Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

World review of fisheries and aquaculture



Despite fluctuations in supply and demand, caused by the changing state of fisheries resources, the economic climate and environmental conditions, fisheries and aquaculture remain very important as a source of food, employment and revenue in many countries and communities.

Reported global capture fisheries and aquaculture production contracted from a figure of 122 million tonnes in 1997 to 117 million tonnes in 1998. This was mainly owing to the effects of the climate anomaly, El Niño, on some major marine capture fisheries (Figure 1, p. 4 and Table 1). However, production recovered in 1999, for which the preliminary estimate is about 125 million tonnes. The production increase of 20 million tonnes over the last decade was mainly due to aquaculture, as capture fisheries production remained relatively stable.

For the two decades following 1950, world marine and inland capture fisheries production increased on average by as much as 6 percent per year, trebling from 18 million tonnes in 1950 to 56 million tonnes in 1969. During the 1970s and 1980s, the average rate of increase declined to 2 percent per year, falling to almost zero in the 1990s. This levelling off of the total catch follows the general trend of most of the world's fishing areas, which have apparently reached their maximum potential for capture fisheries production, with the majority of stocks being fully exploited. It is therefore very unlikely that substantial increases in total catch will be obtained. In contrast, growth in aquaculture production has shown the opposite tendency. Starting from an insignificant total production, inland and marine aquaculture production grew by about 5 percent per year between 1950 and 1969 and by about 8 percent per year during the 1970s and 1980s, and it has increased further to 10 percent per year since 1990.

The global patterns of fish production owe much to the activities of China, which reports production in weight that accounts for 32 percent of the world total. Other major producer countries are Japan, India, the United States, the Russian Federation and Indonesia.

When China is excluded, however, the production of fish used as food for humans has remained relatively stable (Figure 2), but the production of fish destined for animal feed has decreased in recent years - the decline registered in 1998 was largely due to the El Niño effect, particularly on the anchoveta fishery which supplies a significant proportion of the fish used for fishmeal and fish oil. However, the event had much less impact on the supply of fish for food, which declined only slightly to 11.8 kg per capita. Outside China, the world's population has been increasing more quickly than total fish production and the per capita fish supply has declined since the mid-1980s.

In contrast, China has reported increases in fish production and shows little sign of slowing growth (Figure 3). Most of the production is used domestically and for human consumption, but there has also been a recent expansion in the production of feed. There has been a major growth of aquaculture, which now dominates China's production, although capture fisheries have also seen increases. Per capita fish supply, based on reported production, has increased dramatically over the last 20 years, indicating the growing importance of fish as food. This increased supply has been helped by China's slowing population growth.

Employment in the primary capture fisheries and aquaculture production sectors in 1998 is estimated to have been about 36 million people, comprising about 15 million full-time, 13 million part-time and 8 million occasional workers. For the first time, there is an indication that growth in employment in the primary sectors of fisheries and aquaculture has ceased (Figure 4). Employment in inland and marine aquaculture has been increasing, and is now estimated to account for about 25 percent of the total. Marine capture fisheries account for about 60 percent and inland capture fisheries for the remaining 15 percent.

International trade in fishery commodities fell back from a peak of US$53.5 billion dollars (f.o.b.) in 1997 to US$51.3 billion in 1998. This is probably the result of a combination of factors, including a recession in East Asia which weakened demand, particularly in Japan, and lower fishmeal production and trade resulting from decreased catches of anchoveta. Preliminary 1999 data indicate a 4 percent growth in the value of world fishery trade (US$53.4 billion). However, there are no indications of increased capture fisheries production in the long term, so any long-term rise in the value of exports is likely to depend on increased aquaculture production or product prices. Developing countries registered a net fishery trade surplus of US$16.8 billion, slightly down from the 1997 level of US$17.3 billion.


Total capture fisheries production in 1998 amounted to 86 million tonnes, a noticeable decline from the maximum of about 93 million tonnes recorded in 1996 and 1997, although there was a considerable recovery to an estimated 92 million tonnes in 1999. In 1998, China, Japan, the United States, the Russian Federation, Peru, Indonesia, Chile and India (in that order) were the top producing countries, together accounting for more than half of total capture fisheries production by weight for 1998 (Figure 5). Although in decline, marine capture fisheries continue to account for more than 90 percent of world capture fisheries production. The remainder comes from inland water fisheries, which have increased their output by almost 0.5 million tonnes per year since 1994.

World marine capture fisheries production dropped to 78 million tonnes in 1998 (Table 1), representing a 9 percent decline with respect to the all-time production highs of about 86 million tonnes in 1996 and 1997. The decline appears to have been caused essentially by climatic conditions. However, it does not affect the previously reported slowdown in the rate of increase of marine catches for the last decade. The estimated first sale value of the landings also decreased, from about US$81 billion in 1996 and 1997 to US$76 billion in 1998.

World fisheries production and utilization









(million tonnes)

















Total inland























Total marine







Total capture







Total aquaculture







Total world fisheries









Human consumption







Reduction to fishmeal and oil







Population (billions)







Per capita food fish supply (kg)







1Preliminary estimate.

Most of the decline in the world's marine fisheries landings in 1998 can be attributed to changes in the Southeast Pacific, which was severely affected by the El Niño event in 1997-1998. Total capture fisheries production from this area dropped from 17.1 million tonnes in 1996 to 14.4 million tonnes in 1997, decreasing even more dramatically to 8 million tonnes in 1998. These figures represent annual declines of 15 and 44 percent, respectively, occurring over two consecutive years in one of the most important fishing areas of the world. Apart from the Southeast Atlantic, the Southwest Pacific and the Western Central Pacific, which have shown positive trends in catches in recent years, all of the world's major fishing areas showed minor changes or declines in landings.

The Northwest Pacific had the largest reported landings in 1998, followed by the Northeast Atlantic and the Western Central Pacific (Figure 6). Typically, high landings are dependent on one or two productive stocks, such as Alaska pollock and Japanese anchovy in the Northwest Pacific, Atlantic herring in the Northeast Atlantic and skipjack and yellowfin tunas in the Western Central Pacific. The dependence of some areas on the production of a few species is illustrated by the low ranking of the Southeast Pacific, which was the result of the 1998 El Niño event. This area would usually rank second after the Northwest Pacific.

Alaska pollock from the North Pacific had the highest landings in 1998 (Figure 7a). This, too, is unusual, as anchoveta landings generally exceed this quantity and those of Chilean jack mackerel equal it. However, the fisheries for both these species were severely affected in 1998. Alaska pollock catches have fallen by 0.5 million tonnes since 1996, continuing a general decline in production since the mid-1980s, when landings exceeded 6 million tonnes.

The Western Central Pacific shows an overall trend of increasing production, with no evidence of levelling off in the near future. This overall trend depends not only on the major tuna stocks but also on very wide categories of marine fish, which makes it difficult to assess the underlying trends of different species and stocks. In contrast to these two regions, production in the Northeast Atlantic has remained stable at around 11 million tonnes since the mid-1970s (Figure 7b), although the biomass of cod stocks is currently at a very low level.

It is worth noting that production from the Northwest Pacific has shown a constant overall increase since 1950. However, since 1992, this has continued only because China's reported increases in production have more than made up for combined declines of all the other countries in the area (Figure 8).

Major fluctuations have been recorded for some individual species over the last three years. Of particular relevance are the increases in landings between 1997 and 1998 for some of the 30 highest-producing species, such as Patagonian grenadiers (up by 285 percent), blue whiting (up by 67 percent), Japanese Spanish mackerel (up by 51 percent), South American pilchard (up by 30 percent) and Japanese anchovy (up by 26 percent). However, overall, the increases in production of some species have been outweighed by the production declines for others, particularly those of major high-producing species, such as anchoveta (down by 78 percent), Chilean jack mackerel (down by 44 percent), capelin (down by 38 percent), Japanese flying squid (down by 37 percent), Argentine shortfin squid (down by 33 percent), Atlantic horse mackerel (down by 22 percent) and chub mackerel (down by 21 percent).

In 1998, production from inland capture fisheries was 8 milion tonnes, which represents a 6 percent increase over 1997 levels. The top ten countries with regard to inland fisheries production are listed in Table 2. These countries account for 65 percent of the world's total inland catch. More than 90 percent of this production in 1998 came from developing countries, and only 3.5 percent from industrial countries.



Production in 1998 (tonnes)

Percentage of world production (65% for top ten countries)


2 280 000



650 000



538 000



315 000


Tanzania, United Rep.

300 000


Russian Federation

271 000



253 000



220 000



191 000



180 000



Economic class

Production in 1998 (tonnes)

Percentage of world production

Developing countries or areas

7 347 000


Economies in transition

370 000


Industrial countries

284 000



8 003 000


Much of the information on harvests of inland fisheries is not broken down by individual species. Some 46 percent of the catch comprises freshwater fish that are not identified by species, while unidentified crustaceans and molluscs contribute 7.6 and 7 percent, respectively, to production. Overall, 80 percent of the catch in inland waters is not identified by species.


