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This flagship publication is part of THE STATE OF THE WORLD series of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.

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GHANA. Fishing canoes and gear in the Canoe Basin, Tema.

In September 2015, the United Nations launched the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a beautiful blueprint for global peace and prosperity. In adopting the 2030 Agenda, countries demonstrated a remarkable determination to take bold and transformative steps to shift the world onto a more sustainable and resilient path.

However, after 5 years of uneven progress and with less than 10 years to go, and despite progress in many areas, it is clear that action to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not yet advancing at the speed or scale required. In response, at the SDG summit in September 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General called on all sectors of society to mobilize for a Decade of Action to accelerate the development of sustainable solutions for the world’s biggest challenges – ranging from poverty and inequality to climate change and closing the finance gap.

It is therefore necessary and timely that the 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture is devoted to the topic of Sustainability in Action. The fisheries and aquaculture sector has much to contribute to securing all the SDGs, but is at the core of SDG 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. As custodian of four out of ten indicators of SDG 14 progress, FAO has an obligation to accelerate the global momentum to secure healthy and productive oceans, a momentum whose pace will receive further impetus at the second United Nations Ocean Conference.

The 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture continues to demonstrate the significant and growing role of fisheries and aquaculture in providing food, nutrition and employment. It also shows the major challenges ahead despite the progress made on a number of fronts. For example, there is growing evidence that when fisheries are properly managed, stocks are consistently above target levels or rebuilding, giving credibility to the fishery managers and governments around the world that are willing to take strong action. However, the report also demonstrates that the successes achieved in some countries and regions have not been sufficient to reverse the global trend of overfished stocks, indicating that in places where fisheries management is not in place, or is ineffective, the status of fish stocks is poor and deteriorating. This unequal progress highlights the urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and measures in the light of the realities and needs of specific fisheries. It calls for new mechanisms to support the effective implementation of policy and management regulations for sustainable fisheries and ecosystems, as the only solution to ensure fisheries around the world are sustainable.

FAO is a technical agency created to fight hunger and poverty. Yet, as we approach a world of 10 billion people, we face the fact that since 2015 the numbers of undernourished and malnourished people have been growing. While there is no silver bullet to fix this problem, there is little doubt that we will need to use innovative solutions to produce more food, ensure access to it, and improve nutrition. While capture fisheries will remain relevant, aquaculture has already demonstrated its crucial role in global food security, with its production growing at 7.5 percent per year since 1970. Recognizing the capacity of aquaculture for further growth, but also the enormity of the environmental challenges the sector must face as it intensifies production, demands new sustainable aquaculture development strategies. Such strategies need to harness technical developments in, for example, feeds, genetic selection, biosecurity and disease control, and digital innovation, with business developments in investment and trade. The priority should be to further develop aquaculture in Africa and in other regions where population growth will challenge food systems most.

The FAO Hand-in-Hand Initiative is an ideal framework for efforts that combine fisheries and aquaculture trends and challenges in the context of blue growth. The Hand-in-Hand Initiative aims to accelerate food systems transformation through matching donors with recipients, using the best data and information available. This evidence-based, country-led and country-owned initiative prioritizes countries where infrastructure, national capacities and international support are most limited, and where efficient collaboration and partnerships to transfer skills and technology can be of particular benefit. For example, climate change impacts on marine capture fisheries are projected to be more significant in tropical regions of Africa and Asia, where warming is expected to decrease productivity. Targeted fisheries and aquaculture development interventions in these regions, addressing their specific needs for food, trade and livelihoods, can provide the transformational change we need to feed everyone, everywhere.

Part of these targeted interventions is the recognition that most food systems affect the environment, but that there are trade-offs to ensure we improve food and nutrition security while minimizing the impacts on their supportive ecosystems. Fish and fisheries products are actually recognized not only as some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the less impactful on the natural environment. For these reasons, they must be better considered in national, regional and global food security and nutrition strategies, and contribute to the ongoing transformation of food systems to ensure we eliminate hunger and malnutrition.

For FAO, 2020 is an important year in its history. It is the seventy-fifth anniversary of its creation – FAO is the oldest permanent specialized agency of the United Nations. It is also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the blueprint that has guided fisheries and aquaculture policy development around the world. However, there is no time for celebrations. These anniversaries remind us of the reason for our existence, they are calls to action, springboards for change, for a rapidly changing world in need of innovative and transformative solutions to old as well as new problems. As this report was being prepared, COVID-19 emerged as one of the greatest challenges that we have faced together since the creation of FAO. The deep socio-economic consequences of this pandemic will make our fight to defeat hunger and poverty harder and more challenging. As fisheries and aquaculture is one of the sectors most impacted by the pandemic, the baseline information provided in this report is already helping FAO respond with technical solutions and targeted interventions.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture is the only publication of its kind, which for years has provided technical insight and factual information on a sector crucial for societal success. Among other things, the report highlights major trends and patterns observed in global fisheries and aquaculture and scans the horizon for new and emerging areas that need to be considered if we are to manage aquatic resources sustainably into the future. I hope this edition will have even greater quantitative and qualitative impact than previous editions, making valuable contributions in helping us meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Qu Dongyu
FAO Director-General


1. World fisheries and aquaculture production, utilization and trade

2. Marine capture production: major producing countries and territories

3. Marine capture production: major species and genera

4. Capture production: FAO Major Fishing Areas

5. Inland waters capture production: major producing countries

6. Aquaculture production of main species groups by continent in 2018

7. Aquaculture production of aquatic algae by major producers

8. Major species produced in world aquaculture

9. World aquaculture production of aquatic algae

10. Aquaculture fish production in regions, and by selected major producers

11. Major global and regional aquaculture producers with relatively high percentage of bivalves in total aquaculture production of aquatic animals

12. World employment for fishers and fish farmers, by region

13. Reported number of motorized and non-motorized vessels by LOA class in fishing fleets from selected countries and territories, 2018

14. Percentage of global fish catch allocated to major hydrological/river basin

15. Production trends and the relative contribution to the global catch

16. Total and per capita apparent fish consumption by region and economic grouping, 2017

17. Projected fish production, 2030

18. Projected fish trade for human consumption

19. Snapshot of data the Illuminating Hidden Harvests study is exploring

20. Variables used in the threat assessment for inland fisheries

21. Threat scores of basin areas that support inland fisheries

22. Fish supply chain supported by blockchain


1. World capture fisheries and aquaculture production

2. World fish utilization and apparent consumption

3. Regional contribution to world fisheries and aquaculture production

4. Trends in global captures

5. Top ten global capture producers, 2108

6. Trends in three main categories of fishing areas

7. Top five inland waters capture producers

8. World aquaculture production of aquatic animals and algae, 1990–2018

9. Annual growth rate of aquaculture fish production quantity in the new millennium

10. Contribution of aquaculture in total production of aquatic animals

11. Fed and non-fed aquaculture production, 2000–2018

12. Aquaculture production of major producing regions and major producers of main species groups, 2003–2018

13. Regional share of employment in fisheries and aquaculture

14. Sex-disaggregated data on employment in fisheries and aquaculture, 2018

15. Distribution of motorized and non-motorized fishing vessels by region, 2018

16. Proportion of motorized and non-motorized fishing vessels by region, 2018

17. Distribution of motorized fishing vessels by region, 2018

18. Size distribution of motorized fishing vessels by region, 2018

19. Global trends in the state of the world’s marine fish stocks, 1974–2017

20. Percentages of stocks fished at biologically sustainable and unsustainable levels, by FAO statistical area, 2017

21. The three temporal patterns in fish landings, 1950–2017

22. Estimated inland fishery catch allocated to major hydrologic regions and the river basins in which it was produced, expressed as a percentage of the global total inland catch

23. Utilization of world fisheries and aquaculture production, 1962–2018

24. Utilization of world fisheries and aquaculture production: developed versus developing countries, 2018

25. Contribution of fish to animal protein supply, average 2015–2017

26. Apparent fish consumption per capita, average 2015–2017

27. Relative contribution of aquaculture and capture fisheries to fish available for human consumption

28. World fisheries and aquaculture production and quantities destined for export

29. Top exporters and importers of fish and fish products in terms of value, 2018

30. Trade of fish and fish products

31. Trade flows of fish and fish products by continent (share of total imports, in terms of value), 2018

32. Import and export values of fish products for different regions, indicating net deficit or surplus

33. Share of main groups of species in fish trade in terms of value, 2018

34. FAO Fish Price Index

35. Groundfish prices in Norway

36. Skipjack tuna prices in Ecuador and Thailand

37. Fishmeal and soybean meal prices in Germany and the Netherlands

38. Fish oil and soybean oil prices in the Netherlands

39. International legal framework for fisheries

40. Response by Members to the FAO Questionnaire on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Related Instruments, by region

