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At the “World Food Day 1997” celebration organized by the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, H.R.H. Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, the Crown Princess of Thailand, cited Lord Buddha’s statement in her Royal Address that “jigghaccha parama roga (of all diseases, hunger is the greatest)”. Her Royal Highness expressed confidence that all governments and international agencies as well as civil societies would respond to the call to this noble cause of fighting this greatest disease to end the world hunger.

Among all food available to human, fish is a highly valuable and nutritious food. It contributes to people’s well-being both because of its high protein content and the income it provides. In many countries, fisheries play a major role in the food security of the populations, especially to those living in coastal areas, along the river banks in rural areas and on small islands. The role of fisheries is even more important in many low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs). Whilst the average global apparent consumption of fish per capita during 1993-1995 was 14.5 kg/year, that of the LIFDCs was only 11.5 kg/year. In South Asia, it was only 4.8 kg/year whilst in China it was 19.1 kg/year (Table 1). The average per capita consumption of fish in East and Southeast Asia was 24.9 kg/year and in Oceania 20.1 kg/year, reflecting the importance of fish in the food security of these regions and the general preference for fish as food.

More than 120 million people world-wide are estimated to depend on fish for all or part of their income. Most are poor, especially those in Africa, Asia and Oceania. In South and Southeast Asia, a study by FAO (1997a) revealed that the total number of full and part-time fishermen in this region in 1994 was about 10.4 million, of which about 1.7 million were engaged in inland fisheries and 8.7 million in marine fisheries activities. In addition, there were a substantial number of occasional fishermen who earned less than one-third of their income or spent less than one third of their work time in fishing activities, including recreational fisheries. It was estimated that, in all countries in the Asia-Pacific region, at least 30.4 million people are engaged in fishing activities (Table 2).

Fish exports also provide important foreign exchange earnings. The annual export of fish and fishery products by developing countries of Asia and the Pacific was worth more than US$18 billion in 1996 (Table 3). A number of Asian countries, viz., Thailand, China, Indonesia, Republic of Korea and India, were ranked as top exporters of fishery commodities with a total export value of US$11 billion in 1996. However, there are also a number of countries in the region that rely heavily on fish imports to satisfy increasing domestic demand as well as for fish processing for re-export. Hence, the net imports of the Asia-Pacific region increased from US$8.7 billion in 1986 to US$23.6 billion in 1996.

The needs to review and reform fishing practices to ensure the sustainability of fishery resources was discussed extensively at the recent Sessions of the FAO Committee on Fisheries. The Committee noted the growing world demand for fish and emphasized rational fisheries management as one of the means to achieve such sustainability. This paper briefly describes the state of the fisheries and aquaculture in Asia and the Pacific, the demand and supply prospects and highlights key management issues which need to be resolved to help the countries in the region to achieve fishery sustainability in the next millennium.

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