Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


K.J. Rana, R. Grainger and Adele Crispoldi-Hotta
Fishery Information and Statistics Unit
Fisheries Department, FAO, Rome


Inland fisheries (defined as inland capture plus aquaculture) is rapidly expanding and competing for natural resources with other uses. Consequently, there is an increasing need to monitor the sector to ensure responsible use of resources while increasing production. This presentation attempts to describe the current FAO fisheries production statistics programme and highlights some of the constraints likely to be faced and that need addressing for the routine monitoring of these emerging sectors.

The main questionnaires for monitoring and disseminating total world fishery production and the current procedure for estimating and disseminating aquaculture and capture fisheries production are described. Several institutional and technical constraints for monitoring inland capture fisheries are identified and addressed. Particular emphasis is given to the scale of reporting incompletely identified aquatic organisms, efforts to define aquaculture practices and the minimal use of standardised terminology in fisheries. The paper proposes an international workshop on harmonising definitions and terminology for statistical purposes and an evaluation of the data gathering capacity of countries for aquaculture and inland capture fisheries as a prerequisite for improving the quality of monitoring.


It is widely acknowledged that fish supplies from traditional marine and inland capture fisheries are unlikely to increase and that the expected shortfall is likely to be met from growth in aquaculture and enhanced capture fisheries (Welcomme, 1996). To meet these challenges the FAO Fisheries Department has adopted three principal interrelated initiatives. These are, to promote at global, regional and national levels: i) responsible fisheries management; ii) the outcome of Kyoto conference1 to reduce wastage and increase fish production; and iii) enhanced global monitoring and strategic analysis.

The implementation, verification and evolution of practices of the first two initiatives however, are underpinned by the third, monitoring and analysis of global and national trends. For aquaculture and inland capture fisheries the need to monitor their sustainable development is re-emphasised in the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (FAO, 1995) and the report of the twenty second session of COFI.

1 International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security (Kyoto 3–5 December 1995)

Given that inland fisheries (defined as inland capture plus aquaculture) is rapidly expanding and competing for limited land, water and energy resources with other uses, i.e. for recreation, human consumption, habitation and agriculture, there is an increasing need to monitor the sector to ensure responsible use of resources while increasing production. Unlike the monitoring of traditional capture fisheries, which has as its starting point the harvesting of edible fish, the monitoring of aquaculture and enhanced fisheries will have to encompass various facets of culture practices, from seed production to post-harvest activities. In considering the need to monitor production, the countries' needs and their capacity to collect and utilise the required information will have to be evaluated. As a preliminary phase in addressing these issues this presentation describes the current FAO fisheries production statistics programme and highlights some of the constraints likely to be faced and that need addressing for the routine monitoring of these emerging sectors.


The Fisheries Information Data and Statistics Unit (FIDI) of the FAO currently collects collates, evaluates, analyses and disseminates information on aquatic production on a worldwide basis. Since more than one form of data collection system is used to collectively monitor such production it may be useful at the outset to briefly consider the mechanisms and methods currently used by FIDI in order to obtain a clearer insight on how production from aquaculture and inland capture fisheries is estimated. This will help clarify the system's potential and constraints.

2.1 Procurement of fishery production data

The overall framework for collecting production statistics on fisheries was established to collect data from the major and minor inland and marine fishing areas set up by the Co-ordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP). The data collated on fish catch from these two types of fishing areas are provided on returns of FAO questionnaires submitted by institutions within countries, notably, Departments of Fisheries, Ministries of Agriculture, and at times research institutions. These questionnaires are the:

  1. National Summary (NS) questionnaires (Nos. 1, 6, 7, 8, & 9) which contain seven previous consecutive years of annual production by species or species groups and major fishing areas. The NSI questionnaire is sent to each country for reporting national total aquatic production from capture fisheries and aquaculture in major fishing areas relevant to the country for the latest year and for any revisions for the previous seven years. Separate NS forms are used for reporting national total production of whales, seals and other aquatic mammals (NS 6), crocodiles and alligators (NS 7), pearls, shells, corals and sponges (NS 8) and aquatic seaweeds (NS 9). Species items may be reported as species or aggregated into one of the 50 International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plant groupings (ISSCAAP groups) and,

  2. Questionnaire on aquaculture (FISHSTAT AQ) sent to all countries for reporting production by weight and value from aquaculture in marine, brackish and freshwater environments as well as information on rearing systems.