41. Number of fish management plans developed for marine and inland capture fisheries in accordance with the Code, as reported by Members

42. Percentage of fisheries management plans implemented for marine and inland capture fisheries in accordance with the Code, as reported by Members

43. Number of countries that have a legal framework for the development of responsible aquaculture in line with the Code, as reported by Members

44. Proposed information system with a registry of farmed types of aquatic genetic resources at its core

45. The process of the Sustainable Aquaculture Guidelines and the content for their development

46. Average level of implementation of international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, SDG regional groupings, 2018

47. Implementation of instruments for access to resources and markets for small-scale fisheries, SDG regional groupings, 2018

48. The SSF Guidelines and the Sustainable Development Goals

49. Adaptation planning cycle

50. Development of international legal, environmental and management instruments

51. World capture fisheries and aquaculture production, 1980–2030

52. Annual growth rate of world aquaculture, 1980–2030

53. World global capture fisheries and aquaculture production, 1980–2030

54. Contribution of aquaculture to regional fish production

55. World fishmeal production, 1990–2030

56. Increasing role of aquaculture

57. Global “status map” based on the interaction of 20 pressures at basin level for the 34 indicative basins that support inland fisheries

58. Basin-level threat maps for important inland fisheries


1. Revision of FAO fisheries and aquaculture production statistics

2. Relevance of sex-disaggregated data: a focus on women in post-harvest activities

3. AIS-based fishing data

4. Fishery management demonstrably instrumental in improving stock status

5. FAO Food Balance Sheets of fish and fish products

6. The FAO fisheries and aquaculture knowledge base in numbers

7. FAO Fishery and Aquaculture Country Profiles

8. How components of FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture knowledge base will contribute to an aquatic genetic resources information system

9. Standardizing the nomenclature for aquatic genetic resources

10. Global Record of Fishing Vessels

11. FAO Global Programme to Support the Implementation of the PSMA and Complementary International Instruments

12. International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022

13. Ensuring access to secure livelihoods and sustainable development: the Volta River clam fishery in Ghana

14. Tailoring safety-at-sea training to small-scale fisheries in the Pacific and Caribbean

15. Managing bycatch more sustainably in Latin America and the Caribbean

16. FAO’s aquaculture–horticulture approach in remote areas in West Africa

17. Securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in North Africa: supporting strong subregional momentum

18. Determining risk and management needs for vulnerable resources in marine systems

19. Adaptation to climate change: Chile takes action

20. Addressing extreme events: FAO’s damage and loss methodology

21. Not leaving fisheries and aquaculture behind in multisectoral policies for food security and nutrition

22. Vulnerability of countries to climate change impacts on capture fisheries

23. SmartForms and Calipseo – FAO’s new tools to help address weaknesses in national data systems

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 is the product of a 15-month process that began in March 2019. An editorial board was formed, made up of staff from the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, supported by a core executive team including the Director of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department (FIA), five staff and consultants of the department’s Statistics and Information Branch, and a representative of the FAO Office of Corporate Communication. Chaired by the FIA Director, the editorial board met at regular intervals to plan the structure and content, refine terminology, review progress and address issues.

The editorial board decided to modify the structure of the 2020 edition, and to retain the format and process of previous years only Part 1, World Review. Part 2 would be renamed Sustainability in Action, and focus on issues coming to the fore in 2019–2020. In particular, it would examine issues related to Sustainable Development Goal 14 and its indicators for which FAO is the “custodian” United Nations agency. Sections would cover various aspects of fisheries and aquaculture sustainability: assessing, monitoring, developing policies, securing, reporting and context. The editorial board also decided that Part 2 should open with a special section marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code) and reporting on the progress made since the Code’s adoption. Part 3 would form the final part of the publication, covering projections (outlook) and emerging issues.

This decision for a revised structure was based on feedback received from internal and external reviewers on the previous edition, including an on-line questionnaire. The revision was guided by the management of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, and benefited from inputs from the department’s different branches. This structure was approved by the department’s senior management.

Between April and May 2019, department staff were invited to identify suitable topics and contributors for Parts 2 and 3, and the editorial board compiled and refined an outline of the publication. The process from planning through to review involved virtually all officers in the department at headquarters, while decentralized staff were invited to contribute regional stories. The revised structure was accompanied by a change in the authoring leadership for Part 2 – various editorial board members were each assigned responsibility for a theme containing at least two sections. Many FAO authors contributed (some to multiple sections), as did several authors external to FAO (see Acknowledgements).

In June 2019, a summary of Parts 2 and 3 was prepared with the inputs of all lead authors, and revised based on feedback from the editorial board. The summary document was submitted to the department’s management and the FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, for approval in June 2019. This document then formed the blueprint guiding authors in the drafting of the publication.

Parts 2 and 3 were drafted between September and December 2019, edited for technical and language content, and submitted in January 2020 for review by FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department management, by external experts and by the editorial board.

The world review in Part 1 is based on FAO’s official fishery and aquaculture statistics. To reflect the most up-to-date statistics available, this part was drafted in February–March 2020 upon annual closure of the various thematic databases in which the data are structured. The statistics are the outcome of an established programme to ensure the best possible information, including assistance to enhance countries’ capacity to collect and submit data according to international standards. The process is one of careful collation, revision and validation. In the absence of national reporting, FAO may make estimates based on the best data available from other sources or through standard methodologies.

A draft of the publication was sent for comments to other FAO departments and regional offices, and a final draft was submitted to the Office of the FAO Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources, and to the Office of the FAO Director-General for approval.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 was prepared under the overall direction of Manuel Barange and an editorial board under his leadership, comprising Vera Agostini, Marcio Castro de Souza, Nicole Franz, Kim Friedman, Graham Mair, Julian Plummer, Marc Taconet, Raymon van Anrooy and Kiran Viparthi.

Main authors (all affiliated with FAO, unless otherwise stated) were:

Part 1

Capture fisheries production: James Geehan (lead author)

Aquaculture production: Xiaowei Zhou (lead author)

Fishers and fish farmers; Fishing fleet: Jennifer Gee (lead author)

Status of fishery resources: Yimin Ye (lead author), Tarûb Bahri, Pedro Barros, Simon Funge-Smith, Nicolas Gutierrez, Jeremy Mendoza-Hill, Hassan Moustahfid, Yukio Takeuchi, Merete Tandstad, Marcelo Vasconcellos

Fish utilization and processing: Stefania Vannuccini (lead author), Ansen Ward, Molly Ahern, Omar Riego Penarubia, Pierre Ami Maudoux

Fish consumption: Stefania Vannuccini (lead author), Felix Dent, Gabriella Laurenti

Fish trade and products: Stefania Vannuccini (lead author), Felix Dent

Part 2

How has the Code supported the adoption of sustainable practices?: Rebecca Metzner (lead author), Alexander Ford, Joseph Zelasney, Nicole Franz

Progress on the road to sustainability – what the Code questionnaire reveals: Joseph Zelasney (lead author), Alexander Ford, Rebecca Metzner, Nicole Franz

FAO fisheries and aquaculture data and information systems: Marc Taconet (lead author), Aureliano Gentile, Stefania Savore, Riccardo Fortuna

An aquatic genetic resources information system to support sustainable growth in aquaculture: Graham Mair (lead author), Daniela Lucente, Marc Taconet, Stefania Savore, Tamsin Vicary, Xiaowei Zhou

Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: Eszter Hidas (lead author), Matthew Camilleri, Giuliano Carrara, Alicia Mosteiro

Product legality and origin: John Ryder and Nianjun Shen (lead authors)

Sustainability, tenure, access and user rights: Rebecca Metzner (lead author), Amber Himes Cornell, Nicole Franz, Juan Lechuga Sanchez, Lena Westlund, Kwang Suk Oh, Ruben Sanchez Daroqui