Although the situation regarding some of the highest-producing stocks has worsened, global exploitation of the main marine fish stocks for which assessment information is available continues to follow the general trend observed in previous years. Overall, the number of underexploited and moderately exploited fisheries resources continues to decline slightly and, as fishing pressure increases, the number of fully exploited stocks remains relatively stable while the number of overexploited, depleted and recovering stocks is increasing slightly.

Among the major marine fish stocks or groups of stocks for which information is available, an estimated 25 to 27 percent are underexploited or moderately exploited and thus represent the main potential source for expansion of total capture fisheries production. About 47 to 50 percent of stocks are fully exploited and are, therefore, producing catches that have either reached or are very close to their maximum limits, with no room expected for further expansion. Another 15 to 18 percent are overexploited and have no potential for further increase. Moreover, there is an increasing likelihood that catches from these stocks will decrease if remedial action is not taken to reduce or revert overfishing conditions. Only then will sustained higher catches be possible. The remaining 9 to 10 percent of stocks have been depleted or are recovering from depletion. As they are less productive than usual, depleted and recovering stocks tend to have ample potential for recuperation that is commensurate with their pre-depletion catch levels. Realizing this potential, however, can be a major undertaking and usually implies the adoption of drastic management measures in order to revert uncontrolled and excessive fishing pressure as well as any other condition that could have contributed to the stock's overexploitation or depletion.

Total catches from the Northwest and the Southeast Atlantic are levelling off after reaching their maximum levels a decade or two ago. In the Eastern Central Atlantic and the Northwest Pacific, total catches are increasing again, after a short decline following their maximum production levels of a decade ago. Most of these changes result from increases in landings of small pelagics. In the Northeast Atlantic, the Western Central Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, the Mediterranean and Black Sea, the Eastern Central Pacific and the Southwest Pacific, annual catches have stabilized or are declining slightly, having reached their maximum potentials a few years ago. In the Southwest Atlantic and the Southeast Pacific, total annual catches have declined sharply only a few years after reaching their all-time highs. These two areas have been seriously affected by the decline, and in some cases the serious depletion, of important stocks. Among such stocks are Argentine shortfin squid and Argentine hake in the Southwest Atlantic and anchoveta and horse mackerel in the Southeast Pacific.

The areas where total catches are still tending to grow, and where - at least in principle - there is the highest potential for production increases, are the Eastern and Western Indian Ocean and the Western Central Pacific. These areas tend to have a lower incidence of fully exploited, overexploited, depleted or recovering fish stocks, and a prevalence of underexploited or moderately exploited stocks, although they also have the highest incidence of stocks whose state of exploitation is unknown or uncertain and for which overall production estimates are consequently less reliable.

Inland aquatic resources continue to be under pressure from loss or degradation of habitat and overfishing. Freshwater species are reported to be the most threatened group of vertebrates harvested by humans; however, accurate data are difficult to collect. In areas where studies have been carried out, about 20 percent of freshwater species are threatened, endangered or extinct. 1 Inland fisheries statistics reflect the poor state of information on many inland fisheries resources; only three of the top ten taxa in terms of production are identified by species, and these three account for less than 8 percent of total production. As has already been noted,2 in many areas, the actual yield from inland fisheries may be several times higher than reported, but work is under way to correct this situation. The Mekong River Commission has revised its unofficial estimates of fisheries production from the Mekong basin, increasing them from approximately 300 000 to 1.2 million tonnes by including family and small-scale fishers whose catches were previously not counted. It is extremely difficult to assess the state of inland fisheries resources when reporting does not include all the sectors of the fishery and when the catch is not broken down by species.


In addition to the concerns expressed about individual stocks, there is increasing interest in ecosystems and the impact that fishing may be having on their structure and function. There is a shortage of general information on the relationship between the state of marine ecosystems and fishing. Broad indicators of change are available from data on capture fisheries production in the major fishing areas but it is usually difficult to separate changes in exploitation patterns from changes in the underlying ecosystem.

The trend has been for the variety of resources being exploited to increase, probably reflecting the reaching of production limits for major stocks and an expansion of markets for a wider range of fishery products. Indicators regarding the ecologies in which fisheries can develop suggest that the ecosystems in most areas are close to full exploitation. The Eastern Indian Ocean and the Western Central Pacific are the only areas showing little sign of stress, and hence the potential for continued development of resources.

The Northeast Atlantic has followed a trend of declining catches together with a shift towards landings of fish from lower levels in the food web, which may indicate an underlying ecological change (see Monitoring the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems, Part 2). The indices that were developed to monitor such change suggest that ecosystems may be shifting away from the unexploited state, giving cause for concern that continued heavy fishing may lead to more widespread changes.

Rivers, lakes and wetlands account for less than 1 percent of the global surface area, but yield at least 8 percent of global fisheries production. However, these productive ecosystems are under pressure from the needs of a growing human population. The World Resources Institute (WRI)3 reported that half of the world's wetlands were lost in the last century and that dams, diversions and canals fragment almost 60 percent of the world's largest rivers. Per capita water consumption increased by 50 percent between 1950 and 1990, and human use of available water resources is expected to increase from its current level of about 54 percent to more than 70 percent by 2025.4 Although inland water ecosystems have improved in some areas of North America and Europe, their condition is continuing to deteriorate in much of the world.


Large fishing vessels

Since the last issue of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (1998), 1 124 fishing vessels have been added to Lloyd's database of vessels over 100 tons,5 548 of which were built in the period 1997-1999. The remainder were built earlier and their inclusion in the database represents an improvement in its coverage rather than a real increase in the fleet. The trends are similar to those identified in 1998, with decreased numbers of vessels in developed countries' fishing fleets and increased numbers in some developing countries. Late reporting is still a problem so, although the data should refer to 1998 and 1999, it is more practical to consider the period as mid-1997 to mid-1999. There were 955 deletions from the database, but this is probably an underestimate as some of the vessels scrapped were of unknown flag. The estimated decrease in the fleet (i.e. the vessels removed from the database minus the vessels built in 1998-1999) is 407 vessels, giving a total of 23 014 vessels at the end of 1999.

The United States shows an increase of roughly 10 percent, mainly because about 300 vessels that should have been in the 1997 and earlier databases were added in 1998-1999. In fact, the United States fleet really decreased by 26 vessels. Belize showed an increase in flagged fishing vessels from 158 to 427. New vessels and flagging in from other countries contributed to this increase. The Panama fleet decreased from its maximum of 574 vessels in 1994 to 226 in 1999. The recent decrease followed efforts by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) to control the activities of the high seas tuna fleet. The Philippines increased its fleet from 367 to 436 (16 percent) by building new vessels and flagging in. The Cuba fleet decreased from 113 to 49 through the scrapping of a fleet of vessels built mainly in the 1960s.

Some countries prepared fishing capacity reduction plans according to the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity.

New vessels built

The database records 548 new vessels built in the two-year period since the previous study reported in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 1998, including 171 vessels built in 1997 but reported late, 243 in 1998 and 134 in 1999 (this will probably increase owing to late reporting). Five countries made up 58 percent of this total: the United States (75 vessels), Belize (47), Spain (99), Norway (43) and Japan (56). The other countries of the European Community (EC) account for a further 82 vessels, bringing their contribution up to 73 percent of the total. The significant number of new vessels built under the Belize flag means that 15 percent of the total new buildings are recorded in open registers. Despite the number of vessels built during the two-year period, the United States, Japan and Spain achieved reductions in their national fleets by scrapping and flagging out.

The decrease in building since the early 1990s is significant, not only in terms of numbers, but also in terms of average and aggregate tonnage. In the period 1991-1993, 2 126 vessels were built, with an aggregate tonnage of 990 000 tons. In the period 1997-1999, 1 127 fishing vessels were built with an aggregate tonnage of 418 000 tons. The average tonnage dropped from 465 to 370 tons, although this decrease is highly likely to be an underestimate because there was also a change in the unit of measurement during this period from gross registered tonnage (GRT) to gross tonnage (GT).

Scrapping and loss

Some 955 vessels were removed from the database in the two-year period, i.e. fewer than were predicted in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 1998. However, there has been a substantial increase in the number of vessels changing their flags to "unknown"; from six in 1994, to 694 in 1997 and 931 in 1999. The average age of these vessels is 27 years, so it is likely that most are intended to be scrapped. Nevertheless, the share of vessels over 40 years of age is slightly more than 1 percent of the total. The average age of vessels scrapped or lost was 30.6 years compared with 27.3 two years ago, and the average age of the fleet was 21.3 years, against 22.1 years two years ago. The average age decreased because, although very few new vessels were built, some very old vessels were removed from the fleet.


During the two-year period, 1 216 vessels were reflagged. The most significant reflagging was to the Belize flag (182), which also acquired a large number of new vessels (47). The number of fishing vessels under the Belize flag increased from 211 to 427. Honduras, St Vincent, Vanuatu and Cyprus slightly increased the numbers of vessels registered in their open registers. On the other hand, following ICCAT measures for improved flag state responsibility, Panama showed a significant decrease, from 321 to 226 vessels. Registration and reflagging of fishing vessels are described in Box 1.

Registration and reflagging of fishing vessels

To avoid duplication in administration, it is common practice for most states to include large fishing vessels on their shipping registers as a separate class of vessel. It is less important for states to include smaller vessels that fish within their national jurisdiction on the register, although many have made registration compulsory.

