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Recent trends in world fish production, utilization and trade
Trends in aquaculture production
Review of initiatives in major management issues

This World Review comprises four parts. The first section briefly describes the most recent changes in fisheries and aquaculture production, utilization and trade. When the document was being prepared, only partial statistical information was available for 1995 and attention is therefore focused on 1994. Recent developments are put in historical perspective by graphs showing major developments since 1950.

The second section describes recent trends in aquaculture production which makes an increasingly important contribution to local food supplies. A number of factors relating to sustainability are examined in the third part of the review. In recent years, the world fishery community has focused increasing attention on the sustainability of fisheries. Concentrating on the period 1995 to 1996, the review reports on the major initiatives taken by the international community and by fishing nations. Relevant initiatives by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry and resource users are also mentioned.

The final section considers the outlook for world fisheries and aquaculture. Likely production levels of marine and inland capture fisheries and aquaculture are identified for the end of the century in the context of projected demand for, and supplies of, fish in the year 2010.

Recent trends in world fish production, utilization and trade

In recent years fish supplies have expanded rapidly and in 1994 they reached 109.6 million tonnes, mainly as a result of continued rapid growth in aquaculture production (especially in China) and in harvestable stocks of pelagic species off the west coast of South America. Consequently, both fishmeal production and fish supplies for human consumption have reached record levels.

A brief review follows of where and how this production increase came about and of what it has meant for utilization and trade.

Production and utilization


In 1994, the total global production of fish and shellfish from capture fisheries and aquaculture reached a record level of 109.6 million tonnes, just over 7 million tonnes more than it had been in 1993 (or a 7 percent increase). Most of the increase came from marine capture fisheries, which accounted for 4.9 million of the 7.3 million tonne increase, with just under 0.5 million tonnes being produced from mariculture (Figure 1).

Most of the remaining 1.9 million tonnes came from inland aquaculture production, mainly from Asia, while some 0.25 million tonnes were reported from higher inland capture fishery production, again mainly in Asia (Figure 2).

Preliminary figures for 1995 indicate a new peak of total production at 112.3 million tonnes (Table 1). Provisional production figures for mariculture and inland aquaculture show an estimated increase from 18.6 million tonnes to 21.0 million tonnes, more than offsetting the decline in the harvest from marine and inland capture fisheries of about 0.6 million tonnes with respect to 1994, reaching a volume of about 91.0 million tonnes. Asia, especially China, contributed most of the increase in aquaculture production.

These production figures show that the recent pattern of production continues, with regard to capture fisheries and aquaculture. The trend for demersal fisheries, however, is markedly different from that characterizing pelagic species.

Global landings of pelagic fish (which, with the exception of high-priced tunas and other large pelagics, are relatively low-priced fish) have shown an underlying upward trend since 1950. This trend continues and is particularly apparent when five highly variable species - anchoveta, Atlantic herring, Japanese pilchard, South American pilchard and chub mackerel - are excluded.

In contrast, landings of demersal fish, which obtain relatively high prices, have remained constant since the 1970s. This situation, which has occurred in spite of the setting up of new fisheries for established species, is particularly apparent when the relatively variable landings of Alaska pollock are excluded.

The rapid growth in aquaculture production is the result of the increased predominances of Asia and of carp species - in 1994 carps accounted for almost half of the total volume of aquatic products produced through culture (aquatic plants excluded). As a consequence of the relatively slow geographical spread of aquaculture and a relatively small increase in the number of species under culture, the predominance of long-established producers and traditional species increased.


The increase in catches from marine fisheries in 1994 was mainly owing to greater catches of anchoveta in the southeast Pacific, a stock that is subject to massive fluctuations depending on El Niño conditions. These catches are generally reduced to fishmeal and fish oil and form the largest single source of fish used for reduction. Consequently, the global use of fish for reduction to fishmeal and fish oil in 1994 was estimated to have been a record almost 33 million tonnes (Figure 3).

The net increment in 1994 of fish available for direct human consumption was almost entirely owing to aquaculture production. Despite record levels, food fish production from capture fisheries was only 0.79 million tonnes higher than in 1993. The quantity of fish available for direct human consumption totalled about 76.6 million tonnes, up from 73.7 million tonnes in 1993, corresponding to the increase in inland aquaculture production. Globally, the increase in the total quantity available for direct human consumption resulted in a very small increase in average per caput availability of fish in 1994 to 13.6 kg (Figure 3).

Figure 1. Inland and marine fishery production

Source: FAO
Figure 2. Production for principal major fishing areas
Source: FAO
Of the preliminary figure of 112.3 million tonnes of total fishery production in 1995, it is calculated that some 31.5 million tonnes were used for reduction. Anchoveta catches in the southeast Pacific were somewhat lower than they had been in 1994 and catches of small pelagic species for reduction in the other main fishmeal exporting countries were, on aggregate, also slightly lower than those of the previous year.

Fish available for direct human consumption in 1995 was estimated to be 80 million tonnes, 3.4 million tonnes more than in 1994, representing a greater increase than the estimated population growth rate in the same year. The average annual per caput availability of food fish increased to 14 kg. As in the previous year, most of the production increase occurred in Asia, particularly China.


World fishery production (million tonnes)






















Total inland






















Total marine







Total aquaculture







Total capture







Total world production







Human consumption














Source: FAO.

Recent production trends continued in developed industrial economies, economies in transition and developing economies (Figure 4).

Production in the European Union (EU) countries and the United States remained relatively stable or increased and Japanese production continued the downward trend started in 1988. Fish production in the economies in transition continued to decline, with aggregate production declining from 7.6 million tonnes in 1992 to 5.2 million tonnes in 1994. However, in 1995, for the first time in several years, the Russian Federation’s production increased, although its total of 4.23 million tonnes was still lower than the 4.46 million tonnes it produced in 1993.

Aggregate production in the low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) continued the pattern of high growth that has characterized recent years, showing an average annual rate of increase of 6.9 percent during the period 1988 to 1994. In 1994, LIFDCs accounted for 35 percent of total production, compared with 26 percent in 1988 (Figure 5).

This increase has generally taken place in LIFDCs that are large fish-producing countries, such as China (14 percent average annual increase between 1990 and 1994), India (5 percent), Bangladesh (6 percent), Morocco (7 percent), Indonesia (7 percent) and the Philippines (14 percent). These countries also account for 73 percent of the global population of LIFDCs. However, in most LIFDCs, production has changed little over recent years, and in some of them it has dropped considerably.


Twenty countries account for about 80 percent of total world production, while ten countries account for almost 70 percent (Figure 6).

China has been the largest producer since 1988, when it overtook Japan, having started to increase production dramatically in the early 1980s. The consecutive increases in production in 1994 and 1995, driven by aquaculture production, have been referred to above.

In examining the changes in fish production by the comparative performance of each major region, the region showing a marked decline in production in recent years is Europe, which here includes the European republics of the former USSR (Figure 7).

The decline in European production is confined to the former centrally controlled economies in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. The expansion of production in China accounts for most of the growth achieved by the East Asia group, while the increase in anchoveta catches in the southeast Pacific has driven the expanded production of Latin America and the Caribbean. Production in South Asia and Southeast Asia has contracted slightly, while a greater decrease in production in North America is owing to the contraction of Canadian east coast fishing activities. Other regions have shown little change in production.

Figure 3. World fish utilization

Source: FAO
Figure 4. World fishery production by economic group
Source: FAO
Recent trends in trade of fish and fish products

The value of international fish trade continues to increase. In 1985, the value of international fish exports was US$17 billion; five years later (in 1990) it was $35.8 billion and in 1994 exports were valued at $47 billion. The increased volume of international trade in fishery products in 1994 was associated with higher trade in low-value commodities such as fishmeal, with the result that the value of exports increased less than the volume. Preliminary figures for 1995 indicate an increase in the value of trade caused by higher prices. In recent years, however, the growth in value of the international fish trade has slowed down (Figure 8).