Social sustainability along value chains: Marcio Castro de Souza (lead author), Mariana Toussaint

Responsible fishing practices: Raymon van Anrooy (lead author), Mariaeleonora D’Andrea, Carlos Fuentevilla, Amparo Perez Roda

Guidelines and best practices for sustainable aquaculture: Lionel Dabbadie (lead author), Rodrigo Roubach

Fisheries, aquaculture and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Audun Lem (lead author), William Griffin

Stock sustainability: Yimin Ye (lead author)

Progress in implementing international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: Matthew Camilleri (lead author), Giuliano Carrara, Eszter Hidas

Providing access for small-scale fishers to marine resources and markets: Nicole Franz (lead author), Jennifer Gee, Joseph Zelasney, Valerio Crespi, Sofiane Mahjoub

Economic benefits from sustainable fisheries: Marcio Castro de Souza (lead author), Weiwei Wang

Mainstreaming biodiversity in fisheries and aquaculture: Kim Friedman (lead author), Raymon van Anrooy, Amber Himes-Cornell, Pedro Barros, Simon Funge-Smith, Matthias Halwart, Graham Mair, Piero Mannini, Rodrigo Roubach, Vera Agostini

Sustainability in areas beyond national jurisdiction: Piero Mannini (lead author), Alejandro Anganuzzi, William Emerson

Climate change adaptation strategies: Florence Poulain (lead author), Tarûb Bahri, Felix Inostroza Cortés, Alessandro Lovatelli, Stefania Savore

Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear and its pollution of the marine environment: Raymon van Anrooy (lead author), Ingrid Giskes, Pingguo He

Fish in food systems strategies for food security and nutrition: Molly Ahern (lead author), John Ryder

Blue growth achievements: Lahsen Ababouch (international expert on fisheries and aquaculture; lead author), Henry De Bey, Vera Agostini

Part 3

Fisheries and aquaculture projections: Stefania Vannuccini (lead author), Pierre Maudoux, Felix Dentand Adrienne Egger

Illuminating Hidden Harvests: Kate Bevitt (WorldFish) (lead author), Nicole Franz, Giulia Gorelli, Xavier Basurto (Duke University)

Improving the assessment of global inland fisheries: Simon Funge-Smith (lead author)

New and disruptive technologies for innovative data systems and practices: Marc Taconet (lead author), Nada Bougouss, Anton Ellenbroek, Aureliano Gentile, Yann Laurent, Nianjun Shen

Aquaculture Biosecurity: Melba Reantaso (lead author), Xiaowei Zhou

Towards a new vision for capture fisheries in the twenty-first century: Manuel Barange

The publication also benefited from external review by Professor Massimo Spagnolo (Institute for Economic Research in Fishery and Aquaculture) and Kevern Cochrane (Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University, South Africa). They are acknowledged for their significant contributions. The report was reviewed internally by Vera Agostini, Manuel Barange and the editorial board, as well as by colleagues in other technical divisions of FAO beyond the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department.

The Meeting Programming and Documentation Service of the FAO Conference, Council and Protocol Affairs Division provided translation and printing services.

The Publishing Group (OCCP) in FAO’s Office for Corporate Communication provided editorial support, design and layout, as well as production coordination, for editions in all six official languages.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

areas beyond national jurisdiction

abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear

aquatic genetic resources

Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts

Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Information System

Convention on Biological Diversity

catch documentation scheme

Committee on Food Security

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

conservation management measure

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

Committee on Fisheries

coronavirus disease

Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics

docosahexaenoic acid

deep-sea fishing

ecosystem approach to aquaculture

ecosystem approach to fisheries

exclusive economic zone

eicosapentaenoic acid

FAO Food Balance Sheets

Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System

FAO Fish Price Index

gross domestic product

United Nation’s Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection

Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems

global information exchange system

Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels

global plan of action

Global Record of Stocks and Fisheries

Generalized System of Preferences

Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (system)

Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System

integrated coastal zone management

Marine Ingredients Organisation

Illuminating Hidden Harvests

International Labour Organization

International Maritime Organization

illegal, unreported and unregulated (fishing)

least developed country

low-income food-deficit country

length overall

monitoring, control and surveillance

marine protected area

maximum sustainable yield

non-governmental organization

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

other effective area-based conservation measure

Progressive Management Pathway for Improving Aquaculture Biosecurity

Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing

polyunsaturated fatty acid

Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems

regional fishery body

regional fisheries management organization/arrangement

Regional Fishery Body Secretariats Network

Sustainable Aquaculture Guidelines

Sustainable Development Goal

small island developing State

specific pathogen-free

Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication

United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security

Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear

vulnerable marine ecosystem

World Customs Organization

World Summit on Sustainable Development

World Trade Organization

  • Fish products are essential in the fight against hunger and poverty
    Growing consumption globally, and in the global South, means that fish must be better included in food security and nutrition strategies in the context of sustainable and transformative food systems.

  • Management is the Best Conservation
    All aquatic ecosystems should be assessed and managed on the basis of the ecosystem approach. Given the livelihood and food security pressures in many developing regions, sustainability challenges need to be addressed with measures that move beyond protection targets.

  • Up to 10% of the global population relies on fisheries for their livelihood
    These are overwhelmingly in the global South, operating in small scale fisheries, which are responsible for 50% of total fish catches.

  • Reinforce international and regional governance mechanisms
    Global and regional fisheries are governed through a multitude of instruments, but these are not always effectively implemented. Further support to Regional Fisheries Bodies and Regional Fisheries Management Organizations in pursuit of these goals is essential.

  • Reduce pre- and post-harvest loss and waste as important vehicles of sustainability
    Over a third of fish and seafood products are lost or wasted. Reducing loss and waste increases available food, as well as the value of fish products if implementing internationally agreed safety and quality standards on fish processing, distribution and consumption, in accordance with WTO rules.

  • Integrate market-based mechanisms to help support sustainability
    Access rights, certification schemes, traceability programmes, consumer awareness can help the advancement of sustainability.

  • Provide guidelines for sustainable aquaculture growth
    Sustainable intensification, adequate policy and regulatory frameworks and innovative value chains are essential to fill the production gap in a growing world, and especially in food-limited regions.

  • Enhance efforts towards social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture
    Promote decent work and facilitate access to social protection programmes for fishers and their communities, reduce the high number of accidents and fatalities by supporting safety at sea. Recognize the role of and empower women in decision making and throughout the value chain.

  • There is no alternative to sustainability
    Given the livelihood and food security pressures in many developing regions, sustainability challenges need to be addressed with measures that move beyond simple environmental protection targets. Coordinated global capacity building programmes to significantly improve fisheries sustainability are critical in this regard, with specific focus in regions where achieving sustainability is challenging, or where fisheries sustainability status is unknown, and particular attention to data-limited fisheries in developing regions.

Note: At the time of writing (March 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most countries in the world, with severe impacts on the global economy and the food production and distribution sector, including fisheries and aquaculture. FAO is monitoring the situation closely to assess the overall impact of the pandemic on fisheries and aquaculture production, consumption and trade.


Scientific developments of the last 50 years have led to a much improved understanding of the functioning of aquatic ecosystems, and to global awareness of the need to manage them in a sustainable manner. Twenty-five years after the adoption of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code; FAO, 1995), the importance of utilizing fisheries and aquaculture resources responsibly is now widely recognized and prioritized. The Code has informed the development of international instruments, policies and programmes to support responsible management efforts globally, regionally and nationally. These efforts have been consolidated and prioritized since 2015 to particularly address, in a coherent and coordinated manner, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 – Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development – and other SDGs relevant to fisheries and aquaculture. To this end, the implementation of science-based fisheries and aquaculture management policies, coupled with predictable and transparent regimes for international fish utilization and trade, are widely accepted as minimum substantive criteria for sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. To support evidence-based endeavours, this edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture presents updated and verified statistics of the sector, and analyses current and emerging issues and approaches needed to accelerate international efforts to achieve the goal of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture.