In addition to the above, returns from other questionnaires, i.e. FISHSTAT IW, EIFAC inland waters, and STATLANT A and B, CWP marine capture fisheries, which contain more detailed information (species landed, fishing gear and vessel type, size, and power) are used for verification and to provide supplementary data in some cases. A more detailed account of these questionnaires is given in the FAO fisheries statistics programme (SEAFDEC, 1994).


The procedure for estimating production from capture fisheries and aquaculture separately by FIDI/FAO is currently under review and work is in progress to separate capture fisheries and aquaculture database back from 1983 to 1950.

At present, the species or species items on returns from the two FAO questionnaires (NSI and FISHSTAT AQ) described above are principally used to estimate nominal catches from marine and inland capture fisheries as indicated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Current procedure used for estimating aquaculture, capture and fishery production.

Figure 1.

In general, the total national production reported for each species or species groups in the NS returns is allocated to major inland or marine fishing areas. The species or species groups reported for each of these areas are verified and, if necessary, supplemented from FISHSTAT AQ returns designated as fresh water (Fig. 1, F) and marine (Fig. 1, M) at FIDI/FAO. In addition, for countries of the EIFAC region returning the FISHSTAT IW questionnaire, details on species and production contained therein may be used to supplement inland recreational and commercial capture fisheries. Similarly, for countries returning the STATLANT A and B questionnaires, details on species and production may be used to supplement production in marine areas. To estimate production from inland capture fisheries, the total production of each species and species group from freshwater aquaculture is subtracted from that allocated to total inland area; total marine capture is estimated by subtracting marine aquaculture from total production from marine areas.

3.1 Dissemination of fisheries data

At present the national landings of aquatic production which are categorised by country, major fishing area and species items are disseminated in two premier FIDI publications. The total world aquatic production is reported as nominal catches (landings adjusted to a live weight basis) in the FAO Yearbook on Fisheries Statistics - catches and landings and in computerised form as FISHSTAT PC from the year 1950 onwards. The yearbook contains a 10 year time series on species of finfish, crustaceans, molluscs, aquatic plants and other aquatic animals that are killed, caught, trapped, collected and cultivated for all commercial, industrial, recreational and subsistence purposes. In addition, a similar time series on production, as tonnes, and value, as US dollars, originating exclusively from aquaculture is published as the Aquaculture Production Statistics (FAO Fisheries Circular No. 815) and in computerised form as AQUACULT PC from the year 1984 onwards.

This procedure of dissemination, however, is currently being reviewed by FIDI.


The historical constraints of monitoring inland capture fisheries could be broadly grouped as being institutional and technical with each having national, regional and global dimensions. Collectively, the ability to monitor aquatic production from aquaculture and inland capture fisheries is hampered for several reasons. These include: a lack of active working parties; the varying economic importance of inland fisheries to the national economy; varying types of national administration of the inland waters; specific and at times unclear and confusing terminology used to address inland capture fisheries and aquaculture; changing inland capture fishery management practices; inadequate accuracy and incompleteness of nationally collected data; and the nature of inland capture fisheries. Some of these are addressed below.