Increasingly, shipping and fishing regulations require vessels to carry national certificates of registry, particularly on the high seas and in waters under the jurisdiction of another state. This requirement is summarized as follows in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, Part VII, High Seas:

Article 91
Nationality of ships

    1. Every State shall fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag. Ships have the nationality of the State whose flag they are entitled to fly. There must exist a genuine link between the State and the ship.
    2. Every State shall issue to ships which it has granted the right to fly its flag documents to that effect.

The international standards for the registration of ships have been codified in the UN Convention on the Conditions for the Registration of Ships (1986). Although this Convention is not yet in force and exempts fishing vessels, it clearly describes the procedures to be followed in order to avoid any misuse or fraudulent practice associated with registration. For instance, it describes the procedures to be followed in bare-boat chartering when the vessel is subject to dual registry.

The issue of "open registers" stems from the stipulation quoted above: "There must exist a genuine link between the State and the ship". While many states have implemented regulations and requirements to establish such a genuine link for registration, there have been no agreed international criteria for what constitutes a "genuine link". Regulations usually establish linkages through nationality of ownership and/or of the crew. It then becomes a question of the degree of linkage, described in vaguely defined terms - in decreasing degree of linkage - as "genuine national registers", "offshore registers", "open registers" and "flag of convenience registers".

Owners choose to register their fishing vessels under foreign flags for a variety of reasons. Similar patterns of registration in the trading and fishing fleets would suggest that a major reason for registering under a particular flag may be to avoid taxation. Some countries with open registers are also well-known offshore tax havens. However, increasingly, the reflagging of fishing vessels in particular fisheries has been directly associated with the avoidance of fisheries management measures, and the share of large fishing vessels registered in open registers has increased to around 6 percent of the global total.

Source: A. Smith, FAO Fisheries Department.


Fishing technologies evolve in response to a wide variety of factors. Demand-driven developments are particularly important. Another, and probably even more prominent factor, is development resulting from general technical innovations in disciplines that are not always directly related to fisheries. The following recent developments will probably have a significant impact on fisheries in the future.

Limiting the environmental impact of fishing

The impact of fishing on the environment is a global issue of growing concern. Various gears and fishing methods have attracted attention for their potential impact on the environment. Concerns are mostly related to gear selectivity and habitat damage, the major issues being:

Much has been done recently to address such problems, and gear and techniques are being modified to reduce the possible impacts. The selective performance of trawl gear is being improved continuously and selective grids have, to a large extent, eliminated the by-catch of fish in the northern shrimp fisheries. Selective grids and square meshes are used in several trawl fisheries to reduce the capture of small-sized individuals. Technologies that depend on behaviour differences between shrimp and fish are increasingly being introduced in tropical shrimp fisheries, resulting in reduced fish by-catches. Another prevailing tendency in tropical shrimp fisheries is an increase in landings of fish by-catches.

The impact of trawling on the bottom habitat is being investigated in many countries. Except for the obvious damage caused to coral reefs by large trawlers, for example in some areas off the coast of Norway, little is known about the long-term effects. In 1999, Norway introduced non-trawling areas where the risk of damage to deep-water coral reefs was high.

One widespread practice is to encircle drifting objects - fish attraction devices (FADs) - with purse seines when fishing for tuna. FADs often attract many small fish, and the capture of small tunas and other fish species around FADs are now considered a major problem in some purse seine fisheries. No way of mitigating this problem has yet been found, apart from reducing the use of such practices. One possible solution now being investigated is to insert selective devices made from panels of larger meshes or sorting grids into the purse seine.

A number of measures can be adopted to reduce the incidental catch of seabirds by longlines, including attaching extra weight to the line while setting; setting during darkness; and the use of scaring devices when setting longline gear. Such mitigation techniques are being introduced in several longline fisheries, either as part of national regulations or through voluntary adoption by fishers who recognize the benefits of not having bait stolen from their hooks by seabirds. The International Plan of Action for Reducing Incidental Catch of Seabirds in Longline Fisheries adopted by FAO's members in 1999 will most likely accelerate the implementation of measures to reduce seabird by-catch in longline fisheries.

New fibres

Since the introduction of such synthetic fibres as polyamide, polyester and polypropylene to fishing gear in the 1950s, there were no major introductions of new fibres in fishing gear until the arrival of Dynema fibre - a polyethylene of ultra-high molecular weight. The fishing industry now has a material that might have a significant impact on the catching performance of fishing gear. The basic property of Dynema fibre is that it has a density of slightly less than 1, which makes it float in water. Its tensile strength on a diameter basis exceeds that of steel by 50 to 100 percent and that of polyamide (nylon) by 300 to 400 percent. Another feature of Dynema is its low elongation compared with other synthetic fibres, which makes it nearly as inelastic as steel.

At present, the fibre is relatively expensive and its application is therefore limited. However, there are several signs of increased use, particularly in pelagic trawls, where thinner twine results in reduced towing resistance and can therefore be used to save fuel (by using a similar-sized trawl) or, when the trawl size is increased, improves the catching efficiency of the vessel compared with others of its size. This latter feature is used to develop viable trawl fisheries on scattered fish concentrations, which require large trawl mouth areas. Other fisheries for which the fibre might make profitable improvements are those aimed at smaller individuals, such as small crustaceans and mesopelagic fish, which require large volumes of water to be filtered.

Multirig trawling

The towing of two or more trawls simultaneously was, until recently, only practised by outrigger shrimp trawlers. Thousands of such trawlers fish penaeid shrimps in tropical waters. Towards the end of the 1990s, multirig trawling was successfully introduced into fisheries of such species as nephrops, deepwater shrimp and, to some extent, flatfishes. Particularly in Iceland and Norway, large trawlers equipped for towing two trawls have been built for harvesting deepwater shrimp. The catching efficiency of vessels using multirig trawls increases by 50 to 100 percent, clearly indicating an expanded capacity to exploit shrimp resources. Multirig trawling is now widely used in the North Sea nephrops fishery and is increasingly replacing single-otter trawling. An important innovation that facilitates the operation of twin trawls is the symmetry sensor, which monitors the two trawls during towing.

Electronic aids for navigation and fishing

In the last few years, the introduction of satellite communications, which are replacing medium-frequency radios, has had a great impact on skippers' ability to manage all aspects of the fishing operation. The new equipment is controlled by microprocessors, including an inbuilt global positioning system (GPS) module. Some of the better known applications of satellite communications equipment include the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) or the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS). When the GMDSS is activated, a distress message is sent by pushing a button. An electronic message, which includes the identity of the vessel and its position, is sent to all other vessels and radio stations in the immediate area. The crew of the vessel can then concentrate on the emergency, secure in the knowledge that the distress message will be effective. The message activates alarms on the other vessels and allows them to go straight to the emergency without having to search for it.

VMS is used by fisheries management authorities to observe the positions of vessels. At predetermined intervals, the satellite communications system automatically sends a message, containing the identity and position of each vessel to the fisheries monitoring centre. The sequence of positions of an individual vessel can be stored and subsequently displayed on a monitor, to give an indication of that vessel's activities. If the vessel is considered to be acting suspiciously, a patrol craft can be sent directly to investigate further.

VMS is playing an increasingly important role in monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), and it makes such activities more cost-effective. The EC's implementation of the VMS scheme for most of its fishing vessels over 24 m will bring the total number of vessels reporting their identity and position to fisheries management authorities using VMS technology to around 8 000 worldwide.

Satellite surveillance of fishing vessels is becoming a tool for MCS. Longline vessels are particularly easy to locate by microwave sensors because they carry radar reflectors on their buoys. The complementary information from VMS and satellite surveillance will make it possible to locate non-compliant vessels, which are more likely to be involved in illegal fishing. Satellite surveillance could be implemented far more quickly than VMS has been because it is completely independent of the vessel and does not rely on cooperation.

The integration of three separate modules of equipment into one unit (i.e. computer, GPS and a satellite communications system) is expected to increase efficiency. Electronic fishing logbooks are being tested, and will make it possible to send information, at predetermined intervals or on demand, through a satellite link to the fisheries management authorities. The information can also be sent to fish markets, resulting in a quicker, more efficient sales process and a better quality of product because of minimal handling. Even fish stock assessment and fisheries management will benefit from the almost real-time reporting of fish catches and more detailed information on where the fish are caught. One fishery in Australia is already being managed by these means. Attaching video cameras with a wide enough band to the satellite communications systems allows the transmission of video images. This could be used to assist in treating injured or sick personnel on fishing vessels. The repair of equipment such as engines, winches or electronic equipment, which normally requires the intervention of specialized engineers, can also be undertaken following advice given over the satellite link. This would avoid the costly and time-consuming travel that is currently needed for specialized engineers.

The most up-to-date navigation equipment, GPS, now has an accuracy of +/-10 m because the satellite signal is no longer artificially degraded. However, the size of other pieces of equipment and their dependence on microprocessors mean that they can be linked together to become more interactive. Monitors are already being used to provide displays or readouts from multiple pieces of equipment. Monitors can also overlay the information obtained from radar, sonar and navigation equipment.