Figure 5. Fishery production for low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) in relation to other economic classes

Source: FAO
In 1995, developed countries accounted for about 85 percent of total fish imports in value terms. Japan continued as the world’s largest importer of fishery products, with some 30 percent of the global total. The United States, which is the world’s second major exporter of fish and fishery products, was also its second biggest importer and the EU further increased its dependence on imports for its fish supply. In 1995, fish imports by all three major importers increased (Figure 9).

For many developing nations, fish trade represents a significant source of foreign currency earnings. The increase in net receipts of foreign exchange in developing countries - deducting their imports from the total value of their exports - is impressive, rising from US$5.1 billion in 1985 to $16 billion in 1994, with a further increase likely for 1995.


In 1994, shrimp supplies on international markets were low relative to the high demand, especially in the United States, but also for most of the year in Japan. An important constraint on supply was the relatively low exports from China, with exports to Japan being one-third lower than the previous year and only half the quantity of 1990.

In 1994, shrimp imports to both Japan and the United States reached record levels of 303 000 tonnes to Japan and 284 800 tonnes to the United States. In spite of this, prices rose and, for certain species on national markets, for example Indian white prawn on the Tokyo market, reached record levels. The high prices for shrimp on the two major markets led to a mixed market situation in Europe, where markets with strong currencies reported higher imports (although France was an important exception to this phenomenon), while traditional markets with relatively weak currencies, notably Italy and Spain, were not able to increase their shrimp imports.

In 1995, in both the main markets shrimp imports declined from their previous high levels. A reported shortage of supplies leading to higher prices may well have been a reason for this decline. Japanese imports slumped from 303 000 tonnes to 293 000 tonnes, while United States imports were 5 percent lower than in 1994, at 270 900 tonnes. The European market, however, was stronger than in the previous year, and imports to France, Italy and Spain all increased. However, lower imports to the two major markets appeared to result in a fall in prices.

Figure 6. Production by principal producers in 1994 and cumulative production as percentage of world total

Countries listed are those with a production above 1.1 million tonnes

Source: FAO/FIDI


Japan is the world’s major market for tuna products. Apparent tuna consumption exceeds 1 million tonnes per annum, or almost 30 percent of world catches. About 70 percent of consumption is contributed by Japanese production, with the remainder being met by imports. In 1994, Japanese imports were 320 000 tonnes, increasing slightly in 1995 to 324 000 tonnes.

The United States is the second largest market for tuna, almost all canned, but the market is currently contracting and consumption of tuna has fallen from about 30 percent of world catches in the late 1980s to about 20 percent in 1995. In 1995, some 96 500 tonnes of canned tuna were imported by the United States, down from 113 000 tonnes in 1994. Possible reasons for this decline include competition with other fast foods, less advertising, smaller cans and changes in quality.

On the other hand, European countries have reported a large increase in tuna consumption in the 1990s, with Spanish, French and United Kingdom markets expanding strongly.


In 1994 and 1995, the world market for cod was characterized by large exports of dressed cod from the Russian Federation to Canada, Iceland and Norway for further processing. The Russian Federation, together with Norway, has been able to take advantage of the relatively high quotas for cod in the Barents Sea. Norway, which is the largest importer of Russian caught cod, imported some 100 000 tonnes in 1995. As a result, Norway’s exports have expanded despite lower domestic landings. The influx of cod of Russian origin together with only moderate demand, have meant that prices were low on both sides of the Atlantic in 1994, recovering a little in the first part of 1995, to fall back again in the second part of the year.

Prices were further depressed by the availability of low-priced hake from Chile and Alaska pollock.


Squid catches were generally low in 1994, with only a few countries reporting greater catches and all the major squid-catching countries reporting lower catches than in 1993. In response, prices increased. In 1995, large catches of Loligo sp. squid were reported, but Illex, which is the prime product in the important Spanish market, continued to be in short supply. Consequently, prices of Illex remained high in 1995.

Figure 7. Total fishery production by region

Source: FAO
High squid prices in Spain in 1995 enabled Mexico and Peru to export Pacific squid, which was previously considered unacceptable to Spanish consumers until its low price and some innovative processing methods created a niche in the market.


World imports of canned sardines have shown a gradual decline over the past ten years, totalling 127 800 tonnes in 1994 compared with 143 300 tonnes in 1985. Moreover, in the expanding market for fish products and preparations, the market share of canned sardines fell from 10.7 percent in 1985 to 6.1 percent in 1994.

While canned sardines have taken part in a general downward trend in the consumption of canned small pelagic species over recent years, world imports of canned mackerel increased from 53 543 tonnes in 1993 to 88 211 tonnes in 1994. Nevertheless, as with canned sardines, the market share of canned mackerel has fallen, from 4.1 percent in 1984 to 3.6 percent in 1994.


In 1994 and 1995, salmon production increased significantly. An important factor was the increased production of farmed salmon. In addition, there were particularly good harvests of wild salmon in both years in Alaska and Japan. Total world production of salmon now exceeds 1.4 million tonnes per annum, of which farmed salmon contributes about 440 000 tonnes.

Despite increased supplies, prices stayed relatively buoyant in 1994, but in 1995 European market prices declined significantly, especially for Atlantic salmon from Norway. World production will probably continue to expand, presenting market challenges to the producers.

Figure 8. Growth of world fish production and international trade

Figure 9. Share of major markets in total international trade in 1994


The high anchoveta catches in the southeast Pacific in 1994 resulted in record levels of fishmeal production in Chile and Peru. At the same time, the demand for fishmeal was high and world exports achieved record levels. Southeast Asian and East Asian countries accounted for more than half the total imports of over 4 million tonnes, China being the main fishmeal-importing country with imports of 690 000 tonnes.

Increased demand in 1994 resulted in significantly higher prices. This situation continued in 1995; fishmeal production was high again, although not as high as in 1994, and exports were only marginally lower.

Figure 10. Global trends in aquaculture production

Source: FAO
Similarly, demand was still high, mainly from China. As in 1994, prices continued to increase to record levels, falling back only in early 1996 in response to the competition from soymeal.

Trends in aquaculture production

The continued expansion of aquaculture since the 1980s was sustained in 1994 (Figure 10). Aquaculture increased its contribution to world fishery production and maintained its position as one of the fastest-growing food production activities in the world.

In 1994, total production of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants reached a record 25.5 million tonnes with a value of US$39.83 billion (ex-farm), representing overall increases of 11.8 and 10.3 percent over 1993 production in weight and value respectively (Figure 11).

Asia increased its dominance as an aquaculture producer of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants in 1994. China and India supplied 60 percent of total world production, while five countries, all Asian, accounted for about 80 percent of world aquaculture production (Figure 12).

Aquaculture production continued to expand in developing countries (Figure 13).

Between 1990 and 1994, aquaculture production within LIFDCs rose sharply at an average annual rate of 17 percent and, in 1994, accounted for 75 percent (or 19.1 million tonnes) of world production of finfish, shellfish and aquatic plants.

The number of species under culture continues to grow, as does the number of countries reporting aquaculture production. Aquaculture species reported for the first time in 1994 included European abalone and largemouth bass. An increasing number of countries cultured crustaceans and oysters; in 1994, Portugal reported production of giant river prawn for the first time, Mexico produced crayfish and cupped oysters, Cyprus produced Indian white prawn and the Channel Islands, cupped oyster.

The relative importance of aquaculture to total fishery production varied markedly among countries in 1994 (Figure 14).

Although cultured fish and shellfish contribute significantly to total national fishery production, farming activities in most countries are dominated by a few species such as carps in China and India and oysters and mussels in Japan, the Republic of Korea and France. Most of the world’s production of milkfish is reported from the Philippines and Indonesia. Cultured milkfish account for 42 percent of total production in the Philippines and for 27 percent in Indonesia.

