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Current state of fisheries and aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific region

The 1996 production from capture fisheries of this region was 41.6 mt, accounting for 44 percent of the total world fishery production (Table 5). This production comprised 37.2 mt from marine waters and 4.4 mt from inland waters. The average annual rate of production increase was 1.7 percent during 1986-1996 as compared to the global rate of production increase of 1.1 percent at the same period. Moreover, the rate of production increase for the marine fisheries sub-sector was only 1.3 percent as compared to 5.5 percent for the inland fisheries sub-sector. However, the region has experienced more than a threefold increase in aquaculture production since 1986. The region’s production of fish, shellfish and seaweeds in 1997 amounted to 32.8 mt or 91 percent of the total world aquaculture production (Table 6).

East Asia

The major fishing countries are China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The East China Sea, the Yellow Sea, and the Sea of Japan are among the most heavily exploited waters in the world. Aquaculture in the sub-region contributes 77 percent of the total world aquaculture production. Fish consumption is high, with an average of 26.3 kg/year, and the countries of the sub-region are very active international traders. The sub-region as a whole, however, is now a net importer of fish and fishery products due to high importation of fish and fishery products by Japan (Table 3).

The marine fishery production of East Asia was 22.2 mt in 1996. Approximately two mt of this were caught in other marine waters. Total marine production of Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has decreased in recent years, due mainly to the decline of landings of Japanese pilchard. Fisheries by China in the East China Sea are medium- and large-scale but, without proper management, the sea is now overfished and valuable species have declined. The Sea of Japan/East Sea resources have been overexploited by fleets from Japan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea and DPRK. Although the largest fleet in the sub-region was that of Japan, its marine fish production declined from a peak of 11.8 mt in 1984 to 5.9 mt in 1996 due partly to the gradual exclusion of Japanese distant-water fishing fleets from the EEZs of other coastal States and partly the set back in offshore and coastal fisheries.

Since the eighties, there has been a remarkable development of fisheries in China with rapid production increase in marine capture fisheries and inland aquaculture. China is the main producer of inland fishes in this sub-region, with a total production of 12.4 mt in 1996. However, the inland production from capture fisheries in China contributed only 14 percent and the rest came from inland aquaculture (mainly carps). Chinese production of fish (mainly freshwater species), shellfish, seaweeds and other aquatic species amounted to 24 mt and accounted for 67 percent of the total world aquaculture output in 1997.

For the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), drastic decline in fishery production was observed. From the peak record of 4.3 mt in 1989, the production declined steadily to only one million tonnes in 1996 and 688 thousand tonnes in 1997. Fuel shortage and lack of spare parts due to the prevailing economic difficulties substantially limited fishing activities of its fishing fleets and many were severely damaged by heavy storms in the recent years. In addition, the collapse of the Japanese pilchard had reduced the DPRK’s production from 20 thousand tonnes in 1994 to almost nothing in 1997.

South and Southeast Asia

The sub-region covers some of the most productive waters in the world. Total capture fisheries production reached 16.8 mt in 1996, accounting for 40 percent of the total fishery production in the region. Fish consumption varies, being higher in coastal areas of Southeast Asia and much lower in the northern inland parts of South Asia. More than 10 million people are engaged in the fisheries sector; of which about 90 percent are small-scale fishermen. The fisheries are characterized by multi-gear and multi-species operations, mainly with small traditional craft. Fish trade in this sub-region has expanded significantly over the last decade. Thailand has been the world top exporter since 1993, with a total export of US$4,118 million in 1996. Other major exporters are Indonesia and India, with total exports of US$1,678 million and US$978 million, respectively.

Total marine fish production has grown from 10 mt in 1986 to approximately 14.3 mt in 1996. The major contributors to this increase were India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. Small pelagic species are more important for food in this sub-region than in any others, accounting for about one-third of the landings, followed by demersal species and tunas. Penaeus shrimp catches make up less than 10 percent of the total weight, but is by far the most valuable species group exploited. Cephalopods currently provide only a small fraction of the total catch, but production has grown significantly at an annual rate of 11 percent over the past decade.

Most coastal marine fish stocks in the sub-region have been almost fully exploited. Coastal demersal species, especially in the Gulf of Thailand, have been heavily exploited, whereas offshore resources may have been less intensively fished. The lack of effort statistics prevent a reliable assessment of the state of the stocks, but it is believed that small pelagic stocks are still less intensely fished in certain waters. Most stocks of shrimps appear to be fully exploited or depleted. Tuna stocks vary but in many areas are fully utilized.

The production from inland fisheries in this sub-region, increased slowly from 2.0 mt in 1987 to 2.5 mt in 1996. This sub-sector suffers from heavy fishing pressure, growing environmental degradation, and in some areas, conflicts with other land and water users. India contributed about 26 percent of the sub-region’s inland production, whilst Bangladesh and Indonesia contributed about 23 percent and 14 percent, respectively. All fish catches by landlocked Laos, Bhutan and Nepal as well as most fish supplies in Cambodia come from inland waters.


The sub-region encompasses vast areas of marine waters but accounted for only 1.9 percent of the total fishery production in the region in 1996. However, the fisheries sector plays a crucial role in the food security and economies of the South Pacific small-island developing States (SIDS) and Territories. Fish consumption is relatively high and income derived from distant-water fishing nations which pay access fees to some SIDS under access agreements, and export of fish, notably tunas, play an important role in the economies of these island countries.

The total domestic marine fishery production of the sub-region was 760,000 tonnes in 1996, about 97 percent of total fish production in the Oceania. In addition, almost one million tonnes of tunas is harvested annually by foreign fleets. In the eighties and early nineties, sub-regional production rose much faster than the global average, but declined in recent years as a result of restructuring of commercial fisheries in Australia and the changing management regimes in New Zealand. The bulk of the landings originate from the Southwestern Pacific Ocean, and are mainly caught by New Zealand. Australia also fishes in the Eastern Indian Ocean, and the catches of some SIDS are from the Western Central Pacific Ocean.

Tuna is the main industrial fisheries target. Distant-water fishing fleets from several countries outside the region participate in tuna fisheries through access agreements. The Pacific island national fleets take only about 10.4 percent of the weight of the tuna caught in the Pacific Community statistical area. Industrial fisheries technology is at an intermediate level in most SIDS due to the lack of a trained work force and infrastructure necessary to support advanced fishing operations.

The strong fish eating tradition results in extensive involvement in subsistence fisheries. In these small-scale fisheries sub-sectors, there are localized excess capacity problems particularly around atolls and reefs. There is very little interaction between the export fisheries and domestic fish production, and the species exported are usually not part of local diets. Export production includes tunas, snappers, sea cucumbers, and mother-of-pearl shells.

From the food security point of view, inland fisheries are important in only two countries of this sub-region, viz., Papua New Guinea and Fiji. The total inland capture fishery harvest in the South Pacific in 1996 amounted to only 20,000 tonnes (Table 5). In Australia and New Zealand, inland fisheries are also valued but mostly as a recreational resource.

Aquaculture production in the sub-region has risen from 26,000 tonnes in 1986 to about 100,000 tonnes in 1997, due mainly to increases in coastal aquaculture in New Zealand and Australia. The major increase from a single species was from mussel cultivation in New Zealand, which grew from 9,800 tonnes in 1984 to 65,500 tonnes in 1997. Other notable increases have been observed in the culture of chinook salmon in New Zealand and of Atlantic salmon and trout in Australia.

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