These developments may lead to some of this new equipment becoming a legal requirement for larger vessels over 300 tons within the next decade. An example is voyage data recorders, which are similar to the flight recorders carried on aircraft. The use of an automatic identification system (AIS) will also become mandatory in busy sea lanes for this size of fishing vessel. AIS uses automatic interrogation by satellite communication, so that the name, type and size of the ship, along with details of its course and speed, can be displayed on the radar in the traffic control centre. This is potentially useful for fisheries patrol vessels when they are passing through areas with a high density of fishing vessels because it would obviate the necessity of boarding and checking the licences of each fishing vessel.



Most countries have similar management objectives, although the emphasis differs between developed and developing nations. Developed countries are usually faced with fully or overexploited stocks, so their management objectives concentrate on stock rebuilding and capacity reduction, although most countries also have significant aims regarding markets and social conflict. The most urgent objective is to scale fleet sizes so that they become commensurate with sustainable exploitation of the resources. Management plans also increasingly recognize the need for a policy that integrates fisheries with management of the coastal zone or inland waters.

In contrast, developing countries tend to concentrate on fisheries development in terms of new resources and technology. Although it is recognized that some stocks are overfished, objectives are concentrated more on enhancing and diversifying fisheries rather than on limiting fishing efforts. This is perhaps because the underlying concern for many countries is the relatively important role fisheries play in employment and food security for some of their poorest people. More specific aims include building infrastructure (particularly for processing to reduce post-harvest losses and increase the value added); fishery enhancement, through restocking; and reducing social conflicts, not only among different fishing groups but also between fisheries and other sectors.

The current state of management

Fisheries management is widely considered to be ineffective because of the poor state of many important fish stocks. However, in many respects, management has improved a great deal over recent years. Policies and objectives appear more realistic, concentrating more on management and less on development, and making the best social use of resources. Explicit recognition of risk and consideration of longer-term production, for example in the adoption of the precautionary approach (see Indicators of sustainable development and the precautionary approach in marine capture fisheries, Part 2), are increasingly reflected in decision-making, and there has been growing recognition of the need to protect the ecosystem as well as individual stocks, through measures that include the provision of marine reserves. Technical innovations for improving management advice have been developed rapidly, but implementation has been slow because of the short-term economic and political consequences. As a result, the rate of real change in management has been slow, and it is debatable whether improvements have kept pace with the increasing pressures on resources. Nevertheless, there are situations where management has improved and clear benefits are apparent. Some countries have reported the successful implementation of property rights schemes for fisheries.

It is becoming increasingly clear that effective fisheries management, at both the policy-making and the implementation stages, depends critically on consensus and participation that utilize objective and reliable reporting of fishery status and trends (see Box 2).

Objective and reliable fishery status and trends reporting

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture require informed decisions and actions at all levels, from policy-makers to individual fishers, as well as environmentalists - who are increasingly concerned about fisheries - consumers and the public. Decision-making based on the best scientific evidence requires reliable, relevant and timely information. There are growing demands for objective, unbiased, peer-reviewed and transparent information on the status and trends of fisheries and fisheries resources as a basis for policy-making and fisheries management. The driving forces behind such demands include increasing recognition that overfishing is pervasive and effective management often lacking; the widespread adoption of the precautionary approach to fisheries management as embodied in the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement1 and the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries; ecolabelling issues; and concerns about rare or endangered species and the environment.

Status and trends reporting has become an issue because of the risk of misinformation. A study by the University of Washington2 evaluated the validity of 14 statements commonly made about the state of marine fisheries resources and found that ten of these were unsupportable or questionable, whereas only four were supportable. (Most of the supportable statements and only a few of the unsupportable ones were attributed to FAO.) Irrespective of whether such inaccurate information is generated deliberately to promote a specific cause or inadvertently through ignorance, it can have a major impact on public opinion and policy-making that may not be in the best interests of either sustainable use of fisheries resources or the conservation of aquatic ecosystems.

FAO is addressing this issue by proposing the improvement of fishery status and trends reporting using a multifaceted approach as outlined by the FAO Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research (ACFR). ACFR has proposed that this could be facilitated by an international plan of action on fishery status and trends reporting, which states would adopt through FAO's Committee on Fisheries (COFI). As envisaged, the plan of action would be a voluntary instrument that would specify actions and procedures to be undertaken by states, both individually and through regional fishery bodies or arrangements, and by FAO to improve fishery status and trends reporting. The plan of action could be built around the following principles:

Sustainability and security. States would demonstrate their commitment to sustainable development of fisheries resources and fisheries by providing, inter alia, the best information possible on the status and trends of fisheries within their jurisdictions and in other areas in which they participate.

Best scientific evidence. States would seek to improve their collection, compilation and dissemination of the best scientific evidence available on the nature and conduct of fisheries, including environmental and socio-economic information, in conformity with the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Participation and cooperation. States would adopt mechanisms for inclusion of all relevant participants in the preparation, analysis and presentation of fisheries information, including fishers, government and NGOs. States would cooperate with other states in developing and maintaining such information either directly or through regional fishery bodies or arrangements, as appropriate.

Objectivity and transparency. States would individually, and through regional fishery bodies and FAO, prepare and disseminate fisheries information in an objective manner, taking into account the best scientific evidence available (including uncertainty), the precautionary approach and national and international obligations related to it, and applying quality criteria and quality assurance protocols. The plan of action would be implemented in a transparent manner in conformity with Article 6.13 of the Code.

A mechanism to collate and exchange fisheries information, including status and trends reports is under development at FAO, and it could serve as the key vehicle for implementation of the plan of action. FAO is making a major effort to develop a Fisheries Global Information System (FIGIS), which will facilitate the exchange of fisheries information from a wide variety of domains such as fisheries statistics, exploited species, fisheries resources and stocks, the fisheries themselves, fishing methods, fishing fleets, fish processing and food safety, fish marketing and trade, species introductions and fish diseases. The information architecture will be designed so that the complex system can be presented in a simplified way through logical navigation channels. FIGIS will not be just a dissemination system, but also a means for partners to contribute information. The information will be exchanged according to arrangements specified in partnership agreements involving FAO, regional fishery bodies and national centres of excellence, and using agreed protocols. Thus, the main novelty will be the more systematic and transparent assembly and synthesis of information from national to regional and then to global scales, with users having the possibility of accessing a much more comprehensive range of information. Another main focus and beneficiary of this approach will be the synthesis of the global state of marine fisheries resources.

FAO has a major responsibility to support capacity building in developing countries, thereby allowing users to access, utilize and contribute to fisheries information and knowledge systems, including FIGIS. For example, the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA) bibliographic database may be linked to FIGIS, and work is under way to provide low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) with access to ASFA as well as to ensure more input to the database from those countries. Communication between FIGIS and FAO regional information systems, such as those for Mediterranean capture fisheries and aquaculture or a geographic information system (GIS) project for the West African coast, will be given precedence during the early phases of the FIGIS initiative. Likewise, software for the collection and processing of fisheries statistics has been implemented in many developing countries to improve the quality of national statistics and facilitate their exchange at the regional and global levels.

1 Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 10 December 1982 Relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks.
2 D.L. Alverson and K. Dunlop. 1998. Status of world marine fish stocks. University of Washington School of Fisheries, United States.
Source: R. Grainger, FAO Fisheries Department.


The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries7 is being used as a foundation on which to base fisheries policy and management. Together with the guidelines for its implementation, the Code contains a broad set of principles and methods for developing and managing fisheries and aquaculture. It is widely recognized by governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as setting the aims for sustainable fisheries over the next few decades and as a basis for national legislation as well as industry-supported Codes of Conduct.

Some countries have no officially approved fisheries management policy. While such an approach appears to leave fisheries management with a free licence, the result is often a lack of transparency and effectiveness. The problem arises in both developed and developing countries and leads to management authorities having poor accountability to the fisheries sector and the public. It is being addressed specifically through extensive consultation procedures among stakeholders (e.g. in Australia and New Zealand), and by emphasis on comanagement systems in many countries. Participatory approaches, where fishing communities are involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of management systems, are widely supported,
at least in principle.

Fishing controls

Total allowable catches (TACs) are probably the most common fisheries management tool, at least for major fisheries and those in the Northern Hemisphere. There is a growing recognition of the need to control capacity, including fleet sizes, in order to protect stocks and improve economic performance. Gear controls are also a common conservation measure and include the prohibition of destructive methods such as fish poisons and dynamite, the introduction of gears that reduce by-catch, such as turtle excluder devices and mesh size restrictions.

There is also concern about gears that have attracted criticism from environmentalists, such as drift nets, longlines and demersal trawls, and such gears are likely to be more selectively used. Many countries have a policy of developing fishery enhancement through restocking heavily fished resources, thereby avoiding the need to rebuild stocks through reductions in fishing. This is done particularly in inland fisheries, where enhancement, rehabilitation of habitat and reduction of pollution are major aims, alongside the reduction of fishing in order to conserve resources.

Fishing capacity control and reduction is a feature of many countries' policies. Approaches include licensing, buy-back schemes or individual transferable quotas (see Property rights and fisheries management, Part 2). Reducing the access of other countries is also seen as a useful method of conserving resources, and is often adopted before controls and limits are imposed on the national effort capacity. Diversifying fisheries by encouraging vessels to exploit underutilized resources where these are available is seen as the best alternative to fleet reduction, even though such resources are very scarce and, without control of the fishing effort, cannot be exploited sustainably.

