September 1998 COFI/99/2

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Twenty-third Session
Rome, Italy, 15-19 February 1999


This paper reviews the production of inland fish through aquaculture and fisheries, describes the role of this production in local food security, and discusses key challenges to maintaining and enhancing inland fish production. It stresses that degradation of aquatic resources and environments are major threats to existing and future potential fish production from inland waters. Approaches to integrated resource management (IRM) are proposed, emphasizing empowerment of local interests, new partnerships and improved collaboration between interested sectors and stakeholders. The Committee is invited to advise FAO on national and international needs for IRM within the agricultural sector, and on possible future priorities for the FAO Fisheries Department.


Overview of production

1. In 1996, the reported production from inland waters amounted to more than 23 million tonnes (t), with contributions of 7.5 and 15.5 million t from capture fisheries and aquaculture, respectively. Yields from fisheries, especially subsistence fisheries, being greatly under-reported, may be twice the indicated figures. Fisheries yields in terms of total volume are highest in Asia, but are also important in Africa. Recreational fisheries are economically important in Europe and North America, and the trend is for an increase in their importance elsewhere. Fishery enhancement techniques, especially stocking of natural and artificial water bodies, long the mainstay of recreational fisheries, are contributing to a major proportion of the catch for food, particularly in Asia. The bulk of aquaculture production comes from Asia, derived mainly from extensive and semi-intensive farming of lower-value herbivorous and omnivorous fish species.

Inland fish production and food security

2. Inland fish production provides significant contributions to animal protein supplies in many rural areas. In some regions freshwater fish represent an essential, often irreplaceable source of high quality and cheap animal protein crucial to the balance of diets in marginally food secure communities. Most inland fish produce is consumed locally, marketed domestically, and often contributes to the subsistence and livelihood of poor people. Increasingly, some inland fish products are also traded internationally generating additional wealth. The degree of participation, including a significant number of women and children, in fishing and fish farming can be high in some rural communities, and fish production often is undertaken in addition to agricultural or other activities.

Food production and resource degradation

3. All food producing sectors, including fisheries and aquaculture, are facing problems of environmental degradation and increasing land and water scarcity. The agricultural sector as a whole is facing increasing competition for water resources from industrialization and urbanization, and from growing requirements for safe drinking water supplies. These issues are particularly critical in many developing countries, given their high dependence on agriculture for food and income generation. Recent global assessments on freshwater resources and related international meetings including recent Sessions of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development, confirmed that some regions are or will be facing serious water shortages1,2. One third of the world’s population lives in countries experiencing moderate or high water stress. Demand by, and competition among various sectors for water - in terms of quantity and quality - will increase significantly, and politically difficult decisions on allocation and pricing of water uses, removal of subsidies, pollution control, and other measures have been suggested to avoid an imminent water crisis.


4. In most countries the main challenges to maintaining and enhancing inland fish production and associated social and economic benefits, are:

Degradation of aquatic resources and environment

5. Industrialization, urbanization, deforestation, mining, and agricultural land and water uses often cause degradation of aquatic environments, which is the greatest threat to inland fish production3. Fishery resources are being affected by destruction and fragmentation of aquatic habitats, aquatic pollution due to release of industrial and urban effluents and run-off of agro-chemicals, impoundment and channelization of water bodies, excessive water abstraction or diversion, soil erosion and manipulation of hydrological characteristics of rivers, lakes and flood plains4,5. Recent reviews6 indicate that land degradation, forest loss and degradation, biodiversity loss and habitat degradation, and scarcity and pollution of freshwater are all increasing in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and West Asia. In other regions, especially in more developed areas, these stresses continue at high levels.

6. Environmental stresses are particularly severe in those watersheds which are already substantially modified or degraded7 Pressures on Asian watersheds are intensifying, which causes concern because they correspond to the most important areas of inland fish production globally. Global trends in freshwater fish faunas indicate that many faunas are in serious decline8, with losses being highest in industrialized countries, followed by regions with arid or Mediterranean climates, tropical regions with large human populations and, big rivers9. There is increasing awareness about the urgent need to protect living aquatic resources in inland waters, and the focus of attention includes the requirement for conservation and sustainable use of aquatic genetic resources. In order to address threats to freshwater biodiversity increasing international efforts are ongoing including those which are being promoted within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Increasing competition for resources

7. Inland fish producers will face increasing competition for resources from other sectors. In addition to competing demands for water and land, it is important to recognize the heavy reliance of aquaculture and culture-based fisheries on nutrient inputs required for feeding and fertilizing. Many aquafarmers utilize agricultural by-products and fertilizers for which competition will also increase with agriculturists producing more efficiently and with less waste. Overall, competition for resources will - in the long term - have beneficial effects on inland fish production, given the expectation that competition will result in increasing efficiency in resource use, production, and processing and marketing of inland fish.

8. However, there will be cases where resources until now available for inland fish production will be utilized by other resource users who prove to be more competitive. It can be expected that, in such cases, inland fish production will be affected first by reduced access to water which will no longer be available in appropriate quality and quantity. A major challenge will be to guarantee open and fair competition for resources so that aquaculture and inland fisheries can gain access to resources and maintain their production. This will require that the use of resources by other sectors is no longer subsidized. Nevertheless, social conditions can make subsidies valid management instruments even if they shift given resource use away from an economically preferable optimum. Likewise, environmental concerns may require policy interventions which, while economically sub-optimal, aim at conserving habitats and living aquatic resources.