4.1 Institutional constraints

4.1.1 Regional and global working parties on inland capture fisheries and aquaculture

Unlike the international nature of some marine capture fisheries, inland fisheries are often of national and, more commonly, of local value. Consequently, while many refinements such as zonation, sampling standards and surveys and definitions were introduced and evolved through statistical working parties of International Fishery Commissions for marine capture fishery, the international harmonisation of terminology and standardisation of data collection procedures for inland fisheries, in particular capture fisheries, have been somewhat neglected except in those regions, like Europe, where many countries share significant inland water bodies and where, traditionally, recreational fisheries in affluent countries predominate. Accordingly, inland fisheries statistics have figured prominently in the work of EIFAC (Europe), but much less in CIFA (Africa) and COPESCAL (Latin America). In Asia, however, there is no such body to deal exclusively with inland capture fisheries though the Working Party of Experts on Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries, APFIC (formerly IPFC) has occasionally addressed problems of statistical nature. Regional projects for the development and management of large lakes capture fisheries (e.g. Tanganyika) or international rivers (e.g. Mekong) have occasionally discussed the quality of inland capture catch data and sought ways to improve it. For example, at present the Mekong River Commission (MRC) is evaluating, on a trial basis, the use of ARTFISH, a FIDI/FAO software specifically designed for recording landings from artisanal fisheries by species, fishing boat and gear type from sample surveys.

The clarity of discussions on all facets of inland capture fisheries and aquaculture, including data quality at the regional and global level is likely to manifest the constraints at the national level.

4.1.2 National administration of inland capture fisheries

Traditionally, inland capture fishery resources are regarded as common property, often falling under the jurisdiction of one country alone, and the right to exploit them has to be secured from that country's administratively-responsible authority. The place reserved for inland fisheries in the national administration depends on the relative importance of inland capture fisheries to the national economy and the prime reasons for monitoring aquatic production.

In countries bordering oceans, the inland fishery administration often falls under a Ministry different from the one in charge of marine capture fisheries. In many countries (e.g. in Europe) inland capture fisheries are historically linked to the administration of waters, forests and hunting. This separation may result in different budget levels for the two agencies entrusted with the collection of data and hence this may have a bearing on the services that they make available or undertake at the field level.

One consequence for the collection of catch and other relevant statistics is that the methods in place for marine and inland catches may differ substantially. Marine catch statistics may be collected by monthly sampling of small-scale units and complete enumeration for industrial units. In contrast, inland capture fisheries catch statistics may be collected less frequently, at best annually or even through occasional surveys. Moreover, if in such two-tier systems the co-ordination between the administrative agencies to ensure compatibility of the data is poor, duplications as well as omissions are likely in grey zones such as coastal lakes, lagoons, estuaries, and other brackish waters.

4.2 Nature of inland capture fisheries and aquaculture and its consequence for potential quality of data

One of the probable reasons for a lesser reliability and definition of inland capture statistics compared with those of marine capture fisheries is the logistics of monitoring inland capture fisheries. In contrast to marine capture fisheries, inland capture fisheries are primarily undertaken by a large number of small units, part-time and occasional fishermen who may be widely dispersed over the country and at times inaccessible, making it difficult if not impossible to have adequate systematic checks and controls. The fragmented nature of these fisheries also increases the costs of securing such information. Perhaps more importantly, the justification of collecting data is likely to be frustrated further when, in national terms, the inland capture fisheries supports a relatively small commercial activity despite being of high socio-economic importance and contributing significantly to food security, and being of possibly high importance as an indicator of the status of environmental quality and biodiversity.

Given that the infrastructure for collecting production data is often inadequate, the collected information may be reported inaccurately, sometimes intentionally to avoid taxes (in which case catches are under-reported), at times by faulty memory (for instance reports of catches which are based on recall interviews). Where data are collected by questionnaires, the data may lack accuracy because of inadequate design, or carelessness of the respondent. In addition, catches may be reported voluntarily, thus being subject to the discretion and sense of responsibility of the reporting fisher or fishers association. The adjustment of accurate field statistics by one or more governmental offices, either through lack of knowledge on the inland fisheries or to fit in with an established reporting pattern may also distort inland capture data.