Conflicts among user groups are resolved through zoning, stock enhancement, public education, better enforcement of legislation and, too rarely, resource allocation and control of access. A common problem is conflict between industrial and artisanal fleets. The artisanal sector is particularly vulnerable as
it often depends on set gears that are incompatible with towed gears, such as industrial trawls. The solution is often clear - i.e. introduce zones that separate the gears (particularly when stocks do not move) - but enforcement may be difficult.

Social and economic development

Improved post-harvest processing is seen as a way of developing the fishing industry without increasing harvests. As well as reducing losses through poor handling, improved processing can raise the value added of fish products and establish uses for otherwise discarded catch. Food safety remains important and has become increasingly stringent for exported products; in many cases Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) procedures must be applied by processors. The distribution of marine fish to inland areas, distant from the coast, appears to be a problem for many of the countries that depend on capture fisheries and have poor infrastructure. This is often a reason for developing freshwater aquaculture closer to markets.

For low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), food security, employment, poverty alleviation and equitable access to resources are seen as priority concerns. Women and economically disadvantaged groups are identified in many management plans for special consideration in the provision of finance and training.

Budget and general resource constraints are seen as a significant problem for management. While there is a general shortage of human and financial resources for fisheries management in developing countries, other countries are concentrating on methods to cover management costs from resource revenue.

Regional and global management

Regional cooperation has many other benefits in addition to cost savings. Many fishery policies explicitly concern themselves with the need to harmonize management measures among and even (in the larger ones) within countries. Benefits stem mainly from improved MCS, which is one of the most expensive aspects of management. Regional cooperation can greatly reduce these costs. The sharing of information and technical expertise, as well as the joint management of shared stocks, are also of increasing interest to multilateral cooperation. To support these there is a need to strengthen regional fisheries management organizations and make them more efficient (see Box 3 for examples of activities in regional fishery bodies).

Although there has been a general decline in distant-water fishing, some developing countries still rely on long-range fleets, usually from developed countries, to exploit their offshore resources. Because of the need to share information on foreign fleets, regional management is particularly valuable in dealing with fisheries that have a large foreign component.

However, regional bodies improve the cooperation between states even when distant-water fishing is in decline. Regional fisheries management bodies have an important role to play in combating illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Regional fishery bodies: IOTC and NEAFC

Indian Ocean Tuna Commission

The Atlantic and the Eastern Pacific Oceans have had tuna management bodies for several decades. Discussions leading to the creation of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) started in 1986. The agreement establishing IOTC entered into force with the accession of the tenth member in 1996. This body was established under Article XIV of the FAO Constitution and now has 18 members, including the EC and 17 states. Membership is open to coastal countries of the Indian Ocean as well as non-riparian countries that are fishing for tuna in this ocean. The commission's objective is the optimum utilization of 16 species of tuna and tuna-like fishes in its area of competence, which is defined as the Indian Ocean and adjacent seas. This commission is the first of its kind in FAO, as it has management powers and is funded totally from member party contributions.

Initially, tuna catches in this area were half those of the Atlantic or the Eastern Pacific Oceans, but they have increased rapidly and now account for more than a quarter of world tuna landings. The value of the annual catch of 1.2 million tonnes is also very high (estimated to be between
US$2 billion and US$3 billion), as there is a large proportion of valuable fish caught by longlines. Another significant fact is that nearly half the catch comes from artisanal fisheries, whereas in the other oceans most of the catch comes from long-range industrialized operations.

The technical activities that gave rise to IOTC started in 1982 through the Indo-Pacific Tuna Development and Management Programme (IPTP), which was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and executed by FAO. The programme was entrusted with the collection of statistical data on tuna fisheries and provided participating countries with a forum for research and the discussion of stock status. Scientific support was provided throughout the lifetime of IPTP through a project funded by Japan. As of 1986, member parties provided all the funding for the operation of the programme.

The IOTC secretariat has been operational at its headquarters in Seychelles since the beginning of 1998. During this period, staff have been appointed, statistical databases have been constituted, data from tuna fishing countries have been collected and the dissemination of data and information through the Internet and electronic and print media has been organized. The secretariat also provides support in data collection, training and scientific activities to contracting and cooperating parties. The secretariat takes an active role at the international level, cooperating closely with FAO and other regional fishery bodies in such fields as status and trends reporting, the establishment of statistical standards, the exchange of data and information and the international plans of action on seabird by-catch, sharks and fishing capacity. A coordination mechanism has been introduced among tuna management bodies in all the oceans in order to counter the threat posed by illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The commission meets every year. Advice on technical and scientific matters is provided through a scientific committee and scientific work is undertaken through working parties. To date, working parties have been constituted for statistics and tagging, as well as for tropical, temperate and neritic tunas and billfish. In the short time since its creation, IOTC has already taken decisions on minimum data reporting standards, the confidentiality of data and measures to regulate IUU fishing. It has also created a new status of Cooperating Party, intended to facilitate the accession of countries that might be hesitant to join or might not have the necessary financial resources. It is anticipated that resource management measures will be taken at the next session.

Source: D. Ardill, IOTC Secretary.

Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission

The foundation of NEAFC can be traced back to the period between the First and Second World Wars. In the 1930s, several conferences were held to address the issue of rational exploitation of fish resources, but attempts to organize an international agreement were interrupted by the Second World War. In 1946, the United Kingdom organized an International Conference on Overfishing, which resulted in the establishment of a Permanent Commission.

This commission, founded in 1953, was the forerunner of NEAFC. Its first meeting was attended by delegations from 12 contracting parties and dealt mainly with minimum fish size and the use of various fishing gears. In 1955, the commission set up an ad hoc scientific committee to look into the issues under discussion and seek advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

During its first years of operation, it was apparent that the measures it could establish were insufficient to protect stocks adequately. Between 1954 and 1958 several informal discussions took place to consider new types of international regulation. In 1959, a conference resulted in the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Convention, which entered into force in 1963. NEAFC, which was formed under this convention, succeeded the permanent commission. The new commission was given additional powers and was able to establish stricter conservation and management measures.

NEAFC formed the framework for international cooperation in the area of fisheries regulation beyond national fishing limits. Its main purpose was to recommend measures to maintain the rational exploitation of fish stocks in the convention's area, taking scientific advice from ICES. In 1967, NEAFC established a Scheme of Joint Enforcement that contained rules for mutual inspection and control outside national fishery jurisdictions. Although all decisions regarding judicial processes were the responsibility of the flag state, this scheme was considered a significant achievement. In 1969, the commission recommended a complete ban on salmon fisheries outside national limits. It also agreed to enforce a closed season for the North Sea herring fishery from 1971. In 1975 a recommendation to ban directed industrial fishing for North Sea herring was agreed.

During this period, the commission's powers increased, as it was allowed to set limits for total allowable catches (TACs) and effort limitations, including the allocation of quotas. The first quota recommendation was on North Sea herring in 1974 and, the following year, NEAFC recommended TACs and quota allocations for
15 stocks. By the end of 1976, NEAFC was aware that developments taking place after the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III) would result in the extension of fishing limits to 200 miles. In 1977, when the coastal states in the North Atlantic declared 200 miles jurisdiction off their coasts, most of the areas of stocks regulated by NEAFC became national zones. The management of joint stocks became a matter of bilateral or multilateral responsibility, instead of NEAFC's responsibility.

An agreement on membership of the organization was reached between NEAFC's contracting parties and the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1980, enabling the EEC to become a signatory. The 1980 meeting resulted
in the Convention on Future Multilateral
Co-operation in the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries.
A new commission was established in 1982.

The duties and obligations of the new commission were similar to those of the former: it should serve as a forum for consultation and the exchange of information on fish stocks and management and it had the power to make recommendations concerning fisheries in international waters in the convention area. However, since most fisheries activities took place inside coastal state jurisdiction, NEAFC lacked any real responsibility for managing them.

The development of the legal framework for fisheries management following UNCLOS, in particular the Rio Declaration and the United Nations Agreement on the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, resulted in a new dawn for NEAFC. The commission decided to consider the future of NEAFC in the light of recent developments in the legal framework for fishing in waters outside national jurisdiction.

Recent years have seen increased fishing activity and NEAFC has become responsible for managing several stocks in the convention area. In 1998, the current contracting parties - Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), the EC, Iceland, Norway, Poland and the Russian Federation - agreed to strengthen NEAFC by establishing an independent secretariat in London. An agreement was reached on a new Scheme on Control and Enforcement to be applied to waters outside national jurisdiction. This permits the mutual inspection of contracting parties' vessels. Contracting parties are also required to notify the secretariat of vessels authorized to fish in international waters and report the catches taken.

Contracting parties have agreed that, as from
1 January 2000, they require the satellite tracking of vessels fishing outside national jurisdiction in the Northeast Atlantic. The secretariat will supply up-to-date information about ongoing fishing activities to contracting parties with an inspection presence in the area. NEAFC's contracting parties have also agreed measures to be taken when dealing with non-contracting parties fishing in the area; for example, if fishing of NEAFC-regulated stocks takes place contrary to NEAFC recommendations, non-contracting parties may face prohibition of the landing of catches.