The culture of cyprinids, in particular freshwater herbivorous Chinese carps produced largely under semi-intensive and extensive aquaculture systems, dominated finfish production and 9.2 million tonnes were farmed, mainly in China. The four Chinese carps - the silver, grass, common and bighead carps - represented the top four cultured species by weight and made up half of total finfish production (Figure 15).

Figure 11. Aquaculture production by categories of species in 1994

Source: FAO
Figure 12. Contribution of principal countries to global aquaculture production of finfish and shellfish
Source: FAO
Figure 13. Aquaculture production of finfish and shellfish by economic class
Source: FAO
Total prawn and shrimp production recovered well in 1994 after disease outbreaks caused production to fall in 1992 and 1993. Reported production rose from 0.84 million tonnes in 1993 to over 0.92 million tonnes in 1994. The culture of the giant tiger prawn expanded from 0.33 million tonnes in 1991 to 0.51 million tonnes in 1994, while the culture of the fleshy prawn in China collapsed from a peak of 0.22 million tonnes in 1991 to 0.06 million tonnes in 1994.

The giant tiger prawn, which ranked eighth by weight, was the most valuable cultured species in 1994 (US$3.43 billion), with the silver carp ($2.20 billion), common carp ($2.02 billion) and grass carp ($1.69 billion) being the third, fourth and fifth most valuable species. Global aquaculture thus continued to be dominated in both weight and value by freshwater finfish production. Although crustaceans contributed only 4 percent of production by weight, their higher unit value meant they contributed 18 percent of total value.

Review of initiatives in major management issues

In the first half of the 1990s, the international community addressed several of the management issues connected with sustainable fisheries; how to reduce overfishing and control fishing capacity; how to reduce by-catches and discarding; how to reduce environmental degradation of catchment and coastal areas; and how to deal with uncertainty and risk.1

1 The 1990s have witnessed many international agreements and accords relating to the intentions of the international community to achieve sustainable fisheries. These agreements represent milestones in international efforts over many years and include the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea in 1982 (which entered into force in November 1994); the preparatory work, mainly undertaken in 1990-92, which resulted in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 of the United Nations programme of action which includes seven programme areas relating to coastal areas and the oceans; the 1992 International Conference on Responsible Fishing, held in Cancun, Mexico; and the 1993 Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas.
Each of these issues is briefly reviewed in terms of the roles played by the international community, by governments and by NGOs, mostly, but not exclusively, during the period 1995 to 1996.

Overfishing and fishing capacity


Overfishing is not a recent issue. It was formally recognized internationally in the early 1900s and was the subject of the London Conference on Overfishing in 1947. Subsequently, it has become prevalent in most fishing areas and affects capture fisheries in developing and developed countries, often becoming articularly severe in densely populated coastal areas and in very productive offshore areas.

Figure 14. Contribution of finfish and shellfish culture to national fishery production in 1994

Source: FAO
Figure 15. Farmed production of major finfish and shellfish species

Unless effective action is taken, overfishing will get worse. In many developing countries, population pressure and the shortage of alternative employment opportunities, together with the lack of effective conservation and management policies, will increase the attraction of fisheries as a last resort of employment.

While the problems and their severity differ from one situation to another, important factors contributing to excessive fishing effort include:

· a reluctance by many governments to restrict access and to take the necessary conservation and management decisions, frequently giving priority to economic and social objectives with short- to medium-term benefits in preference to other complementary biological and social objectives with long-term sustainable economic benefits;

· a lack of financial and technical resources to formulate and implement the necessary management actions in many developing countries;

· slow growth in employment and production in many developing countries, which effectively limits fishermen’s possibilities to leave fisheries for other occupations;

· management authority that is not being devolved to the lowest practical level;

· insufficient control of fishing fleets by both flag states and port states, leading to considerable unauthorized fishing;

· a lack of commitment to international cooperation towards joint management, often coupled with a limited effective authority of regional fisheries bodies.


The problem of excess fishing capacity and the need to control fishing effort were addressed in the Rome Consensus on World Fisheries (Box 1), in Article 7 of the Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries (Box 2), in the Kyoto Declaration (Box 3), in the Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, adopted in New York in August 1995 (Box 4) and in the resolution on fishery matters adopted by the 95th Inter-Parliamentary Conference, held in Istanbul in April 1996. In addition, the 1996 draft Report of the ad hoc Intersessional Working Group on Sectoral Issues of the Commission on Sustainable Development urged states “... to take steps to reduce overcapacity and prevent any net increase in over-fished or depleted stocks...”. These international initiatives have also reiterated the need to strengthen regional and subregional bodies and arrangements to facilitate conservation and management.

For high seas fisheries, the conclusion of the UN Agreement should serve to enhance the conservation and management of the two types of stocks it embraces if states implement it as intended. However, its effectiveness will depend on the level of international cooperation developed, on the capacity and willingness of flag states to exercise control over their flag vessels and on the extent to which subregional and regional organizations and arrangements are adapted or established to carry out the required conservation and management functions. Ultimately, the success of the Agreement will depend on the willingness of flag states to contribute equitably to the required reduction in excessive fishing effort which characterizes many high seas fisheries.

Subregional and regional fisheries organizations and arrangements are required to facilitate the conservation and management of shared fisheries resources. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provides for cooperation in fisheries management through competent subregional, regional or global organizations. Agenda 21 called for the strengthening of international cooperation to supplement and support national efforts in implementing strategies and activities for marine and coastal areas and seas.


Despite the difficulties, efforts are being made to reduce excess fleet capacity and to improve management. Box 5 summarizes the action taken by some states to make management more efficient by creating fishing rights (such as effort quotas, individual transferable quotas [ITQs] and limited entry into fisheries) or adopting new approaches (such as community-based management) to management. Countries that have taken, or are taking, steps to restructure their fisheries sector and implement comprehensive and effective fisheries conservation and management measures in areas under their national jurisdiction include Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, the members of the EU, Iceland, Japan, Malaysia, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway and the United States.


adopted by the FAO Ministerial Meeting on Fisheries, Rome, 14 to 15 March 1995

The Consensus was adopted at a Ministerial Meeting attended by ministers of 63 countries and senior officials from a further 71 countries. In addition the meeting was attended by the Holy See, other UN agencies, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the African Development Bank, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) with a responsibility for fisheries and NGOs. The meeting urged governments and international organizations, inter alia, to:

  • reduce fishing to sustainable levels in areas and on stocks currently heavily exploited or overfished;
  • adopt policies, apply measures and develop techniques to reduce by-catches, fish discards and post-harvest losses;
  • review the capacity of fishing fleets in relation to sustainable yields of fishery resources and where necessary reduce these fleets;
  • strengthen and support regional, subregional and national fisheries organizations and arrangements for implementing conservation and management arrangements;
  • increase consultation on fisheries with the private sector and NGOs;
  • implement effectively the relevant rules of international law on fisheries and related matters which are reflected in the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


adopted by the Conference of FAO, Rome, October 1995

The development of the concept of responsible fisheries and the elaboration of a Code of Conduct to this end was requested by the 19th Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI), held in March 1991. The Code was adopted at the 28th Session of the Conference of FAO in October 1995. It contains the following Articles:

  • 1. Nature and scope of the Code;
  • 2. Objectives of the Code;
  • 3. Relationship with other international instruments;
  • 4. Implementation, monitoring and updating;
  • 5. Special requirements of developing countries;
  • 6. General principles;
  • 7. Fisheries management;
  • 8. Fishing operations;
  • 9. Aquaculture development;
  • 10. Integration of fisheries into coastal area management;
  • 11. Post-harvest practices and trade;
  • 12. Fisheries research.

FAO is preparing guidelines in respect of Articles 7 to 11 in support of the implementation of the Code by governments and resource users.