4.2.1 Unidentified aquatic organisms

In capture fisheries and aquaculture, aquatic organisms which are not identified to the species level may be aggregated and reported as “miscellaneous freshwater fishes” or reported at the order, sub-order, family or genus level. This aggregation is potentially a serious constraint for monitoring changes in fish assemblages and for implementing the legally binding Convention on Biodiversity. The reporting of aquatic organisms from inland capture fisheries is a major constraint and since 1992, the reporting of aquatic organisms at the taxonomic level of order or sub-order has increased rapidly (Fig. 2). In 1995, inland capture fisheries accounted for 73% of production reported at the order or sub-order level from inland waters. The greatest problem for improving the resolution of species identification reported for inland capture is the high tonnage of “freshwater fishes nei” (= not elsewhere identified). By 1995, this group totalled 2.6 million tonnes and accounted for 69% of the total volume of unidentified aquatic species from inland capture (Fig. 3).

Identifying the various species items originating from aquaculture and inland capture fisheries may help to focus assistance for species identification. Inland capture fisheries accounts for 68% of the freshwater fishes nei and almost all of freshwater crustaceans and mussels nei groupings. For cyprinid nei, however, aquaculture accounts for 78% of the total ( Fig. 4).

Figure 2. Capture fishery production in inland waters for Asia and the Pacific by level of taxonomic detail.

Figure 2.

Figure 3. Tonnage of unidentified species items reported for inland capture fisheries in Asia for 1995 (top 10 reports).

Figure 3.

Although the quantities of reported unidentified aquatic organisms have increased, the ranking of major countries reporting unidentified species as freshwater fishes nei has remained the same in the last five years. In 1995, China reported around 734,000 and 895,000 tonnes as freshwater fishes nei from aquaculture and inland capture fisheries, respectively, followed by Bangladesh with 287,000 and 437,500 and India with 0 and 471,000 tonnes, respectively (Fig. 5). The contribution of incompletely identified species to the International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plant groupings (ISSCAAP) by major countries varies. In 1995, most of unidentified Chinese finfishes were aggregated into freshwater fishes nei whereas for India none were allocated to this group (Fig. 5).

Figure 4. Contribution of major species items to inland water production in 1995. Note: Species items included are those with a production above 100,000 tonnes.

Figure 4.

Figure 5. Contribution of major countries to freshwater nei grouping in Asia for 1995.

Figure 5.

Instead, India reports most of its unidentified finfish as cyprinid nei and in 1995 India accounted for 87% of this group (Figures 4 and 6).

Overall, attention to species identification should focus on the freshwater fishes, molluscs and crustaceans and cyprinid nei in China, Bangladesh, India, Viet Nam, Indonesia and Myanmar.

Figure 6. Aquaculture production fin fishes reported by major counties as cyprinid nei in 1995.

Figure 6.

4.3 Harmonisation of terminology and definitions

For this discussion, inland fisheries is divided into inland capture and inland aquaculture. Depending on whether the generic term “fisheries” is used administratively or technically, what constitutes fisheries, may vary. The consequence of this is often reflected when policymakers and their policies interact with the technocrats at the implementation phase. In numerous FAO and non-FAO publications the term “fisheries” is often used as a generic term to encompass marine and inland capture fisheries and aquaculture. At the implementation level, however, it is often taken to mean capture and in particular marine capture fisheries. Similarly, the term inland fisheries can and does include inland aquaculture and inland capture fishery, but is also often used to describe only inland capture fisheries. This lack of clarity in terminology makes it increasingly difficult to follow recent debates on the changing practices in inland capture fisheries and has the potential of weakening further the quality of data reported to FAO.

With the increasing interventionist approach to managing inland capture fisheries, relatively new terminology such as “enhanced or inland culture-based fisheries” is being used to describe varying degrees of intensification of capture fisheries such as stocking, fertilisation, predator control, etc. (Welcomme, 1996). At present these terms are not clearly defined and currently their use may vary between and within countries. In India for example, “inland culture fisheries” is used to describe inland aquaculture (Jhingran, 1991) and in Bangladesh “inland capture fisheries” is referred to as “inland open water fisheries” and “inland culture fisheries” or “inland closed water fisheries” has been used to describe aquaculture in large and small ponds and tanks (Hassain, 1996). It is perhaps noteworthy to emphasise that if unified terminology used by scientists and researchers does not percolate down to the grass roots and enumerator level the quality of the aggregated national data eventually reaching FAO is unlikely to improve.

