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1. The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries lays out ideas of responsibility in three main areas:

2. These three areas of responsibility run through all the articles of the Code in one way or another but within Article 11 (Post-harvest Practices and Trade) the responsibilities to the consumer are highlighted. The responsibilities to the three areas above are inter-linked and in many ways being responsible to one implies responsibility to the other two. It must be remembered of course that the Code of Conduct relates to an industry, an industry that would cease to exist if no one purchased and, in the vast majority of cases, ate fish - in other words, if there were no consumers.

3. Under the General Principles of the Code, some of these responsibilities are also outlined:

6.7 The harvesting, handling, processing and distribution of fish and fishery products should be carried out in a manner which will maintain the nutritional value, quality and safety of the products, reduce waste and minimize negative impacts on the environment.

4. Although most of the articles of the code are written such that they put responsibility for implementation on governments and states it is also implied that the code is a set of standards for the whole of the fisheries sector. Article 2, which lists the objectives of the Code states that it provides standards of conduct for all persons involved in the fisheries sector.

The need for responsibility in post-harvest fisheries activities

5. Fisheries have substantial social, economic, nutritional and food security importance. FAO estimates that in 1994 there were at least 30 million people directly engaged in primary production of fish either in capture from the wild or in aquaculture (FAO Fishery Information, Data and Statistics Unit, 1997). The table below compares the primary production of fish by each region with the number of persons involved in the production of that fish. It shows that the numbers of persons involved and the scale of operations is unevenly spread across the globe with a high concentration of participants at low levels of production in Asia. The average production per person in Asia for instance is less than two tonnes per year whereas in Europe it is nearer thirty tonnes. These figures illustrate the degree of industrialisation of fishing activities in the various continents and also the very important part played by "small-scale" fisheries in providing food particularly in Africa and Asia. The high volume of fish caught but relatively low numbers of people employed in the industrial fisheries for small pelagic fish species, destined mainly for animal feeds, in South America probably explain the high ratio of production per person for this region.


Nominal production (tonnes) 19901

Percentage of production

Number of persons engaged in production2

Percentage of persons

Production per person




















North Am






South Am






Former USSR


















Sources 1 FAO 1997a. 2 FAO Fisheries Information, Data and Statistics Unit 1997.

6. In addition to those people involved in direct primary production of fish there are those involved in the ancillary industries such as boat building, gear making, ice production, packaging, marketing, distribution, refrigeration, engineering etc. and others who are involved in research, development and administration connected with the industry. There are no similarly detailed estimates of the numbers of people involved in processing, marketing and distributing the products of fishing and aquaculture. However, there is no doubt a similar pattern of small-scale, family businesses and dependency on low volume throughputs in the post-harvest sector in Asia and Africa as there is in the primary production sector.

7. It is quite probable that for every one person involved in primary production there are at least 4 jobs created in these other activities, including post-harvest, in other words, up to 150 million jobs in what is commonly referred to as "the fishing industry". These rough figures are for those earning all or part of their living from the fishing industry and can probably be multiplied by at least 3 to give the number of dependants or family members - 450 million, representing perhaps 7 or 8 percent of the world population.

8. World production of fish has been between 100 and 110 million tonnes per annum in recent years with a high of 112 million tonnes in 1995. Of this, roughly 80 million tonnes are used for direct human consumption and almost all of the remaining 30 million tonnes is used for the feeding of animals used for human consumption or for the production of dairy products or eggs which also enter the human food chain. (FAO 1997a and FAO 1997b)

9. Landed value of the products from capture fisheries are estimated at over US$83 000 million with a further US$42 000 million from products of aquaculture operations. In terms of world trade in fish and fishery products over US$52 000 million worth of products crossed national boundaries in 1995 (FAO 1997b). Fifty one percent of this cross border trade is from developing countries. The net receipts of foreign exchange from fishery exports from developing countries have risen from US$5 100 million in 1985 to US$18 000 million in 1995. (FAO 1997c and FAO Inland Water Resources and Aquaculture Service, Fishery Resources Division 1997).

