6.4 Implications for consumption

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The constraints limiting increases in production of fish will put severe strains on the nutritional situation of the countries and population groups with high dependence on fish for their protein supplies and on small-scale fisheries for employment and income. Such impacts would be the greatest in East and South Asia where an additional 8.5 million tonnes will be required by the year 2010 to maintain the present levels of consumption. This region contains a number of countries where fish plays a vital role in the diet (e.g. Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand), in all of which fish accounts for one-half or more of the animal protein supplies.

The consequence of a shortfall in supply will be increases in the price of fish. Such increases by themselves will further stimulate aquaculture production and provide the incentive for further technological advances. Increased prices will also mean that consumer demand will switch to lower priced substitutes. Many of the presently preferred species will move to "the luxury food" class but it is expected that the broad range in fish products that has been the characteristic of fisheries will remain, thereby providing fish at an array of prices. This has been the experience of the past whereby lobsters, shrimps, crabs, salmon, flatfish and cephalopods have had a relatively inelastic demand. By contrast, demand for cod, hake, haddock, tuna, mackerel, redfish, jack, mullet and Alaska pollack is generally much more responsive to price changes.

Projections would indicate that a number of the species with elastic demand would shift to those groups having an inelastic demand. The substitution effect would draw on these less preferred species. The overall consequence would be that the existing supplies of low value fish that are important to the poorer sections of the population would be removed from within their purchasing power.

Currently, almost 30 percent of total world catch of fish is used for non-food purposes. Most of this is reduced to fishmeal which is used in combination with other ingredients such as soybean meal and skimmed milk powder, in the preparation of protein feeds for animals, in particular poultry, pigs and, increasingly, high-value cultivated fish such as salmon and shrimp. While in the past the most important consumers of fishmeal have been the developed countries, their apparent consumption has increased only moderately or declined. Several developing countries have become increasingly important in the 1980s. In all cases, the rapid growth in fishmeal use has been associated with rapid expansion of aquaculture.

Although fishmeal is also derived from sources other than the small shoaling pelagic species (trash fish as by-catch of trawling, refuse from processed food fish, and even, in the case of China, mussel culture), the bulk comes from fish caught specifically for the purpose of reduction to meal. The demand for fishmeal is dependent in part on demand for protein feeds, although the share of fishmeal in these feeds can vary considerably with its price relative to the prices of fishmeal substitutes (e.g. soybean, coarse grains). In recent years fishmeal has tended to establish itself as an essential element in feed compounds, due to growth factors such as its immunological effects, and the price competition of substitutes has become less critical. A continuation is foreseen of the high demand for special quality fishmeal for aquaculture purposes. Anticipated demand for shrimps and salmon will have to be met by the aquaculture output because their wild stocks are currently fished at maximum levels. New opportunities may be generated for special quality fishmeals. The industry forecasts indicate that in the next decade the share of prime fishmeal will increase from the present 8 percent to 25 percent of the total fishmeal production. However, there are serious limitations to the expansion of the world reduction industry because most stocks of fish used as raw material are highly variable and the resource situation seems likely to prevent substantial increases in production.

6.5 Major policy issues for the future

Beyond the issues related to the food and nutrition problems likely to emerge from the supply constraints of the fisheries sector, those related to management of the resources and the environmental dimensions also require urgent and adequate policy responses.

The essential need for management

As described earlier, the most important impact of the likely supply demand gap and the consequent projected increases in the real price of fish is the stimulation such price effects will have in maintaining the excessive levels of fishing intensity and the continuation of overfishing. It is clear that, without directed government intervention to protect and manage fisheries, the resource base will continue to degenerate at a rate corresponding to the increases in real prices of fish. This will continue to occur until governments can establish effective controls over the rate and type of exploitation of the fishery resources. It will become increasingly difficult to manage fisheries with successive price increases stimulating further pressure for greater exploitation levels, particularly since rebuilding depleted stocks will require periods (up to a decade for long-lived species) of reduced catches.

The major contribution that fishing countries could make to solving the problems relating to overfishing is by controlling better and, in some cases, reducing their fishing effort. Another important contribution would be the design and introduction of more selective and efficient fishing gear and practices, thus helping to reduce the wasteful incidental catch of non-target species, not only those of commercial value but also the endangered ones.

The concept of "responsible fishing" embraces not only the impacts of fishing gear and methods upon the overall sustainability of the fisheries but also many other aspects of policies and practices to maintain the quality, quantity, biological diversity and economic availability of fishery resources and to protect their environment. The International Code of Conduct on Responsible Fishing, which is currently under preparation by the FAO, is intended inter alia to bring marine living resources under improved management and ensure better prospects for the fisheries sector.