In 1995, the Government of Japan, with technical assistance from FAO, convened the International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security. The Conference adopted the Kyoto Declaration and Plan of Action on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security. The Declaration is a comprehensive document which takes into account UNCED and post-UNCED fisheries initiatives and other fisheries considerations that undermine sustainable resource use and that, in turn, constrain the fisheries sector’s contribution to food security. The Declaration and Plan of Action were a major sectoral contribution to the 1996 FAO World Food Summit.
In the Plan of Action it was agreed, inter alia, that states and FAO, in cooperation with IGOs and/or regional fisheries management organizations and arrangements, should:

  • assess and monitor trends in the demand and supply of fish and their effects on food security, employment, consumption, income, trade and sustainable production;
  • enhance subregional and regional cooperation and establish, or strengthen, subregional and regional organizations and arrangements for the purposes of conserving and managing fisheries resources;
  • conduct, through cooperative mechanisms, integrated assessments of fisheries to evaluate opportunities and strengthen the scientific basis for multispecies and ecosystem management;
  • identify and exchange information on mechanisms to reduce excess fishing capacity and on action to reduce excess capacity as soon as possible;
  • increase efforts to estimate the quantity of fish, marine mammals, sea birds, sea turtles and other sea life that is incidentally caught and discarded in fishing operations and minimize waste and discards through the development and use of selective, environmentally safe and cost-effective fishing gear and techniques;
  • promote information exchange among research institutes to increase opportunities for the sustainable use of unexploited or underexploited species for human food and promote and support research activities to improve scientific knowledge of existing fishery resources;
  • strengthen national and international coordination to stimulate environmentally sound aquaculture and stocking programmes;
  • provide and coordinate technical and financial assistance for developing countries, in LIFDCs and small island developing states, and encourage cooperation among these countries in order to allow fisheries to contribute to food security through such means as the rapid transfer of technology and expertise in enhancement in inland fisheries and marine waters, upgrade and increase the capabilities needed to minimize post-harvest losses, and ensure improved control of fishing activities within areas under national jurisdiction.


Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, New York, August 1995

The Agreement, consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was reached by consensus following negotiations over two years between two principal groups - the distant-water fishing nations and the coastal states - at the Conference on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
The importance of the Conference and its Agreement lies partly in that it affects an estimated 10 percent, or more, of the total world fish stocks taken on the high seas. More significantly, however, the Agreement affects the interrelationship between, on the one hand, fishing in zones of national jurisdiction and, on the other, high seas fishing, when straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks are targeted in both jurisdictional areas. International cooperation regarding these two types of stocks is essential in order that the conservation and management regimes adopted in both types of area are complementary.
The Agreement adopted by the Conference was seen by some states, IGOs and NGOs as not entirely satisfactory and was regarded by many as yielding too little too late, while other states and industry groups felt that it went further than they considered necessary. Nevertheless, if the Agreement is implemented effectively and fully, the conservation and management arrangements and mechanisms it contains represent a significant step forward to achieving more rational exploitation of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, and to ensuring that these stocks are harvested sustainably, as stated in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21.

It was stated above that the successful implementation of the UN Agreement depends on the willingness and capacity of the governments concerned to make the Agreement work, acting through regional and subregional organizations and arrangements. Many existing subregional and regional bodies are not as effective as intended. The difficulties they encounter in implementing conservation and management measures is often reflected in the poor state of the resources they are set to manage.

The requirements of many developing countries for technical and financial assistance in improving their own management, conservation, monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) capacities, has been mentioned in a number of international statements and documents in recent years. According to the Fishery Investment Project Information System (FIPIS) database maintained by FAO on behalf of donor organizations, in the period 1992 to 1995, official external assistance for management and conservation, extended through 136 projects, amounted to a total financial commitment of over US$105 million in 45 countries.


NGOs have produced important documents on conservation and management and exercise considerable influence on public opinion and government policies regarding conservation and management. A specific initiative by NGOs in cooperation with the fishing industry is in operation to establish a worldwide system of ecocertification and labelling of fishery management systems and fishery products. In 1995, Greenpeace2 suggested that groups representing all those concerned should be established to support marine conservation and management through various activities such as certification of products, training and education. In a similar initiative, a major European (national) association for the fishing industry and fish trade has suggested that its members adhere to a number of principles embodying the proper conservation and management of fish resources. A major multinational company has set up a joint working party with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to ensure ways of improving fishing practices and guaranteeing a healthy and sustainable marine ecosystem. Similarly, a major European multiple food retailer has announced that it will phase out the sale of products using oil from fisheries that specialize in supplying fish to be converted into fishmeal and oil.

2 Greenpeace International. 1996. Greenpeace principles for ecologically responsible fisheries. Amsterdam, the Nether-lands. 6 pp.

Adapting the capacity of fishing fleets to available resources

The existing overcapacity in the world’s fishing fleet contributes to falling stocks and causes major economic losses to society. These consequences constitute serious problems that are difficult to overcome. Those who benefit - albeit often in the short term - from the inability of many administrations to limit access effectively generally oppose any interference with access rights, often on the grounds that such interference would amount to the redistribution of income and wealth.
Progress is being made, however. In recent years a number of countries (including Argentina, Chile, Malaysia, Namibia, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and the United States) have introduced conservation and management measures that limit fisheries inputs and outputs. The policy instruments used include: ITQs; buy-back schemes; and other modifications to rights of access (such as “closed areas”). In general, the situation has improved and in some of these countries the fishing industry itself has started to benefit - usually by becoming more cost-competitive.
By restricting areas to a selected number of licence-holders, a defined and limited user group is created. A scheme under which a limited number of licences are made available will generally halt the constant increase in capacity that results from open access and, in fact, such a scheme may well lead to a decrease in capacity. This provides a condition that may, given appropriate support, lead to increased cooperation within the group and the group’s acceptance of some of the responsibilities of management. In the northern Australian prawn fishery, for example, the fishermen found it to their advantage to cooperate in restraining their catch of smaller and lower-priced prawns and invested in the research needed to tell them when they should move from one stock to another in order to focus on the larger prawns. Although beset with imperfections, a scheme providing a limited number of licences may set the stage for the eventual resolutions of the problems of overcapacity.
In order to limit capacity and reduce effort in particular fisheries, a number of governments now implement buy-back schemes for vessels. Combined with a moratorium on the entry of any new vessels into the fishery, this helps to prevent the build-up of capacity, which is particularly likely to occur when it is anticipated that a closed access scheme will be established.
Some states (e.g. Australia, Iceland and New Zealand) have introduced conservation and management systems based on ITQs. Such systems affect the nature of resource ownership by converting a publicly owned and used resource into a publicly owned but privately used resource.
Developing states face many difficulties with respect to the conservation and management of subsistence and small-scale, commercial fisheries. Among the problems to resolve in some of these fisheries are the relocation and redeployment of fishermen who would be displaced as a consequence of limited entry policies. It must be recognized, however, that the failure to limit entry in overexploited artisanal and small-scale fisheries will only destruct these fisheries further and contribute to the long-term impoverishment of communities dependent on them for their livelihoods.
Fisheries conservation and management are generally high-cost activities when undertaken by a centralized, public administration. Buy-back schemes and the implementation of limited licence schemes and/or of ITQs require the constant and continuing involvement of administrations in the management process. Given the broad consensus regarding the need for better management, however, industry is assuming greater financial responsibility for, and increased participation in, essential conservation and management decisions. In some countries (e.g. Australia and Japan) the industry is closely involved in setting research priorities in support of fisheries conservation and management and in cost-sharing for the research undertaken. In developing countries the high cost of management is a serious problem; funds are frequently not available to pay for the operational and cost-effective implementation and enforcement of conservation and management measures. This is in spite of the fact that the long-term social costs of non-management are high and, therefore, the real costs of management are far lower to society than the direct expenditures incurred for the management scheme.

By-catch and discards

Most fishermen at most times catch more types of fish, and sometimes fish of smaller size, than they aim to. The unintended catch is usually referred to as the “by-catch”. Some of the by-catch is useful and is kept; the rest is discarded which usually means returned to the sea.