Source: S. Engesaeter, NEAFC Secretary.

Inland fisheries management

Management of inland fisheries is constrained by the same factors that make accurate data collection difficult: the diverse and diffuse nature of the fisheries; incomplete or inaccurate reporting; and competition for water resources from other sectors such as agriculture and energy production. In efforts to rebuild fisheries or to add value to the catch of certain water bodies, stocking (often of exotic species) and other enhancement measures have been adopted. Aquaculture can also be an enhancement measure, but in many rural areas aquaculture production accounts for only a small fraction of inland fisheries production and should not be seen as a substitute for fisheries management. Access to fishing areas is often controlled by powerful individuals within the community. As recreational fisheries become an increasingly valuable source of revenue in developing countries (e.g. through access charges and tourism), local subsistence and commercial fishers are losing access to many water bodies. This poses a problem for the management of individual fisheries, so there is a move to manage watersheds and habitats instead. Protecting the habitat in watersheds and developing access and ownership schemes for inland water bodies are two measures that could help promote responsible inland fisheries, even when there is no accurate information on species catch.


Production and value

Most aquaculture has developed in freshwater environments (Figure 9), and mainly in Asia. The development of inland aquaculture is seen as an important source of food security in Asia, particularly in land-locked countries.

Freshwater aquaculture production is dominated by finfish, particularly silver, grass and other carps (Figures 10 and 11). Brackish water aquaculture has most frequently been developed for shrimp production, notably the giant tiger prawn, which accounts for the growth in shrimp export markets. Milkfish production dominated brackish water finfish aquaculture in the 1980s, but has subsequently grown more slowly. In volume terms, mariculture has been dominated by seaweeds, notably Japanese kelp, and molluscs, mainly the Pacific cupped oyster. However, as production figures are given in live weight (including the high water content of seaweeds and the heavy shells of molluscs), the statistics give the impression that these products are greater sources of food and employment than they actually are.

Brackish and saltwater aquaculture has seen a growth in high-value salmon in particular, and in brackish water, shrimp is the major high-value product. Both these types of aquaculture are oriented towards the export market. Shrimp (crustaceans) and salmon (diadromous fishes) make up a lower volume than freshwater fishes such as tilapia and carp but attract a high price, making them a significant component in value terms.

Production is dominated by Asian countries (Figure 12), particularly China which has reported increases in production of 0.7 million tonnes per year until 1992 and 2.6 millions tonnes per year thereafter. For the rest of the world, combined growth in production has averaged 0.4 million tonnes per year. Within the last decade, LIFDCs, excluding China, have shown an encouraging overall upward trend in production and, in terms of quantity, the increase has kept pace with that reported in non-LIFDCs (Figure 13). China and other Asian countries dominate LIFDC aquaculture production (Figure 14) because they have been much more active in promoting aquaculture, particularly for subsistence. While Asia, the Americas and Europe have seen an expansion in aquaculture production, Africa has been slow to develop its potential. Unlike Asia, Africa has little aquaculture tradition and has been affected by a number of external problems that have prevented proper management and development despite investment. Nevertheless, aquaculture production in Africa has risen from 37 000 tonnes in 1984 to 189 000 in 1998, the majority of which is freshwater carp and tilapia.

Development and policy

In the Asia region, aquaculture has developed mainly as a rural activity integrated into existing farming systems. Rural aquaculture, including enhancement and culture-based fisheries, has made significant contributions to the alleviation of poverty, directly through small-scale household farming of aquatic organisms for domestic consumption or income, and indirectly by providing employment for the poor or low-cost fish for poor rural and urban consumers. Recent experiences in these countries indicate that there are wide opportunities for the poor, who can integrate aquaculture into their existing farming systems.

All countries in the region have a large unfulfilled potential for growth, although rural aquaculture is far better developed in countries such as China and India. In China, significant expansion and intensification of aquaculture are taking place. Intensive systems, based increasingly on formulated feeds, are more common in coastal provinces, where small-scale farms account for 60 percent of production, while in poorer and remoter provinces traditional integrated systems, based mainly on manuring, still predominate. In India, rural aquaculture using extensive to semi-intensive modes of production in ponds and tanks contributes significantly to rural household incomes. In the Philippines, small-scale holders dominate coastal seaweed and mollusc farming. In Bangladesh, where most fish farmers are relatively poor, there is vast potential for the poorest members of society to become new entrant aquaculture farmers. In Nepal, poor fishers are the owner-operators of fish cages, while in the Philippines poor farmers are more likely to be hired to operate such systems and are less likely to be owners. In Indonesia, about 78 percent of farming households cultivate fish in small ponds of less than 500 m2, and aquaculture is the main source of income for 66 percent of the households that cultivate fish in paddies and ponds. Aquaculture is also the main source of income for 65 percent of households with brackish water ponds of an area less than 1 ha. It has been reported that the traditional integrated farming system in Viet Nam may contribute as much to household income as rice cultivation, while occupying a far smaller area.

However, the contribution of rural aquaculture to development is uneven, suggesting that there is still significant unfulfilled potential. Rural aquaculture is increasingly recognized as a way to improve the livelihoods of poor people, and many governments and development agencies attach importance to this sector in the Asia and Pacific region.

Aquaculture still faces a number of problems. Among these are access to technology and financial resources for the poor; environmental impacts; and diseases. The priority areas for further research include:

Although many policies are developed specifically for aquaculture, the resulting plans are often integrated with those of the capture fisheries sector. Aquaculture is seen not only as having greater development potential than capture fisheries, but also as an important tool for increasing food security. Many countries have identified a future shortfall in the supply of fishery products and support aquaculture development in order to avoid the importation of scarce fishery products.

Aquaculture is often proposed as a way of providing fish to non-coastal communities, high-value exports, seed stock for replenishing resources and bait for fisheries. As well as the development of new areas, most plans for aquaculture include support for areas that are underutilized as a result of inefficiencies in production, a common problem for many developing countries. Other significant issues addressed by management and development plans include disease control, conflicting land uses and general environmental problems arising from aquaculture development, such as critical habitat loss, species introductions and pollution.

The future development of aquaculture will depend on improvements in new and adaptive research and management. A framework for such cooperation, provided in the Bangkok Declaration and Strategy for Aquaculture Development Beyond 2000,8 is particularly important to developing countries, which need to share expertise and technology. Regional management of aquaculture is being developed for the Mediterranean region through the application of Article 9 of the Code. This is the first institutional attempt to harmonize the different national principles connected with the Code. The principles address integrated and improved planning with the participation of all sectors, environmental conservation and economic and trade issues.


Since 1994, there has been a tendency to increase the proportion of fisheries production used for direct human consumption rather than for other purposes (Figure 15). Of the products for human consumption, fresh fish showed significant growth during the 1990s, complemented by a decline in the use of canned fish. This pattern has largely been driven by growth in consumption, which increased the demand for fresh fish and caused a slight decline in other uses (Figure 16).

Fish has a significant capacity for processing. In 1998, only 36 percent of world fisheries production was marketed as fresh fish, while the remaining 64 percent underwent some form of processing. Fish for human consumption had a 79.6 percent share, while the remaining 20.4 percent went to non-food purposes, almost exclusively for reduction to meal and oil. Of the fish destined for direct human consumption, fresh fish was the most important product, with a share of 45.3 percent, followed by frozen fish (28.8 percent), canned fish (13.9 percent) and cured fish (12 percent). Fresh fish increased in volume from 25 million tonnes in 1988 to 42 million tonnes in 1998, live weight equivalent. Processed fish (frozen, cured and canned) increased from 46 million tonnes in 1988 to more than 51 million tonnes, live weight equivalent, in 1998.


The total food fish supply has been growing at a rate of 3.6 percent per annum since 1961, while the world's population has been expanding at 1.8 percent per annum. The proteins derived from fish, crustaceans and molluscs account for between 13.8 and 16.5 percent of the animal protein intake of the human population.

Total food fish supply grew from 27.6 million tonnes in 1961 to more than 93 million tonnes at the end of the twentieth century. Average apparent per capita consumption increased from about 9 kg per annum in the early 1960s to 16 kg in 1997. The per capita availability of fish and fishery products has therefore nearly doubled in 40 years, outpacing population growth, which also nearly doubled in the same period.

In industrialized countries, where diets generally contain a more diversified range of animal proteins, the supply increased from 13.2 million tonnes in 1961 to 26.7 million tonnes in 1997, implying a rise in per capita provision from 19.7 to 27.7 kg. This represents a growth rate close to 1 percent per annum. In this group of countries, fish contributed an increasing share of total protein intake until 1989 (accounting for between 6.5 and 8.5 percent), but its importance has gradually declined since then and, in 1997, its percentage contribution was back to the level prevailing in the mid-1980s.

In the early 1960s, per capita fish supply in LIFDCs was, on average, one-fifth of that of the richest countries. The gap has gradually lessened, however, and in 1997 average LIFDC fish consumption was close to half that of the more affluent economies. If China is excluded, per capita supply in LIFDCs increased from 4.9 to 7.8 kg over the period - an annual growth rate of 1.3 percent.