Global fish1 production is estimated to have reached about 179 million tonnes in 2018 (Table 12 and Figure 1), with a total first sale value estimated at USD 401 billion, of which 82 million tonnes, valued at USD 250 billion, came from aquaculture production. Of the overall total, 156 million tonnes were used for human consumption, equivalent to an estimated annual supply of 20.5 kg per capita. The remaining 22 million tonnes were destined for non-food uses, mainly to produce fishmeal and fish oil (Figure 2). Aquaculture accounted for 46 percent of the total production and 52 percent of fish for human consumption. China has remained a major fish producer, accounting for 35 percent of global fish production in 2018. Excluding China, a significant share of production in 2018 came from Asia (34 percent), followed by the Americas (14 percent), Europe (10 percent), Africa (7 percent) and Oceania (1 percent). Total fish production has seen important increases in all the continents in the last few decades, except Europe (with a gradual decrease from the late 1980s, but recovering slightly in the last few years) and the Americas (with several ups and downs since the peak of the mid-1990s, mainly due to fluctuations in catches of anchoveta), whereas it has almost doubled during the last 20 years in Africa and Asia (Figure 3).



Note: Excludes aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans, seaweeds and other aquatic plants



Note: Excludes aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans, seaweeds and other aquatic plants



Global food fish consumption3 increased at an average annual rate of 3.1 percent from 1961 to 2017, a rate almost twice that of annual world population growth (1.6 percent) for the same period, and higher than that of all other animal protein foods (meat, dairy, milk, etc.), which increased by 2.1 percent per year. Per capita food fish consumption grew from 9.0 kg (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.5 kg in 2018, by about 1.5 percent per year.

Despite persistent differences in levels of fish consumption between regions and individual States, clear trends can be identified. In developed countries, apparent fish consumption increased from 17.4 kg per capita in 1961 to peak at 26.4 kg per capita in 2007, and gradually declined thereafter to reach 24.4 kg in 2017. In developing countries, apparent fish consumption significantly increased from 5.2 kg per capita in 1961 to 19.4 kg in 2017, at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. Among these, the least developed countries (LDCs) increased their consumption from 6.1 kg in 1961 to 12.6 kg in 2017, at an average annual rate of 1.3 percent. This rate has increased significantly in the last 20 years, reaching 2.9 percent per year, because of expanding fish production and imports. In low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs), fish consumption increased from 4.0 kg in 1961 to 9.3 kg in 2017, at a stable annual rate of about 1.5 percent.

In 2017, fish consumption accounted for 17 percent of the global population’s intake of animal proteins, and 7 percent of all proteins consumed. Globally, fish provided more than 3.3 billion people with 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal proteins, reaching 50 percent or more in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and several small island developing States (SIDS).

Global capture fisheries production in 2018 reached a record 96.4 million tonnes (Table 1 and Figure 1), an increase of 5.4 percent from the average of the previous three years. The increase was mostly driven by marine capture fisheries, where production increased from 81.2 million tonnes in 2017 to 84.4 million tonnes in 2018, still below the all-time high of 86.4 million tonnes in 1996). The rise in marine catches resulted mainly from increased anchoveta catches (Engraulis ringens) in Peru and Chile. Catches from inland fisheries were at their highest ever in 2018 at 12.0 million tonnes. The top seven producing countries of global capture fisheries accounted for almost 50 percent of total captures, with China producing 15 percent of the total, followed by Indonesia (7 percent), Peru (7 percent), India (6 percent), the Russian Federation (5 percent), the United States of America (5 percent) and Viet Nam (3 percent). The top 20 producing countries accounted for about 74 percent of the total capture fisheries production.

Over the years, catches of major marine species have registered marked variations, as well as fluctuations, among the top-producing countries. Catches of anchoveta made it once again the top species at more than 7.0 million tonnes in 2018, after relatively lower catches recorded in recent years. Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) ranked second with 3.4 million tonnes, while skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) was third for the ninth consecutive year at 3.2 million tonnes. Finfish represented 85 percent of total production, with small pelagics as the main group, followed by gadiformes and tuna and tuna-like species. Catches of tunas continued to increase, reaching their highest levels in 2018 at about 7.9 million tonnes, largely as a result of growing catches in the Western and Central Pacific (3.5 million tonnes in 2018, compared with 2.6 million tonnes in the mid-2000s). Within this species group, skipjack and yellowfin tuna accounted for about 58 percent of the catches. Cephalopod catches declined to about 3.6 million tonnes in 2017 and 2018, down from the 2014 peak catch of 4.9 million tonnes, but still high.

Global catches in inland waters accounted for 12.5 percent of total capture fisheries production. Their importance also varies significantly among the top capture producers, accounting for less than 1 percent of total captures for the United States of America, Japan and Peru, compared with 44 percent and 65 percent of total captures in Myanmar and Bangladesh, respectively.

Inland water catches are more concentrated than marine catches, both geographically and by country. Sixteen countries produced more than 80 percent of the total inland catch, with Asia accounting for two-thirds of global inland production since the mid-2000s. Inland catches are also important for food security in Africa, which accounts for 25 percent of global inland catches, while the combined catches for Europe and the Americas account for 9 percent.

In 2018, world aquaculture fish production reached 82.1 million tonnes, 32.4 million tonnes of aquatic algae and 26 000 tonnes of ornamental seashells and pearls, bringing the total to an all-time high of 114.5 million tonnes. In 2018, aquaculture fish production was dominated by finfish (54.3 million tonnes – 47 million tonnes from inland aquaculture and 7.3 million tonnes from marine and coastal aquaculture), molluscs, mainly bivalves (17.7 million tonnes), and crustaceans (9.4 million tonnes).

The contribution of world aquaculture to global fish production reached 46.0 percent in 2018, up from 25.7 percent in 2000, and 29.7 percent in the rest of the world, excluding China, compared with 12.7 percent in 2000. At the regional level, aquaculture accounted for 17.9 percent of total fish production in Africa, 17.0 percent in Europe, 15.7 percent in the Americas and 12.7 percent in Oceania. The share of aquaculture in Asian fish production (excluding China) reached 42.0 percent in 2018, up from 19.3 percent in 2000 (Figure 3). Inland aquaculture produced most farmed fish (51.3 million tonnes, or 62.5 percent of the world total), mainly in freshwater, compared with 57.7 percent in 2000. The share of finfish production decreased gradually from 97.2 percent in 2000 to 91.5 percent (47 million tonnes) in 2018, while production of other species groups increased, particularly through freshwater crustacean farming in Asia, including that of shrimps, crayfish and crabs.

In 2018, shelled molluscs (17.3 million tonnes) represented 56.3 percent of the production of marine and coastal aquaculture. Finfish (7.3 million tonnes) and crustaceans (5.7 million tonnes) taken together were responsible for 42.5 percent, while the rest consisted of other aquatic animals.

Fed aquaculture (57 million tonnes) has outpaced non-fed aquaculture, the latter accounting for 30.5 percent of total aquaculture production in 2018 compared with 43.9 percent in 2000, although its annual production continued to expand in absolute terms to 25 million tonnes in 2018. Of these, 8 million tonnes were filter-feeding inland-water finfish (mostly silver carp and bighead carp) and 17 million tonnes aquatic invertebrates, mostly marine bivalve molluscs.

Fish farming is dominated by Asia, which has produced 89 percent of the global total in volume terms in the last 20 years. Over the same period, the shares of Africa and the Americas have increased, while those of Europe and Oceania have decreased slightly. Outside China, several major producing countries (Bangladesh, Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Norway and Viet Nam) have consolidated their shares in world aquaculture production to varying degrees over the past two decades. China has produced more farmed aquatic food than the rest of the world combined since 1991. However, because of government policies introduced since 2016, fish farming in China grew by only 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively. China’s share in world aquaculture production declined from 59.9 percent in 1995 to 57.9 percent in 2018 and is expected to decrease further in the coming years.

An estimated 59.51 million people were engaged (on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis) in the primary sector of capture fisheries (39.0 million people) and aquaculture (20.5 million people) in 2018, a slight increase from 2016. Women accounted for 14 percent of the total, with shares of 19 percent in aquaculture and 12 percent in capture fisheries. Of all those engaged in primary production, most are in developing countries, and most are small-scale, artisanal fishers and aquaculture workers. The highest numbers of workers are in Asia (85 percent), followed by Africa (9 percent), the Americas (4 percent), and Europe and Oceania (1 percent each). When post-harvest operations data are included, it is estimated that one in two workers in the sector is a woman.

