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Food Loss and Waste in Fish Value Chains
©FAO/Ansen Ward

Food Loss and Waste (FLW) in Fish Value Chains

Food loss and waste (FLW) is “the decrease in quantity or quality of food”. Food waste is part of food loss and refers to discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that is safe and nutritious for human consumption along the entire food supply chain, from primary production to end household consumer level. Food waste is recognized as a distinct part of food loss because the drivers that generate it and the solutions to it are different from those of food losses.

In terms of fish, food loss includes fisheries and aquaculture products which are intended for human consumption but are ultimately not eaten or consumed by people, or that have incurred a reduction in quality. A reduction in quality usually leads to a reduction in nutritional value, economic value, or food safety issues. An important part of food loss is “food waste”, which refers to the discarding or alternative (non-food) use of food that was fit for human consumption – by choice or after the food has been left to spoil or expire as a result of negligence. An example of “waste” in fisheries is “discards”, whereby fish are thrown away at sea.

FLW occurs in most, if not all, supply chains and can occur at different stages of value chains. Reducing FLW is becoming increasingly more important as demand for fish as food increases

Causes of Food Loss and Waste


  • Fisheries management decisions leading to discarding of fish at sea 

  • Inefficient fishing gears 
  • Inefficient processing methods  
  • Fishing vessel design not conducive to good handling and storage on-board
  • Lack of cold chain  
  • Predation of fish in gear 
  • Poor water quality in aquaculture 

  • Poor understanding of good handling and hygiene practices

  • Poor road access
  • Lack of investment in cold chain 
  • Poor access to credit making investment difficult  
  • Poor storage conditions 

  • Standards which promote good handling and hygiene not applied or enforced 
  • Labelling causing confusion among consumers 

  • Different preferences for fish or parts of fish 
  • Unbalanced access to services 
  • Gender or wealth bias in access to technology or markets
  • Cultural practices causing delays in buying and selling 

  • Species with low market value
  • Date marking
  • Consumer habits 
  • Rejection of products which do not meet standards 

Summary of FLW Levels in Fisheries by Region

Summary of FLW Levels in Fisheries by Region

From: FAO. 2011. Global food losses and food waste – Extent, causes and prevention. Rome www.fao.org/docrep/014/mb060e/mb060e.pdf.

For all three industrialized regions, losses in primary fish and seafood production are significant due to discard rates of between 9-15% of marine catches. A large proportion of purchased fish and seafood is also wasted by consumer households, when compared to developing countries. In developing countries also, losses in primary production mostly include waste from discards with rates between 6-8% of marine catches. High losses at the distribution level can be explained by high levels of deterioration occurring during fresh fish and seafood distribution.


Economic Value of FLW

Economic Value of FLW

Food loss represents a loss of economic value for actors in the food production and supply chains. Presenting FLW in economic value terms is important for policy and decision making.

The value of food lost or wasted annually at the global level is estimated at US$ 1 trillion. FLW in fisheries and aquaculture are a major concern and occur in most fish value chains. Using the estimated figure of 8% of fish caught being discarded at  sea, equalling approximately 7.5 million tonnes per annum and  an average first point of sale price of US $3000 per tonne, means the value of  discarded fish alone could be equivalent to US $22.5 billion.