Many of the world's poorest people depend on fish
Fisheries and aquaculture crucial to food security, poverty alleviation
7 June 2005, Rome - In this interview with an FAO expert, Ichiro Nomura, Assistant-Director General for Fisheries, discusses how fishing and aquaculture help millions of people around the world by supporting development, alleviating poverty, and putting food on the table.
Q. How are fishing and aquaculture important to development, food security, and poverty alleviation?
Over 852 million people on this planet don't have enough to eat. That certainly doesn't promote sustainable development. Millions of medium- and small-scale fishers and fish farmers, often very poor, depend on fishing and aquaculture. For FAO, fishing and aquaculture are first and foremost about people earning a living and putting food on their tables, and we do think it can be done sustainably.
Fishing and fish farming contribute to food security in three main ways. They directly increase people's food supplies, providing highly nutritious animal protein and important micronutrients while doing so. Fish food also "fill in the gaps" during times when other food is scarce. Finally, fishing and aquaculture provide jobs and income that people use to buy other foods
Q. How much food are we talking about?
Just over 100 million tonnes of fish are eaten world-wide each year, providing two and a half billion people with at least 20 percent of their average per capita animal protein intake.
This contribution is even more important in developing countries, especially small island states and in coastal regions, where frequently over 50% of people's animal protein comes from fish. In some of the most food-insecure places -- many parts of Asia and Africa, for instance -- fish protein is absolutely essential, accounting for a large share of an already-low level of animal protein consumption.
Q. You also mentioned the livelihood aspect...
Yes. By providing employment, fisheries and aquaculture alleviate poverty and help boost people's food security.
Remember, around 97 percent of fishers are in developing countries. Fishing is especially important there.
Also, in the absence of social security or unemployment schemes, fishing can be an activity of last resort, a "safety net" provided by nature. Ironically, this characteristic of fisheries, which gives it particular value, can also, unfortunately, lead to excessive fishing and depletion of the resources.
There is also the economic activity resulting indirectly from fisheries and aquaculture, which supports around 200 million people, we estimate. International trade in fish is creating a lot of jobs in related industries like processing or packing.
Q. Trade in fish?
Yes, it's quite extensive. The octopus carpaccio that you enjoy at a tapas bar near Barcelona could have been caught by a European union fishing vessel crewed by Ukrainians fishing off Mauritania, block-frozen there, and sold through a fish market in Vigo on Spain's Atlantic Coast before arriving 'fresh from the sea' at your table.
All in all, about 38 percent of all fish is traded internationally. The total world export value for fish and fish products is nearly US$60 billion! Significantly, the volume share of developing countries in fishery exports represents just over half, about 55 percent, of the total.
That is a significant source of foreign currency earnings for poor countries. Net receipts of foreign exchange by developing countries through fish trade is now around US$17 billion a year, more than what they earn from exports of tea, rice, coffee together.
But here again, there is a risk that the higher income possible via exporting fish potentially could reduce local fish supplies and possible create incentives for over-fishing. There is both an opportunity and a risk -- which is why responsible management is so important.
Information Officer, FAO
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