The total number of fishing vessels in 2018, from small undecked and non-motorized boats to large industrial vessels, was estimated at 4.56 million, a 2.8 percent decrease from 2016. Despite a decline in numbers of vessels, Asia still had the largest fishing fleet, estimated at 3.1 million vessels, or 68 percent of the total, in 2018. Africa’s vessels represented 20 percent of the global fleet, while those of the Americas had a 10 percent share. In Europe and Oceania, the fleet size represented over 2 percent and less than 1 percent of the global fleet, respectively, despite the importance of fishing in both regions. The global total of motorized vessels remained steady at 2.86 million vessels, or 63 percent of the total fleet. This stability masks regional trends, including decreases since 2000 in Europe and 2013 in China due to efforts to reduce fleet sizes. Asia had almost 75 percent (2.1 million vessels) of the reported motorized fleet in 2018, followed by Africa with 280 000 motorized vessels. The largest number of non-motorized vessels was in Asia (947 000), followed by Africa (just over 643 000), with smaller numbers in Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania, North America and Europe. These non-motorized undecked vessels were mostly in the length overall (LOA) class of less than 12 m. Worldwide, FAO estimated there were about 67 800 fishing vessels of at least 24 m LOA in 2018.

The state of marine fishery resources, based on FAO’s long-term monitoring of assessed marine fish stocks, has continued to decline. The proportion of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90 percent in 1974 to 65.8 percent in 2017 (a 1.1 percent decrease since 2015), with 59.6 percent classified as being maximally sustainably fished stocks and 6.2 percent underfished stocks. The maximally sustainably fished stocks decreased from 1974 to 1989, and then increased to 59.6 percent in 2017, partly reflecting improved implementation of management measures. In contrast, the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 34.2 percent in 2017. In terms of landings, it is estimated that 78.7 percent of current marine fish landings come from biologically sustainable stocks.

In 2017, among FAO’s Major Fishing Areas, the Mediterranean and Black Sea had the highest percentage (62.5 percent) of stocks fished at unsustainable levels, followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5 percent) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 percent). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific and Western Central Pacific had the lowest proportion (13–22 percent) of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels. Other areas varied between 21 percent and 44 percent in 2017.

Of the stocks of the ten species most landed between 1950 and 2017 – anchoveta, Alaska pollock, Atlantic herring, Atlantic cod, Pacific chub mackerel, Chilean jack mackerel, Japanese pilchard, Skipjack tuna, South American pilchard and capelin – 69 percent were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017. Among the seven principal tuna species, 66.6 percent of their stocks were fished at biologically sustainable levels in 2017, an increase of about 10 percentage points from 2015. In general, it is becoming increasingly clear that intensively managed fisheries have seen decreases in average fishing pressure and increases in average stock biomass, with many reaching or maintaining biologically sustainable levels, while fisheries with less-developed management systems are in poor shape. This uneven progress highlights an urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and measures in the light of the realities of specific fisheries, and to focus on creating mechanisms that can effectively develop and implement policy and regulations in fisheries with poor management.

In 2018, about 88 percent (156 million tonnes) of world fish production was utilized for direct human consumption. The remaining 12 percent (22 million tonnes) was used for non-food purposes, of which 82 percent (or 18 million tonnes) was used to produce fishmeal and fish oil (Figure 2). The proportion of fish used for direct human consumption has increased significantly from 67 percent in the 1960s. Live, fresh or chilled fish still represented the largest share (44 percent) of fish utilized for direct human consumption as being often the most preferred and highly priced form of fish. It was followed by frozen (35 percent), prepared and preserved fish (11 percent) and cured at 10 percent.

A growing share of fishmeal and fish oil, estimated at 25–35 percent, is produced from the by-products of fish processing, which previously were often discarded or used as direct feed, in silage or in fertilizers. Other aquatic organisms, including seaweeds and aquatic plants, are the subject of promising experimentation and pilot projects for use in medicine, cosmetics, water treatment, food industry and as biofuels.

Fish and fishery products remain some of the most traded food commodities in the world. In 2018, 67 million tonnes, or 38 percent of total fisheries and aquaculture production, were traded internationally. A total of 221 States and territories reported some fish trading activity, exposing about 78 percent of fish and fishery products to competition from international trade. Following a sharp decline in 2015, trade recovered subsequently in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with respective annual growth rates of 7 percent, 9 percent and 5 percent in value terms. Overall, from 1976 to 2018, the value of global fish exports increased from USD 7.8 billion to peak at USD 164 billion, at an annual growth rate of 8 percent in nominal terms and 4 percent in real terms (adjusted for inflation). Over the same period, global exports in terms of quantity increased at an annual growth rate of 3 percent, from 17.3 million tonnes. Exports of fish and fish products represent about 11 percent of the export value of agricultural products (excluding forest products).

In addition to being the major fish producer, China has been the main exporter since 2002 and, since 2011, the third major importing country in terms of value. Norway has been the second major exporter since 2004, followed by Viet Nam (since 2014), India (since 2017), Chile and Thailand. Developing countries have increased their share of international fish trade – up from 38 percent to 54 percent of global export value and from 34 percent to 60 percent of total volumes between 1976 and 2018.

In 2018, the European Union4 was the largest fish importing market (34 percent in terms of value), followed by the United States of America (14 percent) and Japan (9 percent). In 1976, these shares were 33 percent, 22 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

While the markets of developed countries still dominate fish imports, the importance of developing countries as consumers has been steadily increasing. Urbanization and expansion of the fish-consuming middle class have fuelled demand growth in developing market, outpacing that of developed nations. Imports of fish and fish products of developing countries represented 31 percent of the global total by value and 49 percent in quantity in 2018, compared with 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in 1976. Oceania, the developing countries of Asia and the Latin America and the Caribbean region remain solid net fish exporters. Europe and North America are characterized by a fish trade deficit. Africa is a net importer in volume terms, but a net exporter in terms of value. African fish imports, mainly affordable small pelagics and tilapia, represent an important source of nutrition, especially for populations that are otherwise dependent on a narrow range of staple foods.

Capture fisheries production

The long-term trend in total global capture fisheries has been relatively stable since the late-1980s, with catches generally fluctuating between 86 million tonnes and 93 million tonnes per year (Figure 4). However, in 2018, total global capture fisheries production reached the highest level ever recorded at 96.4 million tonnes – an increase of 5.4 percent from the average of the previous three years (Table 1).


The increase in 2018 was mostly driven by marine capture fisheries, whose production increased from 81.2 million tonnes in 2017 to 84.4 million tonnes in 2018, while catches from inland captures also recorded their highest-ever catches, at over 12 million tonnes. China remained the top capture producer – despite the recent downward revision of its catches for the years 2009–2016 (Box 1) and a decline in reported catches in 2017–2018. China accounted for about 15 percent of total global captures in 2018, more than the total captures of the second- and third-ranked countries combined. The top seven capture producers (China, Indonesia, Peru, India, the Russian Federation, the United States of America and Viet Nam) accounted for almost 50 percent of total global capture production (Figure 5); while the top 20 producers accounted for almost 74 percent of total global capture production.


Catch trends in marine and inland waters, which represent 87.4 percent and 12.6 percent, respectively, of the global production in the last three years, are discussed further below.

Marine capture production

Global total marine catches increased from 81.2 million tonnes in 2017 to 84.4 million tonnes in 2018, but were still below the peak catches of 86.4 million tonnes in 1996. Catches of anchoveta (Engraulis ringens) by Peru and Chile accounted for most of the increase in catches in 2018, following relatively low catches for this species in recent years.

Even when taking into consideration catches of anchoveta – which are often substantial yet highly variable because of the influence of El Niño events – total marine catches have been relatively stable since the mid-2000s, ranging from 78 million tonnes to 81 million tonnes per year, following a decline from the peak catches of the late-1990s.

Despite the relatively stable trend in total marine captures, catches of major species have undergone marked variations over the years, as well as fluctuations in the catches among the top producing countries – notably Indonesia, whose marine catches increased from less than 4 million tonnes in the early 2000s to over 6.7 million tonnes in 2018, although improvements in the country’s data collection and reporting partially account for the increase.

In 2018, the top 7 producers were responsible for over 50 percent of the total marine captures, of which China accounted for 15 percent of the world total (Table 2), followed by Peru (8 percent), Indonesia (8 percent), the Russian Federation (6 percent), the United States of America (6 percent), India (4 percent), and Viet Nam (4 percent).