Despite the relatively low consumption by weight in LIFDCs, the contribution of fish to total animal protein intake is considerable (nearly 20 percent). Over the last four decades, however, the share of fish proteins to animal proteins has exhibited a slight negative trend owing to faster growth in the consumption of other animal products.

As well as income-related variations, the role of fish in nutrition shows marked continental, regional and national differences (Figure 17). For example, of the 93.9 million tonnes available worldwide for consumption in 1997, only 5.2 million tonnes were consumed in Africa (with a per capita supply of 7.1 kg), whereas two-thirds of the total were consumed in Asia - 31.7 million tonnes in Asia excluding China (13.7 kg per capita) and a similar amount in China alone (where the apparent supply amounted to 25.7 kg per capita).

Currently, two-thirds of the total food fish supply are obtained from fishing in marine and inland waters; the remaining one-third is derived from aquaculture. The contribution of inland and marine capture fisheries to per capita food supply has stabilized (at 10 to11 kg per capita in the period 1984-1998). Recent increases in per capita availability have, therefore, been obtained from aquaculture production, from both traditional rural aquaculture and intensive commercial aquaculture of high-value species. On average, for all countries in the world except China, aquaculture's contribution to per capita food availability grew from 1.2 kg in 1984 to 2.1 kg in 1998 - at an average rate of 4.1 percent per annum. In China, where fish farming practices have long traditional roots, the per capita supply from aquaculture is reported to have increased from 6 kg to nearly 17 kg in the same period, implying an annual average growth of 15 percent.

The total amount of fish consumed and the species composition of the food supply vary according to region and country, reflecting the different levels of natural availability of aquatic resources in adjacent waters, as well as diverse food traditions, tastes, demand and income levels. Demersal fish are much preferred in northern Europe and North America, and cephalopods are consumed in several Mediterranean and Asian countries, but to a much lesser extent in other regions. Despite the fast-growing contribution of aquaculture to production, crustaceans are still high-priced commodities and their consumption is mostly concentrated in affluent economies. Of the 16.1 kg of fish per capita available for consumption in 1997, the vast majority (75 percent) was finfish (Figure 18). Shellfish supplied 25 percent - or 4 kg per capita, subdivided into 1.4 kg of crustaceans, 2.2 kg of molluscs and 0.4 kg of cephalopods.

In terms of total supply, 25 million tonnes were made up of freshwater and diadromous species. Marine finfish species provided 45 million tonnes, subdivided into 16 million tonnes of demersal species, 19 million tonnes of pelagics and 10 million tonnes of unidentified and miscellaneous marine fish. The remaining 20 percent of the food supply was shellfish, comprising 8 million tonnes of crustaceans, 2.5 million tonnes of cephalopods and 13 million tonnes of other molluscs. Historically, there have not been dramatic changes in most of the broad groups' shares in average world consumption: demersal fish species have stabilized at about 2.7 kg per capita and pelagic fish at 3.2 kg. Two groups are exceptions in that they showed considerable increases between 1961 and 1997: the availability of crustaceans per capita more than trebled from 0.4 to 1.4 kg, largely because of the production of shrimps and prawns from aquaculture practices; and molluscs similarly increased from 0.6 to 2.2 kg per capita.

Fish contributes up to 180 calories per capita per day, but reaches such high levels only in a few countries where there is a lack of alternative protein foods grown locally and where a preference for fish has been developed and maintained (examples are Japan, Iceland and some small island states). More typically, fish provides about 20 to 30 calories per day. Fish proteins are essential and critical in the diet of some densely populated countries, where the total protein intake level may be low (e.g. fish contributes more than or close to 50 percent of total proteins in Bangladesh, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the Republic of Congo, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Japan and Senegal), and it is very important in the diets of many other countries (e.g. Cambodia, Benin, Angola and the Republic of Korea).

Worldwide, about 1 billion people rely on fish as their main source of animal proteins. Dependence on fish is usually higher in coastal than in inland areas. About 20 percent of the world's population derives at least 20 percent of its animal protein intake from fish (Figure 19), and some small island states depend on fish almost exclusively.


Fish is traded widely - mostly as a frozen food, and increasingly less as a canned or heavily dried food. Its trade has been stimulated by the economic conditions prevailing in most consumer markets and by notions about the health benefits of seafood consumption. In response to higher prices in recent years, production from aquaculture has had a positive influence on supply and consumer prices. However, in 1998 import demand in some important markets was sharply reduced. Although, in some cases, the weak import demand for certain species resulted from increased domestic production, more generally it was a result of the financial crisis affecting some of the more rapidly growing industrial economies. In addition, the global economic crisis, which began in the summer of 1997 and spread rapidly through East Asia to the Russian Federation and Latin America, dominated the world economy and resulted in reduced trade and lower commodity prices in seafood products. In Japan, the world's largest fish-consuming country and import market, domestic supply remained at more than 8 million tonnes with small fluctuations until 1995, but since then the trend has been to decrease.

Over the last two years, the consumption of fish and fishery products has been strongly influenced by the economic crisis in the Asian countries, in particular Japan. The crisis and the subsequent low value of the yen led to a decline in imports and consumptionin 1998. The main supplying countries had to reduce prices and find alternative outlets for their production. In 1999, the Japanese economy started to recover, but not as quickly as originally forecast because Japanese people were not spending as freely as they had done before the crisis. Food items that consumers consider to be expensive have had difficulty in regaining their pre-crisis market shares. On the other hand, the United States economy has been particularly strong, and consumption of fish continues to increase in that country. The northern European market was strong in the second part of 1999 because of good economic conditions and higher consumption in restaurants. Europe is not the only region to be experiencing a general trend of increased fish consumption in restaurants as people spend more on eating out. Dietary habits are changing, especially in developed countries. Markets have become more flexible and new products and species have found market niches. The trend is for fish to receive greater value added in the catering and retail markets, thus making it easier for consumers to prepare.

Alongside traditional preparations, developments in food science and technology, combined with improved refrigeration and the use of microwave ovens, are making convenience foods, ready meals, coated fish products and other value-added items a fast-growing industry, especially in the EU and in the United States. The reasons for this rapid expansion include changes in social factors such as the increasing role of women in the workforce, the fragmentation of meals in households as well as the general decrease in average family size, and the increase in single-person households. The need for simple meals that are ready to eat and easy to cook has thus become more important. Another trend is the increasing importance of fresh fish. Unlike many other food products, fish is still more favourably received on the market when it is fresh rather than processed. However, historically, fresh fish has been of little importance in international trade owing to its perishable nature and very limited shelf-life. Improvements in packaging, reduced air freight prices, and more efficient and reliable transport have created additional sales outlets for fresh fish. Food chains and department stores are also taking an increasing share of the fresh seafood sector, and many have opened fresh seafood counters with an extensive variety of fish and freshly prepared fish dishes or salads next to their frozen food counters. Social changes have greatly influenced the structure of the fish and retail markets. Large food chains and department stores are increasingly common. More and more consumers are limiting their shopping to one day a week and tend to prefer larger food outlets for the sake of convenience.

The United States and EU markets for fishery products are expected to expand in coming years as a result of consumer health consciousness and belief in the positive impact that fish consumption can have on health. Healthy food is a growing concern in developed countries, and calorie counts, dietary and nutritional plans and recipes on packed fish are a useful addition to value-added products.

Outside Japan, the consumption of sashimi and sushi is increasing in other Asian countries, the United States and Europe. In addition, the consumption of farmed species such as tilapia, catfish and salmon is an alternative to traditional products that are characterized by low supplies and high prices.

The structure of the fish industry in developed countries is also changing. Large, vertically integrated multinational companies are buying smaller producers.

Among the factors that could influence future demand for seafood products are population growth; changes in economic and social conditions (such as lifestyle and family structure); developments in fish production, processing, distribution and marketing strategies; and the prices of fish compared with those of competing foodstuffs. The price of chicken, for example, is making it increasingly attractive on all major markets, resulting in a shift in consumer interest away from fish and towards chicken. Furthermore, globalization and increasing international trade in seafood commodities, as well as international agreements on trade rules, tariffs, quality standards (see Fish quality and safety, Part 2) and fisheries management are all having an impact. Long-term global trends in supply and demand, including developments in distribution and consumption, have broad implications for the domestic industry and for domestic consumers. Projections of demand based on population and income growth point to an increasing gap between supply and demand, which could lead to an increase in prices. This, in turn, could lead to a widening of the existing gap in average fish consumption between developed countries and LIFDCs. The consumption trend, as far as species are concerned, points increasingly towards farmed species, whitefish, crustaceans and molluscs in the developed countries and to low-value species, such as small pelagics, in developing countries.

A large share of fish production enters international trade, with about 33 percent exported in 1998 (live weight equivalent). LIFDCs play an active part in this trade and, at present, account for almost 20 percent of exports. Developing countries as a whole supply nearly 50 percent of total exports in value terms. In 1998, total exports of fish and fishery products were US$51 300 million in value terms, a 3.8 percent decrease compared with 1997.