In addition to the above, the coverage of inland fisheries may also vary between countries and this may be reflected in the data reported to FAO. In India for example, inland fisheries, in a textbook for graduates and postgraduates, includes both freshwater and brackish environment (Jadav, 1993) whereas in many countries brackish water environment is included in coastal or marine fisheries.

In addition to the varying national interpretations of fisheries terminology outlined above, the compartmentalisation of aquatic environments used by FAO and its subsequent inference may also require some clarification. The FAO inland capture fisheries data are collated from country returns based on eight inland areas. Following this collation, production from these eight inland areas is referred to as production from inland waters and it is often assumed that this production refers to freshwater production only. Whilst this may predominate, the inland water category also includes the saline inland seas such as Caspian and Aral seas and many inland non-freshwater bodies. In addition to the possible misinterpretation and demarcation of marine and inland waters the recent trend of attempting to separate production from “coastal” and “inland” waters is likely to introduce additional ambiguities if countries are not given clear and harmonised definitions of these terms. At present guidelines to countries in the only questionnaire on inland waters (FISHSTAT IW) mention that the boundary between the marine areas at the river mouth is “left to the discretion of the national authority”.

4.4 Definition of aquaculture

Historically, the growing of aquatic organisms has evolved from capture fisheries or fishing in oceans, coastal or inland waters. In recent years, however, culture practices have changed rapidly and the distinction between capture fisheries and aquaculture has become blurred, making the necessity for a clear working definition more critical.

Unlike many other economic activities, aquaculture is not currently recognised or defined as a separate economic activity under the International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC, 1990). Instead, elements of aquaculture are categorised under Fishing (ISIC, 1990; division 05, 005) which covers “fishing, operations of fish hatcheries and farming and service activities incidental to fishing.” Moreover, this category specifically excludes some activities such as frog culture and is clearly unsuitable for defining aquaculture practices. In view of this omission, the FAO has formulated its own working definition of aquaculture for statistical purposes which itself is undergoing modification to accommodate recent changes in the culture practices within the sector.

There have been various definitions of aquaculture, depending on where it is applied, causing confusion and difficulty in the classification of fisheries data.

The current definition on aquaculture used by the FAO states that:

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants. Farming implies some sort of intervention in the rearing process to enhance production, such as regular stocking, feeding, protection from predators, etc. Farming also implies individual or corporate ownership of the stock being cultivated. For statistical purposes, aquatic organisms which are harvested by an individual or corporate body which has owned them throughout their rearing period contribute to aquaculture while aquatic organisms which are exploitable by the public as a common property resource, with or without appropriate licences, are the harvest of fisheries.

Despite widespread discussion and acceptance of the above definition by international fora and organisations such as the Co-ordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP), the European Union (EU), International Council on the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and SEAFDEC, limitations of the above definition are increasingly apparent (Beveridge, 1990; Floyd et al., 1991; New and Crispoldi-Hotta, 1992; Csavas and New, 1994; Kara, 1994; SEAFDEC, 1994; CWP, 1995, a; FIRI, 1995; Garibaldi, 1995).

In recent years, however, it has been increasingly realised that for capture fisheries, the exploitable stock biomass and, consequently, catches, can be greatly enhanced through varying forms of intervention such as stocking fingerlings, fertilisation, environmental engineering, et c. (see Welcomme, 1996 for review). Therefore under the current definition of aquaculture, capture fisheries and in some situations recreational fisheries can, with only minimal inputs into the rearing process, be considered as aquaculture (Welcomme, 1996). The above practices, have lead to an ever-increasing blurring of distinction between capture fisheries and aquaculture and consequently to inappropriate allocation of inland capture to aquaculture. Given the recent changes in both capture fisheries and aquaculture several issues may need to be considered in formulating a modified definition. Amongst others these include the production of seed, fattening of wild stocks in captivity, practices for enhancing natural recruitment and ownership issues of the reared organism.

