Fish and fishery products are a widely traded commodity. In 2006 world exports of fish and fishery products reach US$85.9 million - in real terms this is an increase of 32.1 percent in the period 2000-6. Developing countries have also significantly increased their share in the quantity of fish exports destined for human consumption, from 43 percent in 1992 to 53 percent in 2006.
The fishery net exports of developing countries (i.e. the total value of their exports less the total value of their imports) showed a continuing rising trend in the last decades, growing from US$4.6 billion in 1984 to US$16.0 billion in 1994 to US$24.6 billion in 2006.
The globalization of international trade in fish and fisheries products is sometimes blamed for negative environmental impacts, damage to food security in the exporting country, and increased inequality in wealth distribution.
Trade has the capacity to increase prosperity in the fisheries sector, provided that an appropriate fisheries management system is in place. Trade has contributed to improved market access and rising fish prices, which in turn has increased the profitability of fishing operations. In the absence of an adequate management system that provides fishers with the right set of incentives, however, trade can result in fishers resorting to illegal or damaging fishing practices, or increasing their effort, which will cause or exacerbate overfishing and, in the long term, reduce yields, income, and welfare.
The criticism has been raised that the fish trade damages food security, particularly for vulnerable groups in some developing countries. However, the exported fish tends to be of high value species, enabling the import of greater quantities of less expensive protein. This does not always compensate for the loss of micronutrients obtained from fish and fish products, if fish is no longer available in sufficient quantity. The benefits that trade can bring depends to some extent on how equitably the benefits of trade are distributed.
Increased trade can bring such important gains for society that its potentially negative effects should be addressed through more effective fisheries management and ensuring more equitable income distribution, and not by measures such as trade restrictions. In an increasingly favourable environment for trading fish, particularly for developing countries, fisheries management should encourage sustainable fishing practices and an efficient industry.