10. Large portions of the world's fishing stocks are fully exploited. Some are over-exploited or depleted and therefore need to be allowed to recover if overall fish production is to be sustained at its present levels in the long term. The growth of aquaculture has to some extent helped to alleviate the problem of static or diminishing supply from traditional resources but with the growth of human populations, there are still likely to be shortfalls in supply. This means per capita supply will diminish and fish prices may rise as a consequence. It is estimated that the demand for fish for all uses will rise to 140 to 150 million tonnes by the year 2010 (FAO 1997c).

11. Reducing the amount of fish that is wasted or lost between capture and consumption relieves some of the pressure that is apparent on fish stocks and thus assists in the sustainable exploitation of the resource.

12. Although there are cases where fish is caught purely for own consumption (subsistence fishing) is exchanged for goods rather than money (barter trade) or caught for sport, a large proportion of fish is caught and processed so that it can be sold. It is apparent, therefore, that the responsible use of the current production is of prime importance to the health of the fishing industry, the fish consuming people of the world and many others whose livelihood depends on fish as food. The industry and infrastructure of world fisheries depends, to a large extent, on the final sale of product between retailer and consumer where fish or fish based products pass in one direction and money passes in the other. Without this final transaction taking place there would be no need for or point in all the previous efforts that have been made to capture or raise the fish, process and preserve it, regulate or manage the fishery, have government and international bodies dedicated to serving the interests of the industry and the people involved in it. Indeed there would be no money flowing into the system to pay for the various inputs required to get the fish to this stage.

13. There are, therefore, ecological, social and economic reasons why it is very important to ensure that, once caught, fish reaches the consumer by the most efficient means and that the final sale is transacted to the satisfaction of both the consumer and the seller, who in this act represents the interests of all the other stake holders in the fishing industry.

14. Other reasons why there is a need to get fish to consumers with minimal loss and with optimal efficiency are related to the fact that it represents a valuable source of nutriment to many people in the world. The ultimate reason for the majority of fishing and fish raising activities is to contribute to food supplies. Fish is often not considered important in terms of national food security because it contributes little in the way of calories and food security, for a nation, is usually measured in terms of carbohydrate availability per head of population. However people do not live on carbohydrate sources such as grains and tubers alone.

15. At a household and individual level, fish can be nutritionally very important in that it provides a source of easily digested, high quality protein containing essential amino acids, particularly lysine, not necessarily obtainable elsewhere in such high concentrations. In addition the fats that fish contain are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, particularly omega 3 fatty acids. These have health benefits in protection against cardiovascular disease, assist in brain and nervous system development, in foetal and infant development and seem to offer some protection against diabetes, chronic infections and certain types of cancer.

16. Fish are also sources of vitamins such as B12, A and E and are a major source of naturally occurring vitamin D. Fish also contains important trace elements such as iodine and selenium. Fish is low in sodium an important factor for persons with blood pressure problems who may require low sodium diets. Nutritionally therefore fish has a lot of advantages and where other sources of animal protein are scarce or expensive, such as in less developed areas of the world, fish is often the most important source of dietary protein.

17. Although there are restrictions on the consumption of some shellfish and non-scaly fish for some Muslim and Jewish traditions fish is generally not associated with taboos or religious restrictions linked with other animal products. Fish may also be acceptable to those who will not eat meat from warm-blooded animals. In many less developed countries fish also represent an affordable source of animal protein which is not only cheaper but is preferred as part of local and traditional recipes. Locally produced fish and fishery products are generally cheaper than other animal protein sources such as beef, pork, goat or sheep and are often transported as preserved products to rural communities where other sources of animal protein are not generally available at the right price for "everyday consumption".