3 The proportion that is discarded may be imposed or required by management regulations or may be the result of the fisherman’s assessment of the costs and benefits of bringing the by-catch ashore versus discarding it. The outcomes of these assessments vary; what is discarded one day may be kept the next.

3 By-catch is taken to mean all species captured other than the target species. Discards may include a small to significant fraction of the captured target species (normally undersized fish) together with non-target species.

When the by-catch consists of a small proportion of mature specimens from healthy stocks the incurred fishing mortality does relatively little damage, but when the by-catch consists of juveniles of commercial species it may be quite damaging. If large numbers are caught, it is likely to reduce the future numbers of mature fish. For this reason fishery managers increasingly resort to the closure of fishing in those areas where juveniles are numerous, for as long as they remain in large concentrations.

The consequences of discarding and the valuation of these consequences are complex issues. The valuation ought to take account of a possible commercial value, a possible aesthetic value and the extent to which discarded species enhance or detract from system productivity. In general, however, at the moment that discarding occurs, the consequence is usually a waste of human food.

The need to minimize discards in industrial fisheries has become a major issue.4 In 1994, FAO showed that the proportion of the world fish catch made up of by-catch might be much larger than previously considered and estimated that discarding amounted to an average of 27 million tonnes per year (or about 32 percent of the total reported annual production of marine capture fisheries).5

4 In most small-scale fisheries most of the catch is retained and landed.

5 FAO. 1994. A global assessment of fisheries by-catch and discards. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 339, by D.L. Alverson, M.H. Freeberg and J.G. Pope. Rome.

The occurrence of by-catch and its subsequent discarding are sometimes seen by the public as the results of careless fishing. It should be clear from what has already been said that this is a misconception. Discarding is a consequence of the very nature of fishing and it can be reduced but not completely eliminated. The direct reasons for discarding are: biological (i.e. there is a mixture of species available on the fishing grounds); technological (i.e. it is difficult to target specific fish for capture); economic (i.e. the accidental capture of fish of no value to the catcher); or legal.6 However, the tendency to discard may be significantly strengthened by management regulations (such as quota and minimum landing size regulations).

6 In some fisheries fishermen are limited as to the total quantities of fish of certain species that they can bring ashore. Fishermen then have an incentive to discard specimens of inferior size or quality if they believe that they will be able to fill their quota with better specimens obtained during later fishing trips.

The approaches adopted to deal with discarding may be technological (e.g. reducing by-catches through the use of selective gear) or commanding and controlling (e.g. making it mandatory not to throw by-catches back into the sea) or they may offer an economic incentive. In general, approaches are likely to be complementary and will be the result of comparing the perceived benefits to be derived from improving the state of the fish stock (including the conservation of biological diversity) to the short-term costs on the industry.


This issue has been addressed in most major fisheries initiatives since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992. In general, since UNCED, fisheries conservation and management practice have emphasized an ecosystem approach which takes full account of the need to exploit fisheries in a precautionary manner. The ecosystem approach differs significantly from past approaches to conservation and management, in which the primary concern was the impact of fishing gear on the target species with less concern for impacts on non-target species and the aquatic environment. Documents to which states have subscribed and which contain specific statements on the need to reduce by-catch and discards include Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the Rome Consensus, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the Kyoto Declaration, the UN Agreement, the United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 49/118 of 1994 and 50/25 of 19957 and the Resolution of the 95th Inter-Parliamentary Conference.

7 United Nations General Assembly Resolutions 49/118 of the 49th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1994 and 50/25 of the 50th Session in 1995 were concerned with fisheries by-catch and discards and their impact on the sustainable use of the world’s oceans and seas.


States that have already adopted policies prohibiting or limiting the discarding of part of the catch at sea include Iceland, Namibia, New Zealand and Norway. Others, such as the United Republic of Tanzania and the United States, are establishing policy frameworks to deal with the issue.

Environmental degradation of coastal zones and catchment areas


Coastal fish habitats are rapidly being degraded in many parts of the world by industrial, urban and agricultural pollution, landfill, the damming and diversion of rivers, the clearance of mangrove, sedimentation, mining and oil exploration and extraction, marine-based pollution, etc. In addition, the displacement of fishing communities through competitive resource use is not uncommon in coastal areas.

Similar factors threaten the fish supply from inland waters and - relatively speaking - their impact may be even more severe. Flood plain areas are often seen as “wastelands” and are therefore drained for agricultural and other uses. Fishery administrations have difficulties in assuring the preservation of flood plains in spite of the fact that they are among the most productive fishing areas in any catchment.

Coral reef ecosystems are important not only for fish production but also for tourism, aesthetic reasons and shoreline protection. Coral reefs are seriously threatened worldwide.

While the fisheries sector suffers harm globally, it is also, itself, responsible for environmental damage. Local pollution from fishing vessels and fish processing plants can be significant and irresponsible fishing practices also cause harm. A critical problem is the environmental degradation often associated with intensive aquaculture practices, notably of tropical shrimp and salmonids in temperate zones. Intensive shrimp culture has also been associated in some countries with severe social impacts, primarily through the displacement of local people and communities.

For inland fisheries, integrated management policies need to cover the complete extent of the basin concerned in order to be effective. Often, this is not the case. Where the basin transcends national boundaries, a regional mechanism for management is required.


To meet the threat of environmental degradation of coastal and marine areas, many international initiatives have been taken. Concerns about marine environmental pollution were addressed in the 1995 Washington Declaration and Global Plan of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities and the 1995 Report of the Second meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine and Coastal Biodiversity).

In tackling this issue, there has been particularly good cooperation within the UN system and between UN agencies and other multilateral organizations. The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) was established by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), FAO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO-IOC), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The original purpose of GESAMP was to advise solely on marine pollution issues, but it has had its terms of reference broadened to be able to respond fully to the needs of its sponsoring agencies for advice (based on the natural and social sciences) on all aspects of marine environmental protection and management. A training initiative has been set up by the United Nation’s Division of Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UN-DOALOS) and guidelines dealing with integrated coastal management (ICM) have been produced by a number of UN agencies, including UNEP and UNESCO-IOC, by the World Bank and by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

The Asian Development Bank was one of the first international bodies to adopt an integrated management approach to resolving the problems that affect fisheries and the World Bank has been active in formulating programmes in Africa. In many countries, multilateral agencies and IUCN, with donor country support, have been active in developing an integrated approach to resolving coastal and marine area degradation. In this regard, reference should also be made to the activity made possible through the Global Environment Facility (GEF), for example in the Black Sea Environmental Programme. FAO initiatives specifically concerned with fisheries in ICM featured the development of the concept of integrated coastal fisheries management (ICFM) in three pilot projects.


Regarding environmental damage from fisheries, many, if not most, states are well aware of the problems and several have attempted to solve them. Where harmful fishing practices persist, they often reflect difficulties in enforcement and fishermen’s reluctance to change. In order to limit pollution from the fisheries sector, states have either instituted zoning or intend to do so. These measures should lessen the harmful effects of the fishing industry on other resource users.

However, there is still widespread concern that the adverse environmental and social impacts of intensive and/or large-scale aquaculture are not being properly addressed. Yet, there is progress. A number of countries that produce salmonids have instituted rigorous controls on production to ensure that pollution is kept within acceptable limits. A major producer of tropical shrimp in South Asia has instituted a temporary ban on new developments until an acceptable social and environmental policy is adopted and a number of countries have set up the required legislative frameworks or are doing so. As in other areas of management, however, enforcement is often difficult.

There have been many government initiatives in recent years to institute some form of coastal management. Such initiatives in developing countries have usually, but not invariably, been assisted by some form of external assistance. Integrated coastal management activities are relatively few and most initiatives focus on either one or two issues.

The Call to Action of the International Coral Reef Initiative (June 1995), in which the United States together with the International Centre for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM) played an important role, has resulted in a number of governments establishing programmes for community-based management or co-management of reef resources. Such initiatives include capacity building, research and monitoring and periodic reviews.

