture fisheries in the region between 1950 and 1990, but this has slowed down over the last decade. The trend over the past 30 years has been from larger sized demersal (bottom-dwelling) fish towards smaller pelagic – or open water – fish.

Small fish species, damaged catch and juvenile fish targeted in these fisheries are sometimes referred to as 'trash fish’ and have a low market value. An increasing proportion of this ‘trash fish’ is used directly or indirectly as fish meal in aquaculture and livestock feed.

Demand for these low-value ‘trash fish’ for this purpose has fuelled increasing pressure on fish stocks, FAO also noted.

Dramatic shifts in abundance
A study by the WorldFish Centre (an international resource organization belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) of some areas in the region suggests that over the last 25 years the amount of fish available has declined to between 6 and 33 percent of their original abundance.
In a few instances, the decline has been as steep as 40 percent over five years.

Changes in the composition of fish resources have also occurred, FAO noted. The abundance of larger, more valuable species has declined, while the proportion of smaller fish lower down the food chain, sometimes referred to as "trash fish," has notably increased – a phenomenon known as “fishing down the food chain”.
Recent studies estimate that the amount of ‘trash fish’ being landed now exceeds 60 percent of the total marine production from the South China Sea, about 60 percent of the catch in the Gulf of Thailand, 30 to 80 percent in Viet Nam, and 50 percent in trawl catches from Western Malaysia.

Demand is fast outstripping supply and prices are expected to rise, resulting in greater incentives to target these fish and aggravate the over-fishing problem in the area.

Coastal fisheries in the region will continue to decline unless excess fishing capacity and fishing effort are greatly reduced, the report said.

RAP 04/30