While China remains the world’s top producer of marine captures, its catches declined from an average 13.8 million tonnes per year between 2015 and 2017 to 12.7 million tonnes in 2018. A continuation of a catch reduction policy beyond its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) is expected to result in further decreases in coming years (see the section Fisheries and aquaculture projections).

In 2018, China reported about 2.26 million tonnes from its “distant-water fishery”, but provided details on species and fishing area only for those catches marketed in China (about 40 percent of the total for distant-water catches). In the absence of more complete information, the remaining 1.34 million tonnes were entered in the FAO database under “marine fishes not elsewhere included” in Major Fishing Area 61, the Northwest Pacific, possibly overstating the catches occurring in this area.

Thus, while the estimates of total catches for China in the FAO database are generally considered to be complete, improvements are needed to more accurately assign China’s distant-water fishery catches by area, and the disaggregation of catches by species.

The FAO global marine capture database includes catches for more than 1 700 species (including “not elsewhere included” categories), of which finfish represent about 85 percent of total marine capture production, with small pelagics as the main group, followed by gadiformes and tuna and tuna-like species.

In 2018, catches of anchoveta once again made it the top species, at over 7.0 million tonnes per year, after relatively lower catches recorded in recent years. Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) was second, at 3.4 million tonnes, while skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) ranked third for the ninth consecutive year, at 3.2 million tonnes (Table 3).


Catches of four of the most highly valuable groups – tunas, cephalopods, shrimps and lobsters – marked new record catches in 2017 and 2018, or declined marginally from peak catches recorded in the last five years:

  • Catches of tuna and tuna-like species continued their year-on-year increase, reaching their highest levels in 2018 at over 7.9 million tonnes, mostly the result of catches in the Western and Central Pacific, which increased from about 2.6 million tonnes in the mid-2000s to over 3.5 million tonnes in 2018. Within this species group, skipjack and yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) accounted for about 58 percent of the catches in 2018.

  • Cephalopod catches declined to about 3.6 million tonnes in 2017 and 2018, from their peak catches of 4.9 million in 2014, but remained at the relatively high levels that have marked their almost continuous growth over the last 20 years. Cephalopods are fast-growing species highly influenced by environmental variability, which probably explains their catch variability, including the recent decline in catches for the three main squid species – jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas), Argentine shortfin squid (Illex argentinus) and Japanese flying squid (Todarodes pacificus).

  • Shrimp and prawn catches recorded new highs in 2017 and 2018 at over 336 000 tonnes, mostly due to the continued recovery in catches of Argentine red shrimp (Pleoticus muelleri) as a result of successful management measures enforced by the national authorities of Argentina. The increase in catches offset declines in the other main shrimp species, notably, akiami paste shrimp (Acetes japonicus) and southern rough shrimp (Trachypenaeus curvirostris).

  • Lobster catches continued to be reported at more than 300,000 tonnes, following the highest catches of 316 000 tonnes reported in 2016. Catches of American lobster (Homarus americanus) have increased continuously since 2008, and now account for over half of the total catches in this group, also offsetting the decrease in catches in the second major species, Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus).

Catch statistics by FAO Major Fishing Area for the last 5 years, as well as catches in recent decades, are presented in Table 4. Clear tendencies can be noted if fishing areas are classified in the following categories (Figure 5):

  • temperate areas (areas 21, 27, 37, 41, 61, 67 and 81);

  • tropical areas (areas 31, 51, 57 and 71);

  • upwelling areas (areas 34, 47, 77 and 87);

  • Arctic and Antarctic areas (areas 18, 48, 58 and 88).


Catches in temperate areas continue to remain stable at between 37.5 million tonnes and 39.6 million tonnes per year following the two highest peaks in catches between 1988 and 1997 at about 45 million tonnes. The observed fluctuations in catches are partly attributed to the allocation of China’s catches of “marine fishes not elsewhere included” to area 61, the Northwest Pacific, of which a significant proportion of catches include fish caught by distant-water nations fishing in other areas.

Catches in other temperate areas have been mostly stable in the last ten years, with the exception of recent decreases in areas 41 and 81, the Southwest Atlantic and the Southwest Pacific, partly the result of greatly reduced catches by distant-water fishing nations targeting cephalopods in the Southwest Atlantic and various species in the Southwest Pacific.

In tropical areas, the trend of increasing catches continued in 2017 and 2018, with catches in the Indian Ocean (areas 51 and 57) and the Pacific Ocean (area 71) reaching the highest levels recorded at 12.3 million tonnes and 13.5 million tonnes, respectively.

In the Indian Ocean, catches have been increasing steadily since the 1980s, particularly in area 57, the Eastern Indian Ocean, with catches of small pelagics, large pelagics (tunas and billfish), and shrimps driving most of the increase.

In area 71, the Western Central Pacific, tuna and tuna-like species accounted for most of the increase in catches, with skipjack tuna in particular increasing from 1.0 million tonnes to over 1.8 million tonnes in the last 20 years. In comparison, catches for the other main species groups have remained stable, or in the case of small pelagics, have even decreased in recent years.

In area 31, the Western Central Atlantic, catches have continued to be relatively stable since the mid-2000s, fluctuating between 1.4 million tonnes and 1.6 million tonnes per year. Trends in total production are largely dependent on catches by the United States of America of Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus), a clupeoid species that is processed into fishmeal and fish oil, and that accounts for 35 percent of the total catches.

Catches in upwelling areas are characterized by high annual variability. Their combined catches (Figure 6) are highly influenced by catches in area 87, the Southeast Pacific, where El Niño oceanographic conditions strongly influence the abundance of anchoveta. Such catches account for 50–70 percent of total catches in area 87.




In this area, the long-term trend has been one of declining catches since the mid-1990s, even taking into account the fluctuation in catches of anchoveta. Annual catches have decreased from over 20 million tonnes in 1994 to between about 7 million tonnes and 10 million tonnes in recent years – driven by decreasing catches of two of the main species: anchoveta and Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi). However, high-value catches of jumbo flying squid have continued to grow significantly since the 2000s, partially offsetting the decline in catches of other species.

In area 34, the Eastern Central Atlantic Ocean, catches have increased almost continuously, reaching 5.5 million tonnes in 2018, the highest catches recorded. In area 47, the Southeast Atlantic, the opposite trend has occurred, with catches progressively decreasing from the peak of 3.3 million tonnes in 1978, although catches have recovered from their recent lows of 1.2 million tonnes recorded in 2009.

In area 77, the Eastern Central Pacific, catches have generally remained static, ranging between 1.6 million tonnes and 2 million tonnes per year.

The Antarctic fishing areas (areas 48, 58 and 88) reported their highest catches since the early 1990s, at 331 000 tonnes. Catches in the region are almost entirely driven by Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), which increased from less than 100 000 tonnes in the late 1990s to 313 000 tonnes in 2018, following a decline in the early 1990s. Catches of the second-most important species, Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides), continued to be relatively stable at between 10 500 tonnes and 12 200 tonnes per year.

Inland waters capture production

Global catches in inland waters have increased steadily year on year, reaching over 12 million tonnes in 2018, the highest levels recorded. Similarly, the share of inland waters in the total for global captures also increased from 8.0 percent in the late 1990s to 12.5 percent in 2018, offsetting the decline in marine captures since the late 1990s.

However, this continuously rising trend in inland fisheries production may be misleading, as the increase in catches can partially be attributed to improved reporting and assessment at the country level rather than entirely due to increased production. Many of the data collection systems for inland waters are unreliable, or in some cases non-existent, while improvements in reporting may also mask trends in individual countries.

Inland water catches have been relatively stable in China, the top producer, averaging about 2.1 million tonnes per year over the last 20 years, while the increase in total inland water catches has largely been driven by a number of other major producing countries – notably, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Cambodia (Figure 7). Most of the countries reporting declining catches represent a relatively low contribution to global production of inland water captures, although some of these are locally important food sources in the national or regional diets – in particular, Brazil, Thailand and Viet Nam.




Inland water captures are more concentrated than marine captures among major producing nations endowed with important waterbodies or river basins. In 2018, 16 countries produced over 80 percent of total inland captures, compared with 25 countries for marine captures.