In general, coastal management initiatives in countries tend to be institutionally isolated, with relatively few countries (more often, developed countries) having a nationwide and effective strategy for dealing with coastal and marine environmental degradation and resource competition.

The integrated management of catchment areas has received less attention than that of coastal areas. In catchment areas the management of large inland water bodies together with their riparian areas has generally been more actively pursued than riverine management; for example in Latin America, Bolivia and Peru have cooperated for a number of years in managing Lake Titicaca and, in Africa, the agreement of the riparian countries to establish the Lake Victoria Commission points to the introduction in the not too distant future of cross-sectoral management of the lake and its surroundings.

With few exceptions (such as the Danube), river management, particularly where rivers cross national boundaries, has very often been restricted to such topics as establishing water use and navigation rights, rather than basin environmental management. Nevertheless, cases of such catchment area environmental management are emerging, for example in Australia where an earlier emphasis on land-and water-use management in catchment areas is being widened to take account of such sectors as fisheries.

There are relatively few examples of integrated management being applied holistically to areas that incorporate coastal catchment hinterlands. One such approach is incorporated in estuarine programmes in the United States.


NGOs have contributed significantly to promoting the integrated management of coastal areas, being actively involved in many of the programmes undertaken. In many cases where coastal and marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established, NGOs manage or support them by helping local communities to understand the importance of protected areas as a management tool for ensuring marine and coastal biological diversity. This is the case, for example, in the Bahamas, Saint Lucia and Montserrat. Internationally, NGOs have stressed the need for a special study on a global representative system of MPAs and have made recommendations on establishing and managing them effectively.

Uncertainty and risk


A number of major problems confronting policy-makers and fisheries managers have emerged in recent years as the complexity of management has become increasingly understood. These problems include: the lack, or inadequacy, of information relating to key biological parameters, such as the assimilative capacity of the resource, and to economic parameters, such as the identification of the appropriate values and/or discount rates to apply in converting long-term future income streams to present values; and the attribution of values to some aspects of biological diversity. Another major source of uncertainty for fisheries managers is the extent to which natural fluctuations (compounded by global climate change) and human impacts are responsible for observed changes in a resource base.

Considerable progress is being made in understanding these problems but one of the manifestations of this progress is that more is known about the number of parameters management has to consider to achieve sustainability than about the values these parameters assume.

The concept of the precautionary approach has evolved from this recognition of the limits of knowledge and uncertainty and its potential consequences. The implications of uncertainty in fisheries management and operations (and related activities) are fundamental. The recognition of uncertainty and the need to manage risk has led, inter alia, to understanding in the 1990s of: the risk of using maximum sustainable yield (MSY) as a target; the need for a broader and more precautionary range of management targets set at levels of fishing effort below the MSY; the need to set explicit limit reference points within which the fishing effort should be constrained; the need for better quantification of the reliability of scientific advice and the robustness of management systems in response to uncertainty; and the need for impact assessment and/or pilot projects as a basis for any authorization of the introduction of new fishing gear and methods.


The precautionary approach in fisheries was introduced in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, which referred to approaches which are “precautionary and anticipatory in ambit...”, on the basis of a preparatory paper prepared by FAO. The approach has been included in a number of other documents produced by the international community in recent years, notably in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Article 7.5) and the UN Agreement. Guidelines on the implementation of the approach in fisheries were produced by FAO in 1995 and these will form part of the fisheries management guidelines being prepared in support of the Code.8 A meeting was held in Oslo, Norway, in September 1996 to examine the application of the approach to North Atlantic fisheries and a consultation will be held in 1997 (under the aegis of the FAO/Bay of Bengal Programme) to review the application of the precautionary approach to artisanal fisheries.

8 FAO. 1995. Precautionary approach to fisheries. Part 1. Guidlines on the precautionary approach to capture fisheries and species introductions. Fisheries Technical Paper No. 350. Rome. 52 pp.


The precautionary approach is being progressively implemented in a few countries (e.g. Australia and the United States) but several years will need to pass before any progress can be measured. Uncertainty should also be reduced through the development of better information systems.

Many developed countries have research and monitoring programmes related to the marine environment, including research oriented towards climatic variations. Some developed countries are also carrying out specialized research on the effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the marine environment and many are developing vulnerability assessments for coastal zones, including vulnerability to marine pollution. The results of this research demonstrate very clearly the benefits of cooperation and the need for regional initiatives, as illustrated by the regional conventions dealing with the Baltic and North seas. Many developed countries are participating in the development of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

As much of the necessary research is relatively costly, it is not surprising that developing countries are not as active in this area as are the more developed states. Nevertheless, many developing countries have established national science policies oriented towards the marine environment and are actively involved in coastal zone research, observations and assessments. Many developing countries strongly support the development of GOOS, although their participation is limited.


This section reviews the medium-term outlook for fisheries. It has two parts: scenarios for demand and supply; and a forecast of what seems most likely to happen to the consumption and production of fish and fish products by the year 2000.

Demand and supply: possible scenarios in 2010


The medium-term outlook for global demand of food fish is largely determined by population growth, changes in per caput income and the pace of urbanization. The interplay of these factors was considered in a review prepared by FAO for the Kyoto Conference.9 At 1990 constant real prices, the review gave a conservative estimate of the demand for food fish that was in the range of 110 million to 120 million tonnes (live weight) for the year 2010, compared with 75 million to 80 million tonnes in 1994/95. This estimate is based on per caput demand projections, which are displayed and aggregated by region in Figure 16 along with the resulting demand per region in million tonnes. Projections indicate that North America, Oceania and Europe will have the highest per caput demand, at more than 20 kg per year (live weight equivalent), but that the large population in Asia means that region could account for about two-thirds of total demand.

9 FAO. 1995. Apparent historical consumption and future demand for fish and fishery products - exploratory calculations. Written by L. Westlund for the Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, Kyoto, Japan.

Fishmeal is the main product derived from the fish used for non-food purposes. As fishmeal is one of the more expensive ingredients in animal feeds, livestock, poultry and fish/shrimp producers have a clear incentive to reduce the amounts used. In response to possible price increases in the future (and even in their absence), fishmeal usage in poultry finisher and layer diets may disappear completely and less fishmeal may go into pig grower and turkey grower diets.10 This may make it possible for more fishmeal to be used in aquaculture without causing its price to increase. Thus, it is expected that the demand for, and the supply of, fish for reduction will remain stable at between 30 million and 33 million tonnes over the next few years.11

10 Ian H. Pike. Personal communication.

11 It is realized, however, that the demand for fishmeal is complex and the above projection is made in the absence of detailed studies.

In summary, the projected demand for fish for all uses is in the order of 140 million to 150 million tonnes for 2010.


Per caput supplies of food fish increased in both 1994 and 1995. However, it is still not clear that growth in aquaculture production can compensate for the possible stagnation in aggregate food fish production from capture fisheries.

Aquaculture is becoming established outside its traditional confines of Asia and Europe, although absolute growth is still faster in Asia than elsewhere. Aquaculture has become popular for two reasons: it provides a source of income rather than simple subsistence; and it can be incorporated into local agricultural systems to diversify the production base. As a result, more flexible integrated culture systems that include fish are being adopted in many regions. There is considerable potential for further expansion and, under favourable conditions, production could be 39 million tonnes by 2010 (Figure 17).12

12 Muir, J.F. and Nugent, C.G. 1995. Aquaculture production trends: perspectives for food security, Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, Kyoto, Japan. This estimate does not include production of aquatic plants, of which China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Philippines produced an estimated 6.4 million tonnes in 1994.

Aquaculture in industrialized economies has normally targeted high-priced species but, although this trend continues (e.g. turbot, char and abalone), the cost reductions achieved, particularly in the culture of Atlantic salmon, now make feasible the “industrial” or technically sophisticated culture of large volumes of comparatively low-value species (e.g. tilapia and white salmon) as a substitute for “white fish”. However, these types of culture are not likely to have an impact on supplies before the end of the century.