Small scale fisheries and environmental degradation

Small-scale fisheries are critically important in many countries as sources of both employment and protein. They are, however, being seriously affected by two developments: conflict with large-scale operations in the inshore waters and degradation of the coastal environment. Often the small-scale fishermen have been displaced from agricultural or other natural resources employment and have turned to fisheries because the access to resources is free. There is high mobility into small-scale fisheries but very few opportunities to move out of them. Small-scale fishermen have limited range for their activities. Medium and large-scale vessels, particularly shrimp trawlers and, more recently, those using large purse seines, often find it advantageous to fish in the inshore waters. This creates conflict over the resources as well as space and is damaging to the vulnerable small-scale operators.

The problems of excessive pressures on the inshore stocks and damaging competition among different gears is compounded by environmental degradation. The coastal zone receives large amounts of pollutants including: organic wastes from municipalities, chemical wastes from industries, pesticides and herbicides from agriculture and siltation from forest land clearing and road building. In addition, activities within the coastal zone also affect the environment. These include mining of coral reefs and destruction of mangrove swamps. Fishermen themselves contribute to these kinds of damage by converting mangrove swamps to mariculture ponds for shrimp; by excessive use of feed and antibiotics in cage culture; and by using dynamite, poison and other kinds of techniques that destroy coral reefs.

The effects of these alterations of the coastal environment on fish production are not easily measurable. Some changes may actually be positive: the production of pelagic stocks in parts of the Mediterranean is increasing, possibly as a result of nutrient discharges in these semi-closed seas. But more often, the effects are negative. Pollution can lead to eutrophication (reduction of dissolved oxygen) which causes mass mortalities of stocks. Changes in the marine environment have also apparently led to an increase in red tides, with toxic effects on both fish and man. The destruction of mangrove swamps is quite likely to have diminished nursery areas for many species of fish. Inland fisheries suffer from dams and diversions which affect fish migrations as well as aquatic productivity.

Although these kinds of damage can affect all fishing operations, they are particularly acute for the small-scale fishermen in developing countries, in particular those of Asia where demand is high and the resources are of such vital importance as a source of food as well as employment. Adoption of effective coastal area management is critically important and could facilitate the rehabilitation of stocks and increased yields, as well as alleviate the hardships of the small-scale fishermen.

Environmentally sound management for sustainable development should therefore be based on the integration of all components of sectoral development. Multi-sectoral integration should occur at the conceptualization stage of policies, plans and programmes; components of an integrated plan should then be implemented by different ministries under the technical leadership and coordination of a single agency. Integrated coastal area management (ICAM) has been initiated in a number of countries, both developed and developing, as a means of providing for the rational management of coastal resources. Integrated coastal fisheries management is being developed by the FAO with the financial support of the UNDP as part of ICAM where the fisheries sector plays an important role in the management of coastal resources.

6.6 Conclusions

There will be a significant global shortage of supply of fish in the future. Although the severity of the shortage will differ among countries, the overall effect will be a major rise in the real price of fish, which will have critically important consequences in several regards.

A basic problem is that with the absence of efficient systems to control access to the resources under open access conditions, the rise in prices will stimulate even greater investment in fishing effort than already exists. A vicious circle is established whereby stock depletion reduces supplies, leading to additional price Increases.

This vicious circle can partly be broken by the establishment of systems of exclusive use rights which provide the fishermen with a stake in the resource and an interest in future returns. However, as many governments have found, this is difficult to achieve. The creation of exclusive use rights, by definition, awards benefits to some at costs to others and thereby redistributes wealth. At national levels, fishery administrators generally do not have the mandate to make such decisions. In international areas or areas where stocks are shared by countries (e.g. the northeast Atlantic), negotiators cannot readily agree to controls which limit the rights of their own fishermen.

But as the problems become increasingly severe, the issues are raised to higher political levels and, eventually, will force the necessary decisions. Several countries have already taken the basic steps to create exclusive use rights and have achieved significant benefits. Although the systems still contain many imperfections, the improvements that have been produced provide valuable lessons for other countries.

There is some hope, therefore, that the management of fisheries will eventually improve. However, although the benefits will be significant in reducing biological and economic waste, they will still not be sufficient to overcome the limits to supply. There will be continued increases in real prices with severe effects on low-income consumers, particularly those of the developing countries of Asia and Africa for whom fish is a critically important source of animal protein. Alleviation of these hardships will require major efforts by governments to adopt policies that ensure the most effective use of the scarce resources.


1. A special FAO study concludes that the industry is overcapitalized, mainly as a result of the still largely prevailing open access regimes to ocean fisheries resources and of heavy subsidies provided by major fishing countries, e.g. up to quite recently the former USSR and countries of Eastern Europe, but also the EC and Japan. The study documents the extent to which the value of the global catch falls well short of covering the fleet's operating costs, when these are valued without subsidies (see FAO, 1993e). With the reforms under way in the ax-centrally planned economies of Europe, a substantial part of their subsidized operations has become openly uneconomic. The consequent reductions in the fleets of these countries is leading to significant structural change in the world fishing industry.

Annex: supply prospects by major fishing areas

Annex: supply prospects by major fishing areas

Central America

South America

South East Asia

South Asia

Near East


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