To accommodate these changes FAO is continuing to refine and standardise the definition of aquaculture. Recent changes of modifying the definition to limit aquaculture to “rearing for most of the life cycle” (Welcomme, 1996) is also unsatisfactory as it excludes seed production as an aquacultural activity. The following working definition has been also proposed:

Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms including crocodiles, alligators, amphibians, finfish, molluscs, crustaceans and plants where farming refers to their rearing up to their juvenile and/or adult phase under captive conditions Aquaculture also encompasses individual, corporate or state ownership of the organism being reared and harvested in contrast to capture fisheries in which aquatic organisms are exploited as a common property source, irrespective of whether harvest is undertaken with or without exploitation rights.

The above definition encompasses three components:

All three components must be fulfilled for an activity to be classified as aquaculture

To assist in the designation of production to aquaculture and culture-based capture fisheries the following working definition has been proposed and included in the FAO series of Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries.

Activities aimed at supplementing or sustaining the recruitment of one or more aquatic species and raising the total production or the production of selected elements of a fishery beyond a level which is sustainable through natural processes. In this sense culture-based fisheries include enhancement measures which may take the form of: introduction of new species; stocking natural and artificial water bodies; fertilisation; environmental engineering including habitat improvements and modification of water bodies; altering species composition including elimination of undesirable species, or constituting an artificial fauna of selected species; genetic modification of introduced species.


Two broad types of constraints are identified above: institutional and technical. Both these need be in considered together in order to attempt to improve quality and detail required to monitor the production from inland waters.

To this end the following recommendations are made:

  1. Develop norms, standards, definitions, and classifications for collection of aquaculture statistics (an inter-agency party may need to be created).

  2. Evaluate the data gathering capacity of countries for aquaculture and inland capture fisheries.

  3. Together with other interested partners hold an international workshop on harmonising definitions and terminology for statistical purposes.


Beveridge, M.C.M. 1990. General notes on the 1988 aquaculture statistics. Unpublished consultant's report. FAO, Rome.

Csavas, I. and M.B. New. 1994. Aquaculture statistics: status and problems. In: Status of fishery information and statistics in Asia: 366–376: Proceedings of the Regional Workshop on Fishery Information and statistics in Asia, Bangkok, Thailand, 18–22 January 1994. SEAFDEC, Bangkok.

CWP. 1995. Aquaculture. In: Proceedings of the 16th Session of the Co-ordinating Working Party on Atlantic Fishery Statistics, Madrid, Spain, 20–25 March 1995. CWP-16/19A. 9p.

CWP. 1995a. Aquaculture production statistics. In: Proceedings of the 16th Session of the Co-ordinating Working party on Atlantic Fishery Statistics, Madrid, Spain, 20–25 March 1995. CWP-16/19B. 12p.

FAO. 1995. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. FAO, Rome. 41p.

FIRI. 1994. Review of the state of world fishery resources: aquaculture. FAO Fisheries Circular No. 886. FAO, Rome.

Floyd, D.W., R.M. Sullivan; R.L. Vertrees and C.F. Cole. 1991. Natural resources and aquaculture: emerging issues in the North Central States. Soc. Nat. Resources 4: 123–131.

Garibaldi, L. 1995. List of important animal species used in aquaculture world-wide. FAO, Rome.

Kara, H. 1994. Sur les statistiques d'aquaculture en Algérie. La Pêche Maritime, Janvier/Février 1994: 60–61.

New, M. B. and A. Crispoldi-Hotta. 1992. Problems in the application of the FAO definition of aquaculture. FAO Aquacult. Newsl. 1: 5–8.

SEAFDEC. 1994. Status of fishery information and statistics in Asia. Proceedings of the Regional Workshop on Fishery Information and statistics in Asia, Bangkok, Thailand, 18–22 January 1994. SEAFDEC, Bangkok.

Welcomme, R.L. 1996. Definitions of aquaculture and intensification of production from fisheries. FAO Aquacult. Newsl. 12: 3–5.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page