For the same reason, the top producers of inland water captures are also more concentrated geographically, and are particularly important contributors to total captures in Asia, where inland water catches provide an important food source for many local communities. Asia has consistently accounted for two-thirds of global inland water production since the mid-2000s (Table 5), while the top six producers are all located in Asia and accounted for 57 percent of total inland water catches in 2018.


Africa accounts for 25 percent of the global inland captures, where they represent an important source of food security, particularly in the case of landlocked and low-income countries. The combined catches for Europe and the Americas account for 9 percent of total inland captures, while in Oceania catches are negligible.

Four major species groups account for about 85 percent of total inland water catches. The first group “carps, barbels and other cyprinids” has shown a continuous increase, rising from about 0.6 million tonnes per year in the mid-2000s to over 1.8 million tonnes in 2018, and explains most of the increase in catches from inland waters in recent years. Catches of the second-largest group “tilapias and other cichlids” have remained stable at between 0.7 million tonnes and 0.85 million tonnes per year, while catches of freshwater crustaceans and freshwater molluscs have also remained relatively stable at from about 0.4 million tonnes to 0.45 million tonnes per year, following a decline from their peak catches in the early 2000s and mid-1990s.

Data sources and quality of FAO capture statistics

National reports are the main, although not the only, source of data used to maintain and update FAO’s capture fishery databases. Hence, the quality of FAO statistics depends largely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of the data collected by national fisheries institutions and annually reported to FAO.

Often, the data submitted are incomplete, inconsistent, or do not comply with international reporting standards, and FAO works to curate the data as far as possible in collaboration with the countries. While the species breakdown (an indicator of quality in reported catches) doubled between 1996 (1 035 species) and 2018 (2 221 species) thanks to FAO’s efforts, a significant proportion of catches are still not reported at the species level, particularly for groups such as sharks, rays and chimaeras in marine capture.

The quality and completeness of data also vary between marine and inland water captures, with marine catches having generally more complete data available by species than do inland captures. In addition, there are also issues of timeliness or the non-reporting of the data to FAO, which affects the quality and completeness of FAO’s estimates of total capture fisheries. The late submission of questionnaires makes it challenging for FAO to process, validate and review the capture fisheries statistics – in particular for the most recent year – prior to the official release of the data, usually in mid-March every year. In the absence of national reports or in the event of inconsistencies in the data, FAO may make estimates based on the best data available from alternative official data sources (including data published by regional fisheries management organizations [RFMOs]), or through standard methodologies.

It is a concern that some countries have not responded to FAO questionnaires in recent years. In 2018, catches for a number of large capture producers were partially estimated due to non-reporting or data-reliability issues:

  • Brazil has not reported official production (capture and aquaculture) data to FAO since 2014, and its statistics have been estimated, with the exception of data on tunas and tuna-like species obtained through RFMOs.

  • Indonesia launched the One Data Initiative in May 2016 to standardize the procedures for the collection, processing and open data access of fisheries and, as a consequence, improve the quality of data. In the context of transition between two systems, catches were partially estimated by FAO in 2017 and 2018 to improve the reliability and consistency in relation to the historical trends.

  • Starting with 2015 data and going back to 2006, FAO has worked with Myanmar to revise historical catches for marine and inland captures downwards, based on estimates of fishing capacity. FAO continues to apply the same methodology, estimating the most recent years’ catches, while collaborating with the country to improve fishery data collection in Myanmar’s Yangon Region.

Improvements in the overall quality of the catch data in FAO’s global databases can only be obtained by enhancing the national data collection systems, to produce better information that can support policy and management decisions at the national and regional levels (see “FAO’s approach to improving the quality and utility of capture fishery data” [FAO, 2018a, pp. 92–98]). FAO continues to support projects to improve national data collection systems, including sampling schemes based on sound statistical analysis, coverage of fisheries subsectors not sampled before, and standardization of sampling at landing sites.

Aquaculture production

Overall status of production and trend in growth

According to the latest worldwide statistics on aquaculture compiled by FAO, world aquaculture production attained another all-time record high of 114.5 million tonnes in live weight in 2018 (Figure 8), with a total farmgate sale value of USD 263.6 billion. The total production consisted of 82.1 million tonnes of aquatic animals (USD 250.1 billion), 32.4 million tonnes of aquatic algae (USD 13.3 billion) and 26 000 tonnes of ornamental seashells and pearls (USD 179 000).




The farming of aquatic animals in 2018 was dominated by finfish (54.3 million tonnes, USD 139.7 billion), harvested from inland aquaculture (47 million tonnes, USD 104.3 billion) as well as marine and coastal aquaculture (7.3 million tonnes, USD 35.4 billion). Following finfish were molluscs (17.7 million tonnes, USD 34.6 billion) – mainly bivalves – crustaceans (9.4 million tonnes, USD 69.3 billion), marine invertebrates (435 400 tonnes, USD 2 billion), aquatic turtles (370 000 tonnes, USD 3.5 billion), and frogs (131 300 tonnes, USD 997 million).

World aquaculture production of farmed aquatic animals grew on average at 5.3 percent per year in the period 2001–2018 (Figure 9), whereas the growth was only 4 percent in 2017 and 3.2 percent in 2018. The recent low growth rate was caused by the slowdown in China, the largest producer, where aquaculture production growth of only 2.2 percent in 2017 and 1.6 percent in 2018 were witnessed, while the combined production from the rest of the world still enjoyed moderate growth of 6.7 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, in the same two years.


Global production of farmed aquatic algae, dominated by seaweeds, experienced relatively low growth in the most recent years, and even fell by 0.7 percent in 2018. This change was mainly caused by the slow growth in the output of tropical seaweeds species and reduced production in Southeast Asia, while seaweed farming production of temperate and coldwater species was still on the rise.

The subsector of breeding and cultivation of aquatic animals and plants for ornamental use is a well-established economic activity widely distributed around the world. Crocodiles, alligators and caimans are also commercially farmed in some countries for hides and meat. However, there is a lack of data on the production of ornamental aquatics. Available data on farm-raised crocodiles, etc. partially covering the producing countries are in number of animals rather than weight. Hence, they are excluded from the discussion in this section.

The high annual growth rates in world production of aquatic animals at 10.8 percent and 9.5 percent witnessed in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively, have slowed gradually in the third millennium. The average annual growth rate was 5.8 percent in the period 2001–2010 and 4.5 percent in the period 2011–2018 (Figure 9).

Despite the slow growth at the world level, a high growth rate in the period 2009–2018 was still observed in a number of countries, including major producers such as Indonesia (12.4 percent), Bangladesh (9.1 percent), Egypt (8.4 percent) and Ecuador (12 percent).

Contribution to total fishery production

Based on time-series data of major species groups, world aquaculture production has progressively surpassed that of capture fisheries. The “farming more than catch” milestones were reached in 1970 for aquatic algae, in 1986 for freshwater fishes, in 1994 for molluscs, in 1997 for diadromous fishes, and in 2014 for crustaceans. However, despite the increasing output from global aquaculture, farming of marine fishes is unlikely to overtake marine capture production in the future.

The contribution of world aquaculture to world fish production has constantly increased, reaching 46.0 percent in 2016–18, up from 25.7 percent in 2000. By excluding the largest producer, China, this share reached 29.7 percent in 2018 in the rest of the world, compared with 12.7 percent in 2000. At the regional level, aquaculture accounted for 16–18 percent of total fish production in Africa, the Americas and Europe, followed by 12.7 percent in Oceania. The share of aquaculture in Asian fish production (excluding China) rose to 42 percent in 2018, up from 19.3 percent in 2000 (Figure 10).


In 2018, 39 countries, located across all regions except Oceania, produced more aquatic animals from farming than fishing. These countries, home to about half of the world population, harvested 63.6 million tonnes of farmed fish, while their combined capture production was 26 million tonnes. Aquaculture accounted for less than half but over 30 percent of total fish production in another 22 countries in 2018, including several major fish producers such as Indonesia (42.9 percent), Norway (35.2 percent), Chile (37.4 percent), Myanmar (35.7 percent) and Thailand (34.3 percent).

