Fishing is the capture of aquatic organisms in marine, coastal and inland areas. Marine and inland fisheries, together with aquaculture, provide food, nutrition and a source of income to around 820 million people around the world, from harvesting, processing, marketing and distribution. For many it also forms part of their traditional cultural identity. One of the greatest threats to the sustainability of global fishery resources is illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

FAO’s role in fisheries

FAO recognizes the importance of fish and its many associated products for:

  • Food security and nutrition.
  • Economic growth through fish production and trade.
  • Poverty alleviation and the creation of employment opportunities in rural areas.

FAO plays a leading role in international fisheries policy, including through the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) and related sub-committees on Fish Trade and Aquaculture. FAO works with a wide range of partners, including Governments, Regional Fisheries Bodies, cooperatives, fishing communities and others on:

  • Implementing the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF).
  • Compiling and publishing the global capture production database, including fleet, fishers and trade-related data.   
  • Reducing the negative impacts of fishing on the environment through technological and community-based management solutions.
  • Implementing the Port State and Flag State Measures Agreements to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
  • Assisting Members countries in disaster preparedness as well as providing assistance to fishing communities affected by emergencies and natural disasters.
  • Supporting Member countries in developing and implementing international guidelines relating to fisheries operations including bycatch management and reduction of discards; eco-labelling and traceability; reduction of fish loss and waste; and supply chain efficiency.
  • Improving understanding of the socio-economics of fisheries taking into account value chain dynamics and market access, the status of fisheries resources; access and user right; issues related to decent work conditions and social protection; equitable revenue distribution and profitability and value-addition.
  • In close collaboration with intergovernmental organizations (e.g. CITES, CMS, IUCN and NGOs), implementing the International Plans of Action (IPOA) for: Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries; Conservation and Management of Sharks; Management of Fishing Capacity; and Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.
  • Raising the profile of inland fisheries due to its importance for food security and poverty alleviation.
  • Providing assistance in disaster preparedness planning and in dealing with the impacts of climate change at the national, regional and international levels as well as assisting fishing communities affected by natural disasters and prolonged emergencies.
  • Recognizing small-scale fisheries as a fundamental contributor to poverty alleviation and food security, FAO supports the development of the sector, including through the development of a dedicated instrument the voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication.
In 2016, 88 percent of the total fish production (151 million out of 171 million tonnes) was for direct human consumption. This is up from 67 percent in the 1960s. In fact the annual growth rate of fish available for human consumption has surpassed that of meat from all terrestrial animals combined.
China is the world’s top fish producer by far, and since 2002, has also been the largest exporter of fish and fish products.
Alaska pollock was the top caught species in 2016. Anchoveta came in second and skipjack tuna ranked third.
40.3 million people worked in the primary sector of capture fisheries in 2016
The value of world trade in fish and fish products has grown significantly, with exports rising from USD 8 billion in 1976 to USD 143 billion in 2016.
Fish provides high-quality, easily-digestible animal proteins that contributes significantly to the human diet and helps fight micronutrient deficiencies.

Major FAO outputs in fisheries

  • Compilations of global catch, fleet and employment statistics by country and information about stock status and bio-ecological characteristics of commercially exploited aquatic species.
  • Compilation and dissemination of worldwide fish price reports, market studies and trend analysis.
  • Publications on fisheries, providing up-to-date information that is valuable to both developed and developing countries.
  • Publication of global stock status reviews and bio-ecological information on aquatic species.
  • Guidelines for Members countries about the use of local ecological knowledge and participatory approaches in fisheries management.
  • Global fisheries statistical and data standards to improve data exchange and integration through partnerships with regional and national institutions.


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