Insufficient institutional and political recognition

9. One of the main impediments to increasing inland fish production is that fishery/aquaculture administrators worldwide find it difficult to defend the interests of their sector. Decisions over developments affecting fisheries, aquaculture and aquatic environments are often made with no consideration of these sectors, basically for lack of trustworthy economic assessments of present value in the case of inland fisheries and for lack of projections of potential value in the case of aquaculture and enhanced inland fisheries.

10. Most policy makers in other sectors are not aware of the importance of inland fish production for food supplies and income generation. This sector is often not properly represented or empowered within existing institutional frameworks. Most inland fish producers suffer from the absence or inadequacy of (i) defined rights of their specific practices, and (ii) institutional support, whether public or private. This results in difficulties in obtaining credits, accessing information and attracting efforts of capacity-building, including training and extension, in addition to low investments into the sector. Given the lack of political power, the interests and needs of fish producers are often neglected or ignored, particularly at local levels.


11. The above challenges in most cases cannot be addressed by fishery stakeholders alone, particularly since many of the problems are generated outside the fisheries sector. Integration10, especially better coordination of planning and management of resources shared by fisheries and other users, is required in order to facilitate sustainable inland fish production. Fishery administrators and stakeholders should seek opportunities to participate in the formulation and implementation of integration measures.

12. The following table provides an overview of basic management issues and of possible policies and instruments of integration which may be employed, preferably as a combination of selected interventions rather than as single measures, to address challenges to inland fish production.


Possible policies and instruments of integration


economic incentives

regulatory instruments

legal and institutional framework

  • decreases in availability of land, water and assimilative capacity of the environment

  • open access characteristic of resources

  • multi-disciplinarity of management issues

  • mis-match between administrative and management units

  • multiple resources-dependency of communities
  • sound subsidies

  • polluter pays principle

  • tradable use or property rights

  • user fees
  • land use planning and zoning

  • water use planning and allocation

  • licensing/auctions

  • allocation on the basis of environmental and social impact assessment

  • effluent and emission standards
  • coherent legislation

  • delegation of management authority

  • mechanisms for consultation and participation

  • codes of practice

  • inter-sectoral coordination

  • management of ecosystem and resource use of areas/regions (eco-regional coordination)

  • integrated extension and training services


  • Better integration of fish production into agricultural production

    13. Integrated approaches to resource management are challenging, but provide significant avenues to enhancing fish production. In particular, there is a need for enhanced integration of inland fisheries and aquaculture into agricultural development planning, especially regarding practices and decisions of water and land management. Many opportunities exist for increasing efficiency in resource use and adding value to shared resources. There are various levels and areas where integration measures for enhanced fish production are possible or desirable, for example:

    Possible measures by fishery administrations

    14. Integration of fish production and increased participation of fishery stakeholders in resource management and planning will require major efforts by national fishery administrations, inter alia, to:


    15. Basic features of good integrated resource management (IRM) include the formation of extensive partnerships and the close involvement of local interests. Fishery and aquaculture stakeholders, both public and private, may therefore pursue actions which aim to:

    16. IRM can begin with improved cross-sectoral cooperation among the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sub-sectors. However, there may be a need for additional technical assistance and policy guidance on IRM for sustainable production of fish and other food in watershed areas. Such IRM efforts are often also required at international, especially regional levels, and further assistance may be necessary in regional decision-making for the transboundary management of shared river and lake basins.


    17. The Committee is invited to review the various issues raised in this document, assess the appropriateness of suggested approaches and provide guidance for promoting Integrated Resource Management for Sustainable Inland Fish Production.

    1 United Nations (Economic and Social Council), 1997. Comprehensive Assessment of the Freshwater Resources of the World. Report of the Secretary General (E/CN.17/1997/9) to the Fifth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, 5-25 April 1997.
    2 United Nations (Economic and Social Council), 1998. Strategic Approaches to Freshwater Management. Report of the Secretary General (E/CN.17/1998/2) to the Sixth Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development, New York, 20 April - 1 May 1998.
    3 Coates, D. 1995. Inland capture fisheries and enhancement: status, constraints and prospects for food security. KC/FI/95/TECH/3. 82 p. Contribution to the International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security, Kyoto, Japan, 4-9 December 1995, organized by the Government of Japan, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
    4 Petr, T. and M. Morris (eds.), 1995. Indo-Pacific Fishery Commission. Papers contributed to the Regional Symposium on Sustainable Development of Inland Fisheries under Environmental Constraints. Bangkok, Thailand, 19-21 October 1994, and Country reports presented at the Sixth Session of the IPFC Working Party of Experts on Inland Fisheries. Bangkok, Thailand, 17-21 October 1994. FAO Fish.Rep., No. 512 (Suppl.). 262 pp.
    5 Barg, U., I.G. Dunn, T. Petr and R.L. Welcomme, 1997. Inland fisheries, p.439-476. In A.K. Biswas (ed.) Water Resources: Environmental Planning, Management and Development. New York, McGraw-Hill. 737 p.
    6 UNEP, Global State of the Environment Report 1997.
    7 Ravenga, C. et al., 1998. Watersheds of the world. Ecological value and vulnerability. A joint publication of the World Resources Institute and the Worldwatch Institute, Washington, USA.
    8 FAO, 1998. Report of the First Session of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research. Rome, Italy, 25-28 November 1997. FAO Fish.Rep. , (571): 36 p.
    9 Leidy, R.A. and P.B. Moyle. 1998. Conservation status of the world’s fish fauna: an overview. In: Fiedler, P.L. and P.M. Kareiva (eds.) Conservation Biology, Second Edition. Chapman and Hall, New York. pp. 187-227.
    10 The overall objective of integration is to achieve higher levels of efficiency by maximizing synergistic interactions and minimizing antagonistic interactions between resource uses, users and sectors.