In low-income countries outside Asia, the growth of commercial aquaculture will be stimulated by easier access to wealthy consumers in high-income countries and by the adoption of macroeconomic policies aimed at providing a conducive environment to small-scale entrepreneurs. However, the past rapid rate of growth in output of cultured carps may slow down as producers switch to higher-priced species.

The two main constraints on aquaculture are environmental degradation and the availability of land and water. The first constraint sometimes results from the mismanagement of aquaculture facilities, but more often arises from external sources. The second constraint stems from competition with other land and water uses, particularly in agriculture, and from urban encroachment into coastal zones. These factors will limit growth.

Over the last few years, governments have taken action (both separately and in concert) to deal with capture fisheries matters and this is a promising trend for future supplies. FAO estimates that the potential worldwide harvest through capture fisheries ranges from about 85 million to 90 million tonnes under current fishing regimes (i.e. with some fish stocks being overfished and some underexploited and regardless of any increased supplies from a reduction in discarding)13 rising to 100 million to 105 million tonnes if management systems for capture fisheries are improved in all oceans and if there is some reduction in discarding.

13 Inland fisheries contribute about 6 million tonnes annually. During the period 1986 to 1994, marine capture fisheries fluctuated between 80 million and 85 million tonnes.

However, there is significant doubt as to the aggregate results of improved management systems, reduced discards and a reduction in capacity. The main factor is the uncertain outcome of the predator-prey relationships which will come into play if stocks of currently overfished or depleted large predators are replenished.

The possible increase in sustained production could be in the order of 15 million tonnes - 10 million tonnes through the rebuilding of stocks and the remainder through reductions in post-harvest losses and discarding.14 No significant additional supplies are expected from inland capture fisheries.

14 FAO. 1996, Chronicles of marine fishery landings (1950-1994); trend analysis and fisheries potential. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper No. 359 by R.J.R. Grainger and S.M. Garcia. Rome. 51 pp.

Figure 16. Exploratory estimates: per caput and total demand in 2010 at constant real prices

Source: Table 1A, KC/FI/96/TECH/8

Figure 17. Possible aquaculture production in 2010 (not including aquatic plants)

FAO calculates the fish supplies for human consumption as being the sum of capture fisheries production and aquaculture production, less the fish used for reduction and other purposes.

As stated above, supplies for reduction will probably continue at the level of 30 million to 33 million tonnes for the immediate future and it is assumed that aquaculture production will be used entirely for food.15 Table 2 shows the resulting range of supplies. The table indicates a range of supplies and the actual supply is expected to fall somewhere within this range.

15 The relatively small quantities used as bait and in “put-and-take” fisheries are not considered.

Therefore, only under the optimistic scenario will supply meet demand at constant real prices (of 1990) in the year 2010.

Production and consumption for the year 2000

Given the likely evolution of demand and the possible ranges of supply, a number of factors will influence the ways in which production and consumption develop in the immediate future? Fisheries will affect the volumes produced as well as their quality and value, while the world trade regime will help influence consumption patterns. Trade rules will also help to provide incentives for increased production and/or the better management of production.

Governments have a role to play in assuring that capture fisheries achieve a sustainable yield of 100 million tonnes. Sustainable production levels will be influenced by how governments, NGOs and industry deal with:

· protection of the aquatic ecosystem in coastal zones and inland catchment areas;

· management of fishing on those stocks that have been overfished and/or are under heavy pressure;

· support to developing fisheries on currently unexploited or underexploited stocks;

· by-catch and discarding.

These issues are not new, but governments still have to tackle them for two reasons: first, benefits are slow to appear and do so only after considerable costs have been incurred for some time; and second, the individuals who incur the costs are seldom convinced that they will reap the benefits and so they resist what they perceive as a likely redistribution of their income.


This is an issue of overriding importance for the long-term sustainability of capture fisheries, but one that the fishery sector can do little about on its own. The richer industrial economies are taking steps to protect aquatic ecosystems and the benefits are beginning to show. Densely inhabited LIFDCs have fewer resources for such action and less political pressure to carry it out. By the end of the decade, these countries will probably be characterized by further damage to aquatic ecosystems, a decline in capture fisheries production and increasing conflicts in fisheries management. Despite its obvious potential in the long term, it does not seem likely that the framework for action adopted by the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, in Washington, DC (November 1995) will have reversed these trends by the end of the century.


Projected supplies of fish for human consumption, 2010

Source of production

Pessimistic scenario

Optimistic scenario

Aquaculture production



Capture fisheries1






Less (for reduction)



Available for human consumption



1 If capture fisheries management is not improved, it is likely that production will drop below current levels.

Source: Muir and Nugent, 1995.


Better management of existing fisheries produces considerable benefits, such as higher incomes and greater catch volumes. The in-depth review on page 31 indicates a possible sustained increase of 10 million tonnes through the effective management of resources that are at present overexploited. This increase will be achieved over a number of years and could then, given suitable management, become sustainable. It will take time for stocks to recover, however, particularly those stocks that require both a reduction of fishing effort and better environmental conditions to recover. Even if effective management were introduced straight away in those fisheries that are depleted, production would grow only gradually. In the meantime, higher real prices will probably continue to create financial incentives for further investment in the fishing effort on already depleted stocks, making management of the fisheries in question even more difficult to implement.

Without effective action, there is a considerable danger that overfishing will continue to get worse. In many developing countries, population pressure and the shortage of alternative employment opportunities, together with the lack of effective conservation and management policies, will make fisheries more attractive to poor people as an employment of last resort. If no management action is taken, annual production from capture fisheries of marine fish for direct human consumption could fall from about 50 million tonnes at present to about 40 million tonnes.16

16 FAO. 1995. Safeguarding future fish supplies: key policy issues and measures. Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, Kyoto, Japan.

Thus, even assuming that governments increasingly institute effective management regimes, it is unlikely that such initiatives will bring about a noticeable increase in capture fisheries production before the turn of the century. More important though, such measures would prevent long-term drops in production.


Apart from small pelagics, conventional resources are generally fully or overexploited. It seems unlikely that currently underexploited oceanic resources (squid, mesopelagics and krill) will make any significant contribution to food fish supplies before the end of the century. In the Indian Ocean, the present annual rates of increase in production seem to indicate that further increases are possible.17 However, given the element of considerable doubt involved and the need for a precautionary approach, production increases will tend to be modest up to the end of the century. In addition, there does not seem to be any immediate prospect of new technological developments leading to lower production costs for products from small pelagic species.

17 FAO, op. cit., footnote 14, p. 26.


In several major industrial fisheries, and in some tropical shrimp fisheries, there is an ongoing technical and political effort to reduce unwanted by-catches (particularly of juveniles and endangered species), thereby reducing discarding. The results are gradual and positive. As gear selectivity improves and closed seasons are enforced, an increase in commercial catches can be expected as more juveniles are left to grow to adult size. Higher real prices should open markets for some of the remaining by-catch, partly through the development of ready-to-eat products.


International interest in the trade of fish and fishery products will be stimulated by the various agreements concluded at the establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the expanded membership of this organization and the ongoing discussions aimed at further liberalizing international trade. The effects will be felt at the end of the transition periods (five years for developed countries and ten years for developing countries), by which time the new mechanisms in place at the WTO Ministerial Meeting in December 1996 will have been in operation for some time. Further liberalization of trade will facilitate the flow of fish and fish products to markets with strong purchasing power. Likewise, any official links between environmental protection, particularly resource conservation, and international trade will affect future trade volumes and destinations.