18. The contribution of fish to nutrition varies considerably from place to place depending on the eating habits and traditions of groups of people. On a world-wide basis the FAO "Food Balance Sheets" (Laureti 1996) show that in 1993 apparent supply of fish was 13.4 kg of whole fish per person. This represents 15.6 percent of animal protein consumption. In low-income food deficit countries, however, only 9.6 kg of fish are available per head but this represents over 20 percent of the animal protein available. This illustrates that fish are often relatively more important in these poorer countries than other sources of animal protein. There can be vast differences between countries depending on availability of fish, the availability of other foods and traditions and eating habits. In the Comoros Islands, for instance, 21.3 kg of fish is available per head per year representing 61.5 percent of animal protein intake, in Canada roughly the same amount of fish is available per head (22.5 kg) but it represents less than 10 percent of animal protein intake for Canadians. This indicates that Canadians have a much higher animal protein intake altogether and that fish is more important as an item of food to Comorians than to Canadians. For Comorians fish probably represents a cheap and available source of animal protein, where as in Canada the fish intake adds to an already wide range of food choices.

Constraints to optimal use of fish once caught

19. Fish spoils and becomes inedible more rapidly than almost any other food. Unless consumed soon after death it soon becomes unacceptable and therefore may be lost as an item of nutritional value. Preservation and processing techniques involving reduction of temperature (chilling and freezing), heat treatment (canning, boiling and smoking), reduction of available water (drying, salting and smoking) and changing the storage environment (packaging and refrigeration) can reduce the rate at which spoilage happens and thus allow fish to be distributed and marketed on a world-wide basis. However, when things go wrong with the infrastructure and mechanisms designed to preserve the product, fish can be lost to the system because they become spoilt before they can reach the consumer. Examples might include the disruption of power supplies causing interruption in supplies of ice or freezing and cold storage facilities for low temperature preservation, the failure of packaging materials to keep dried fish dry, faulty machinery in the canning industry producing incomplete sterilisation, failure of transport infrastructure in distributing a product to market or the breakdown of a vehicle carrying perishable goods.

20. The fragility of fresh fish as a food item also means that if marketing conditions are disrupted or changed from normal, fish that cannot to be sold within its designated shelf-life becomes spoilt and so has to be discarded. This is particularly a problem with fish that is not preserved in any way and at tropical ambient temperatures may only have a few hours of useful storage life remaining by the time it reaches the retail stage. In many cases if it is not sold today, it will no longer be edible tomorrow.

21. The diversity of organisms present in the aquatic environment is huge. Capture fisheries are generally unable to perfectly select only those specimens, in terms of species and size, for which they have a market or which they are allowed to catch under the terms of a management system designed to regulate and protect the fishery in which they operate. This means that fish for which there is no market or which the law prohibits from capture or landing can and often is returned to the water in a dead or dying state. This discarded catch may contain fish that could be used for human food but, because there is no existing market, it is wasted. The amount of discarded catch depends on a large number of factors including the type of fishery, type of gear, seasonal variations and the skill and experience of the fishing operator.

22. There are many thousands of different species of fish available in the seas, rivers and lakes of the world. As a consequence there are many thousands of different types of food stuffs derived from fish that require preservation and processing in order to reach their eventual consumer in optimum condition and with minimum loss.

23. Although the general principles of fish preservation and processing are the same for the majority of products and species and are transferable between types, each type has its own characteristic composition, size, shape and intrinsic chemistry. In addition the physiological condition and therefore the chemical make up of a particular specimen can depend on where it is caught, when it is caught, whether it is male or female, its age and maturity and other factors beyond the control of the catcher of the fish.

24. In aquaculture systems, of course, these factors are much more easily controlled and the post-harvest changes in the products from aquaculture should be more easily determined and predicted. However the variety of raw material entering the basket of food generally known as fish, makes the need for research and development of post-harvest systems for handling this raw material of prime importance. This is particularly so with the exploitation of novel species and stocks for which the handling and nutritional properties may not be known.

25. Fish as food, like all food stuffs, runs the risk of causing illness of the consumer if measures are not taken to prevent or eliminate contamination from pathogenic micro-organisms, toxins or contaminants. The safety of fish as food is an all important aspect of the need to protect fish consumers and ensure the sustainability of the industry. Without consumer confidence in the safety of fish as food the demand can collapse having a knock on effect to the rest of the industry. It only takes a minor publicised occurrence of food poisoning, for example, to cause drastic economic effects for the whole industry as consumers stop buying fish.

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