More than 90 percent of trade in fish and fishery products consists of processed products in one form or another (i.e. excluding live and fresh whole fish). Frozen, fresh and chilled fish make up the majority of exports (Figure 20). Although live, fresh or chilled fish represents only a small share of world fish trade owing to its perishability, trade is growing, reflecting improved logistics and increased demand.

In 1998, total imports of fish and fishery products were US$55 000 million, representing a slight decline of 2.8 percent compared with 1997 and 3.9 percent compared with 1996. Japan was again the largest importer of fishery products, accounting for some 23 percent of total imports, but Japanese imports of fish and fishery products have declined recently as a result of the economic recession (Figure 21). The EC further increased its dependence on imports for its fish supply. The United States, despite being the world's fifth major exporting country, was also its second main importer. More than 77 percent of the total world import value is concentrated in these three areas.


Shrimp is the main fish trade commodity in value terms, accounting for some 20 percent of the total value of internationally traded fishery products. The international economic crisis in the main producer countries and in their markets, together with disease problems, caused setbacks for shrimp producers, traders and investors in 1998 and 1999. The main producers had to reduce prices and look for alternative outlets in order to sell their production.

In 1998 and 1999, many shrimp-producing countries, particularly in South America, experienced a decline in production mainly owing to disease or weather problems. In Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Bangladesh and India, shrimp production and exports were disappointing compared with previous years. In contrast, shrimp output in Thailand picked up in 1998 and 1999 after the disease problems of 1996 and 1997. This country continues to be the main shrimp-culturing nation in the world.

After poor trading in 1998, the Japanese shrimp market recovered in 1999, particularly in the second half of the year. The strong yen and high demand were the main reasons for this upturn. The United States market for shrimp was very active in 1999, with record shrimp consumption of 400 000 tonnes, 330 000 tonnes of which were imported.

After a slow start, the European shrimp market was strong in the closing months of 1999. Trade improved in the northern part of the continent as a result of good economic conditions and higher consumption in restaurants. Spain is the main fresh and frozen shrimp importer among the EC countries, followed by France, the United Kingdom and Italy.


Tuna catches in 1999 were well ahead of those of 1998 in practically all major fishing areas. Catches in the Eastern Pacific, in particular (up by 40 percent on 1998), continued the positive trend experienced in 1998. Estimates put the 1999 tuna catch at close to a record of 4 million tonnes. The international tuna market was oversupplied during 1999 and this led to unprecedented low prices, which had already started to decline in mid-1998. In November 1999 skipjack was quoted in Bangkok at a low of US$400 per tonne.

Japanese imports of fresh and frozen tuna were 307 400 tonnes in 1999, a 9.7 percent decrease compared with 1998. Japanese imports of canned tuna expanded slightly in 1999 to reach 21 000 tonnes.

The two main markets for canned tuna are the United States and the EC. While United States imports increased in 1999, the European market was rather weak. United States imports of canned tuna reached 151 700 tonnes in 1999, 32 percent more than the 1998 figure. Canned whitemeat still represents only a small share of United States canned tuna imports, but the product is expanding its presence. The United States accounts for about one-third of the world's canned tuna consumption, but consumption has decreased in recent years. The overall quality of canned tuna in the United States is declining, although the higher- quality segment is growing.

Italian canners' use of tuna loins as raw material is increasing, and loins account for about 60 percent of Italy's total canned tuna production. Spain is now the major tuna processor in Europe, having overtaken Italy.

After the United States, Thailand is the second largest producer of canned tuna in the world, and Thai tuna canning companies are promoting this product on domestic markets by highlighting its low cholesterol content.


A number of the main groundfish species have experienced reduced stocks and decreased quotas for several consecutive years. In the United States this development has made the market entry of new farmed species such as catfish and tilapia much easier, and in Europe salmon seems to be replacing groundfish. Low supplies of cod have increased the industry's interest in farming cod. However, there are not many alternatives on the market for such traditional products as salted and dried groundfish. Prices in the United States and Europe were relatively depressed in 1999, with an increase towards the end of the year.

Reduced supplies of traditional groundfish species seem to be compensated by increased sales of other products, especially ready-to-eat meals and farmed salmon. In general, world consumption of salmon is rising and farmed Atlantic salmon is becoming more popular, in fresh, smoked and canned forms. Farmed salmon production grew considerably in 1999, reaching nearly 890 000 tonnes compared with 798 000 tonnes in 1998. Chile experienced several problems with its farmed salmon production during 1999, and Norway increased its share in the United States market.


Cephalopod fisheries performed well in 1999, especially for Illex catches, and supplies on the world market were very strong. The increased supply of squid was initially absorbed without problems, with a strong buying interest reported in Spain and Japan. However, at the end of the year, demand declined suddenly and market prices started to drop.

Squid imports into Japan reached a high of 62 500 tonnes in 1999, almost 30 percent more than in 1998.

In 1999, Japanese cuttlefish imports dropped by 3.1 percent to 43 400 tonnes, with Thailand supplying nearly half of this total. Octopus catches in the Eastern Central Atlantic were good in 1999, leading to higher exports to Japan and lower prices on the world market.

In many of the countries that are not traditional cephalopod eaters, squid consumption is increasing. The best example is the United States, where "calamari" is now well established in fast-food chains. In countries with a low seafood consumption, such as Argentina, squid has found a market niche in the fried fast-food sector.

Small pelagics

The Russian Federation's financial problems led to a strong price drop in 1998, followed by an upwards trend in mackerel prices during the second half of 1999. Norwegian mackerel exports to the Russian Federation and the Baltic states fell by almost 50 percent between 1998 and 1999. Norway began to focus more on Asia and Eastern European countries such as Poland, Turkey and Ukraine.

In 1999, EC exports of Atlantic mackerel to Eastern Europe dropped compared with 1998, so the EC strongly increased its exports towards African markets (particularly Nigeria).

At the end of 1998, the world herring market collapsed as a result of an oversupply from the 1997/98 season and the economic crisis in the Russian Federation and Japan, the two major markets for herring. The world market price for herring dropped substantially, in some cases by 75 percent. In 1999, imports into Central and Eastern Europe started to pick up and it appears that the Russian Federation will again become the major importer of herring. Prices increased slightly in 1999.


Fishmeal production for 1999 is estimated at 6.6 million tonnes, close to the annual average for 1976-1997 of 6.5 million tonnes. This is 29 percent up on the 4.8 million tonnes produced in 1998, which was one of the worst production years ever. Increased production was due to the recovery of fishing in South America after the El Niño phenomenon. Peruvian fishmeal production in 1999 was more than twice the 1998 figure of 815 000 tonnes, representing a return to normal levels. Export earnings from fishmeal increased by 35 percent in 1999 compared with 1998, reaching US$534 million. On the other hand, the situation in Chile did not completely return to normal. Total fishmeal output from this country was 980 000 tonnes in 1999, up from 640 000 tonnes in 1998, but still lower than the 1.2 million tonnes recorded in 1997. Chilean fishmeal exports in 1999 were close to 600 000 tonnes, some 100 000 tonnes more than in 1998.

Increased production led to a strong reduction of prices during 1999. Prices improved somewhat at the end of the year, but competition with soybean meal is still in fishmeal's favour. The present price ratio of 2:1 is one of the lowest in recent history.

Fishmeal exports from the five main exporting countries doubled in 1999, to reach 2.85 million tonnes. China was the main importer, followed by Japan, Taiwan Province of China and Germany.

Fish oil

World fish oil production reached 1.2 million tonnes in 1999, up from 0.8 million tonnes in 1998. Latin American producers, Peru in particular, reported a strong increase in output, and fish oil production levels went back to pre-El Niño levels. The increase in fish oil availability was coupled with price reductions and, in December 1999, fish oil prices were around US$290 per tonne, compared with US$740 per tonne in mid-1998.

Fish oil use is now dominated by aquaculture, which takes 60 percent of total production. Low production levels in 1998 had a negative impact on the use of edible fish oil, while 1999 saw a recovery in the use of fish oil for direct human consumption.

Live ornamental fish

Trade in ornamental fish has been increasing since the 1980s. At present, total wholesale trade is estimated at US$900 million and total retail trade at about US$3 billion (live animals for aquariums only). Asia represents more than 50 percent of the world's total ornamental fish supply. Singapore is by far the leading exporter, followed by the United States, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Japan, Malaysia, the Czech Republic, Israel, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Fish farming is a leisure activity that is practised mainly in industrialized countries because it is relatively costly. The main importers are the United States, Japan and Europe, particularly Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

1 M. Bruton. 1995. Have fishes had their chips? The dilemma of threatened fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 43: 1-27; and World Resources Institute at
2 FAO. 1999. Fisheries Circular No. 942. Rome.
3 World Resources Institute at
4 S.L. Postel et al. 1996. Human appropriation of renewable freshwater. Science, 271.
5 Figures are as of January 2000 and refer to gross tonnage (GT). Information drawn from Lloyd's Register of Shipping is provided under exclusive licence by Lloyd's Maritime Information Services (LMIS).
6 This section is based on information provided to the FAO Fisheries Department by member countries. Most of it was obtained over the last two years.
7 Adopted by the 28th Session of the FAO Conference in October 1995, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is referred to throughout this publication as "the Code".
8Available at

Previous PageTop Of PageNext Page