As reported earlier, some environmental organizations and a few major industrial groups are moving to enlist the support of consumers, mainly in the industrial economies, to use their purchasing power to force producers to ecolabel fishery products and certify fishery management systems so as to guarantee that their fish and fish products are the result of ecologically correct production methods. Consideration is being given as to what standards should be adopted and how they should be applied. The extent to which ecolabelling will affect the fish trade and fisheries management over the next few years is not yet clear. The impact of ecolabelling will be conditioned by consumer reactions and by the degree of support from fishing industries. However, in the longer term, this initiative may have a major impact on the conduct of fisheries and aquaculture.


In conclusion, it seems plausible that average world per caput fish consumption by about the year 2000 will be approximately 13.5 to 14 kg, that is unchanged from 1993-95. In the process, however, the real price of fish will have increased somewhat and regional consumption and production patterns will have been shifted. Total production (capture fisheries and aquaculture) of fish for human consumption should have increased to about 85 million to 87 million tonnes (live weight equivalent).

Consumption is likely to remain at current levels, but at somewhat higher real prices in traditional industrial economies. By the year 2010, per caput consumption may have grown in Southeast Asia and the Near East and North Africa and declined in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The shift in production patterns will come from the increased share of food fish supplies from aquaculture. Substantial progress will have been made on matching fishing capacity to available stocks and discarding will have been substantially reduced, although catches will not yet have markedly increased as a result.

In sub-Saharan Africa, per caput consumption will probably continue to decline until the end of the century owing to continued low imports and the inability of local production to keep up with population growth. In the past, per caput supplies were maintained in part by the relatively large amounts of fish imported by countries around the Gulf of Guinea. The economic outlook for the concerned countries is such that they are unlikely to resume fish imports on a large scale. In addition, many of the vessels that supplied small pelagic fish in bulk in the past cannot meet current fishing costs from revenues.

Supplies from capture fisheries for local consumption are unlikely to expand significantly. Any expansion of high-value demersal fisheries is likely to be channelled to non-African markets. Small marine pelagics off northwestern and southwestern Africa constitute potential resources for West African and central African markets, and production of these resources will expand, initially in southwestern Africa. Significant growth in production of small pelagics from the Indian Ocean is unlikely, while inland capture fisheries are already at a stage of advanced exploitation. Aquaculture starts from too small a group of producers to be able to achieve production increases that will make a significant contribution to total supplies. In addition, it seems likely that in the future African aquaculture entrepreneurs will follow the pattern already observed elsewhere, i.e. the culture of high-value species for overseas markets.

It seem quite plausible, therefore, that fish prices will increase as supplies will not be sufficient - at present prices - to satisfy demand. As a result it will be economically possible for fishermen to continue fishing, in spite of declining catches per fishing trip. The conservation and management of stocks, particularly of the demersal ones, will become increasingly urgent and difficult.

No major changes are foreseen in the production and consumption patterns of North America by the end of the century. Per caput consumption may increase somewhat in volume as fish is frequently seen as a healthier food than red meat. Higher per caput income is gradually going to be reflected in an increasing proportion of higher-priced products in the fish consumption basket of the average consumer. The economy will be able to import fish and fish products to make up any shortfalls in local production. Capture fishery production will remain stable as the cod stocks off the northeast coast of North America are unlikely to recover before the end of the century. The management of capture fisheries should improve, mainly by reductions in effort and by better spatial and temporal allocation of fisheries. The initial effects of such initiatives are likely to be higher incomes for those remaining in the industry; catches will increase later. Aquaculture will expand at least as fast as fish consumption in response to local market opportunities and, on the whole, both fisheries and aquaculture should become more sustainable.

By the end of the century, per caput fish consumption will probably have grown slowly in Latin America. Only small volumes are required in absolute terms and these will come from local production while average real prices will remain at about present levels. Interregional trade is set to increase rapidly, particularly within the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) economic grouping in southern South America. Industrial marine capture fisheries will continue to be oriented mainly to consumers outside the region - on the west coast as a prime supplier of fishmeal and on the southeast coast as a supplier of groundfish to North America and the EU. Freshwater capture fisheries will continue to be a marginal activity essentially for local markets and increasingly for recreation and tourism. The recreational and tourism aspects of fisheries will also increase in the Caribbean. Aquaculture will essentially continue to focus on high-priced products for export markets.

In the most optimistic scenario, the low per caput fish consumption in South Asia will not have declined by the end of the century, while per caput consumption will probably have increased somewhat in Southeast Asia. The increase in marine capture fisheries production has kept pace with consumption over the last decade in both South Asia and Southeast Asia but, given the present state of marine resources, this is unlikely to be the case in the future. Supplies of freshwater fish will expand. Freshwater fish consumption is significant in South Asia and a rapidly increasing share is provided through the culture of various species of relatively cheap carps. As massive fish imports are not an economically viable solution for South Asia, the capability of fish culturists to expand production will have a major influence on both overall per caput supplies and the food security of marginal populations.

In Southeast Asia, economic growth will probably guarantee constant or slightly increasing per caput food fish supplies at least until the end of the century. Real prices will probably increase to some degree. Interregional and extraregional trade patterns will cause per caput supplies to increase in some countries and decrease in others. High-value items will increasingly reach markets further afield and aquaculture will supply more fish for local markets. However, fishermen and public fishery administrators have little influence over the state of aquatic ecosystems and the state of health of these will be essential in determining the future role of inland fisheries and freshwater aquaculture.

In Japan, consumers will continue to rely on imports for a large, and possibly slowly growing, share of their consumption. Capture fisheries may continue to contract as long-distance fisheries are reduced but ranching and culture may expand in compensation.

The economic and social environment in China is changing rapidly and has so far contributed to very rapid growth in aquaculture and capture fisheries production. However, in the process, aquatic ecosystems have been damaged in both coastal areas and freshwaters. It seems plausible that the recently observed rate of increase in fish production cannot be sustained over the next few years. While the drive for exports continues, China is unlikely to become a substantial importer of fish and, hence, per caput consumption will stabilize.

Fish will continue to be the principal source of animal protein for inhabitants of the small island countries of the Pacific. Per caput supplies will probably be maintained through imports, although these may contract somewhat by the year 2000. Local inshore demersal resources are generally heavily exploited and are unlikely to support larger production, which would have to come from the exploitation of small pelagics. At present the small island countries of the Pacific take only a small share of the tuna fished in the region but this share is set to increase, albeit slowly. Aquaculture as a source of food is insignificant in small island countries and likely to remain so at least until the end of the century. Speciality products and tuna will continue to be exported in somewhat increased volumes.

In Western Europe, per caput consumption will remain basically at current levels for the remainder of this decade. The increase in demand will be low owing to very slow population growth and only a modest increase in income levels. Demand will be met mostly through increased imports and slightly higher price levels from the growing share of ready-to-eat products. In many cases, marine capture fisheries do not appear particularly well managed, despite an exceptional research and management capacity, and will not expand significantly. Aquaculture might expand if production costs can be reduced to levels similar to those of groundfish production. If this occurs, aquaculture would gain access to the white fish market segment (fish sticks, etc.). By the end of the century, it is not impossible that a “white” salmon could be produced at an acceptable cost.

Fish consumption in the former USSR and Eastern Europe will stabilize over the next four to five years as the adaptation to market economies continues. In the past, fish consumption in these economies was subsidized and consumption was high. However, drastic increases in prices and low incomes have turned fish into a food item that is replaced by other more moderately priced products. As large quantities of fish will not be imported into the region, consumption will have to depend on local supplies and, in this context, the culture of freshwater fish (carps) will grow in Eastern Europe at least to the levels recorded in the mid-1980s.

In the Near East and North Africa, per caput consumption will increase slightly but remain low. In the oil-based economies, the increase may be made possible through greater imports mainly from outside the region. Apart from shrimp, most production will continue to be consumed locally, with only two major exceptions - fish production in Morocco and in Oman. As local fisheries (excluding small pelagics) are fully, or close to fully, exploited it seems likely that the exploitation of small pelagic stocks will have increased by the end of the century.

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