Q&A: The global fish trade and world hunger
In this Q&A interview, Grimur Valdimarsson, Director of FAO's Fisheries Industries Division, talks about the global fish trade and what it means for the fight against hunger in the developing world.
When we talk about the fish trade, what do we mean?
We're talking about a tremendous global commodities chain spanning hundreds of countries and employing millions of people. Each year, around 37 percent of all fish that is caught or farmed is exported and traded internationally. In value terms, we're talking about over US$70 billion worth of business.
But what is particularly interesting for us here at FAO is that around half of that is exports from developing countries -- clearly, this trade is very important to them as a source of government revenue and jobs, and therefore is playing a key role in the fight against world hunger.
Indeed, net export revenues from fish earned by developing countries passed US$20 billion in 2004 -- that's more than the combined total of the other commodities they are exporting, including coffee, tea and bananas.
And then within the developing countries group, those countries where hunger is most problematic -- what we at FAO call Low Income Food Deficit Countries, or LIFDCs -- are heavily involved in the sector. In 2003, LIFDCS accounted for over 20 percent of total value of all fish exports, with net export revenues estimated at around US$8.6 billion dollars. That's a lot of money for some very poor countries wrestling with poverty and hunger.
Isn't there concern that by exporting fish, these countries will have less to eat?
That's a worry that has been voiced. But our studies suggest that while that can happen, it doesn't happen that often. Instead, we've seen that, usually, when countries actively participate in the fish trade, their food security situation improves, because international trade in fishery products generates employment, higher incomes, and greater foreign exchange earnings. Moreover, the revenues generated by the fish exports are often used to import cheaper foods.
However, there are other concerns that FAO is drawing attention to.
The main risk associated with the fish trade is that increased demand for fish to supply international markets can sometimes result in excessive fishing pressure, leading to the over-exploitation and wasteful use of some fish stocks. This can impact on food security, especially where there is a high dependence on fish in the diet.
Sustainable resource management practices are a necessary condition for sustainable international trade. Market demand needs to be coupled with a sustainable resource management policy.
How do we do that?
Well, we here at FAO think that we have a very good blueprint in our Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. We'd like to see countries do more to more vigorously incorporate the tenets of the Code into their fishing practices.
We've also just produced a set of guidelines for responsible fish trade, which we are presenting next week at the meeting of the FAO Subcommittee on Fish Trade in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.
The basic idea is that international trade in fish should not compromise the sustainable development of fisheries and the responsible utilization of living aquatic resources. That is, if we want to continue to farm and capture fish, eat them, trade them in the future -- and we do -- then we need to manage them responsibly now. The goal is healthy, sustainable fisheries which are capable of supplying fish and providing all the benefits I've described, indefinitely.
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