A lack of reporting by 35–40 percent of the producing countries, coupled with insufficient quality and completeness in reported data, hinders FAO’s efforts to present an accurate and more detailed picture of world aquaculture development status and trends. FAO received 119 national data reports in 2018, representing 87.6 percent (71.9 million tonnes, excluding aquatic plants) of total food fish production by volume. Several non-reporting countries regularly publish reports on fisheries and aquaculture. These reports were used by FAO to estimate, production from non-reporting countries at 12.4 percent (10.1 million tonnes) of the total production. The remaining data are official statistics collected on an ad hoc basis from a few countries that did not respond officially to FAO’s request for national data.

Among the top ten countries with the largest total farmed and wild production in 2018, four exceed the 50 percent mark of aquaculture production as a percentage of total fish production (i.e. China 76.5 percent, India 57 percent, Viet Nam 55.3 percent and Bangladesh 56.2 percent); the other six are mostly well below the 50 percent mark (i.e. Peru 1.4 percent, the Russian Federation 3.8 percent, the United States of America 9 percent, Japan 17 percent and Norway 35.2 percent).

Inland aquaculture

Inland aquaculture produces most farmed aquatic animals, mainly in freshwater; hence, it is interchangeably called freshwater aquaculture in most producing countries. In some countries, inland aquaculture also uses saline–alkaline waters to grow local species naturally adapted to such environments, or introduced species, including marine species, that tolerate the conditions and perform satisfactorily in meeting farmers’ expectations.

Farming systems are very diverse in terms of culture methods, practices, facilities and integration with other agricultural activities. Earthen ponds remain the most commonly used type of facility for inland aquaculture production, although raceway tanks, aboveground tanks, pens and cages are also widely used where local conditions allow. Rice–fish culture remains important in areas where it is traditional, but it is also expanding rapidly, especially in Asia. However, there have been rapid and significant advances in the improvement of integrated inland aquaculture farming systems in recent years, resulting in not only higher productivity and improved resource-use efficiency, but also reduced impact on the environment.

In 2018, inland aquaculture produced 51.3 million tonnes of aquatic animals, accounting for 62.5 percent of the world’s farmed food fish production, as compared with 57.9 percent in 2000. In inland aquaculture, the dominant position of finfish was gradually reduced from 97.2 percent in 2000 to 91.5 percent (47 million tonnes) in 2018, reflecting the strong growth of other species groups, particularly crustacean farming in freshwater in Asia, including shrimps, crayfish and crabs (Table 6). Inland aquaculture production of shrimps includes significant volumes of marine species such as the whiteleg shrimp grown in freshwater and in some arid regions with saline–alkaline water, for example, the Gobi Desert in Xinjiang, China, the farthest place from the sea on earth.


Coastal aquaculture and mariculture

Coastal aquaculture plays an important role in livelihoods, employment and local economic development among coastal communities in many developing countries. It is practised in completely or partially artificial structures in areas adjacent to the sea, such as coastal ponds and gated lagoons. In coastal aquaculture with saline water, the salinity is less stable than in mariculture because of rainfall or evaporation, depending on the season and location. Although coastal ponds for aquaculture, modern or traditional, are found in almost all regions in the world, they are far more concentrated in South, Southeast and East Asia and Latin America for raising crustaceans, finfish, molluscs and, to a lesser extent, seaweeds. While many Asian countries, and more recently, Latin American, European and North American countries have developed their expertise and support institutions for marine and coastal aquaculture, most African countries are far behind despite ambitious projections at the regional and national levels. Proper policies and planning, supported by an enabling environment in support of infrastructure, technical expertise and investment are needed to promote marine aquaculture in Africa.

Mariculture, or marine aquaculture, is conducted in the sea, in a marine water environment. For some species whose production relies on the naturally occurring seed in the sea, the production cycle is entirely in the sea. For those species that rely on seed produced from hatchery and nursery facilities even in freshwater, mariculture represents the grow-out phase of the production cycle.

Because countries usually combine production from coastal aquaculture and mariculture for data reporting to FAO, it is difficult to separate mariculture from coastal aquaculture figures. This is particularly the case for finfish produced from both coastal ponds and cages in the sea, especially in Asia. In contrast to Asia, farmed finfish in saltwater are mostly produced in the sea, with some exceptions for countries such as Egypt and species such as turbot in Europe (Table 7).


Mariculture and coastal aquaculture collectively produced 30.8 million tonnes (USD 106.5 billion) of aquatic animals in 2018. Despite technological developments in marine finfish aquaculture, marine and coastal aquaculture produce currently many more molluscs than finfish and crustaceans. In 2018, shelled molluscs (17.3 million tonnes) represented 56.2 percent of the production of marine and coastal aquaculture. Finfish (7.3 million tonnes) and crustaceans (5.7 million tonnes) taken together were responsible for 42.5 percent.

Aquaculture production with and without feeding

Fed aquaculture production has outpaced that of the non-fed subsector in world aquaculture. The contribution of non-fed aquaculture in total farmed aquatic animal production continued to decline from 43.9 percent in 2000 to 30.5 percent in 2018 (Figure 11), although its annual production continued to expand in absolute terms. In 2018, total non-fed aquaculture production increased to 25 million tonnes, consisting of 8 million tonnes of filter-feeding finfish raised in inland aquaculture (mainly silver carp [Hypophthalmichthys molitrix] and bighead carp [Hypophthalmichthys nobilis]) and 17 million tonnes of aquatic invertebrates, mainly marine bivalve molluscs raised in seas, lagoons and coastal ponds.


In polyculture operations, feeds used for fed species may also be harvested by filter-feeding species, depending on the type and quality of feeds. At the same time, specially designed feeds are commercially produced and used by some farmers for bighead carp in southern China, for razor clams in east and northeast coastal provinces in China, and for hard clams in Taiwan Province of China. In Europe, a new practice has emerged of keeping oyster juveniles in indoor tanks for grow-out to marketable size by feeding them with microalgae of selected species artificially produced in outdoor ponds.

Stocking of filter-feeding carps in multispecies polyculture farming systems is a common practice in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe and Latin America. It enhances overall fish productivity by utilizing natural food and improving the water quality in the production system. In recent years, another filter-feeding finfish species, Mississippi paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), has emerged in polyculture in a few countries, particularly in China, where the production volume is estimated to be several thousand tonnes. In addition to filter-feeding finfish, freshwater bivalves, including those species that are produced for freshwater pearl production, are now utilized for aquaculture-effluent treatment on individual farms as well as under communal-setting clustering of several farms.

Marine bivalves, filter-feeding organisms that extract organic matter from water for growth, and seaweeds, which grow by photosynthesis by absorbing dissolved nutrients, are sometimes described as extractive species. When farmed in the same area with fed species, they benefit the environment by removing waste materials, including waste from fed species, thus lowering the nutrient load. Culture of extractive species with fed species in the same mariculture sites is encouraged in aquaculture development planning and zoning exercises in the European Union and North America. Extractive species production accounted for 57.4 percent of total world aquaculture production in 2018.

Aquatic species produced

The great diversity of climatic and environment conditions in locations across the world where aquaculture is practised has given rise to a rich and diverse number of species utilized in different types of aquaculture production practices with freshwater, brackish-water, marine water and inland saline water.

For 2018, FAO has recorded aquaculture productions for reporting countries and territories under a total of 622 units, defined for statistics purpose as “species items”. Aquaculture production of these 622 species items corresponds to 466 individual species, 7 interspecific hybrids of finfish, 92 species groups at genus level, 32 species groups at family level, and 25 species groups at the level of order or higher.

However, counting the number of “species items” can be misused by many as the total number of farmed aquatic species. For example, in the FAO database, in addition to European seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax) and spotted seabass (D. punctatus), there is also the production data of “seabass not elsewhere included” (Dicentrarchus spp.) for when the reporting country was not sure of the exact species produced. This results in three species items, whereas in reality the genus Dicentrarchus has only two species.

The above-mentioned numbers do not include those species produced from aquaculture research experiments, cultivated as live feed in aquaculture hatchery operations, or ornamental aquatic animals produced in captivity. The total number of commercially farmed species items recorded by FAO has increased by 31.8 percent, from 472 in 2006 to 622 in 2018, as a result of further FAO’s investigations and improvement in data reporting by producing countries. However, the FAO data do not keep pace with the actual species diversification in aquaculture. Numerous single species registered in the official statistics of many countries consist in reality of multiple species, and sometimes hybrids. While FAO has recorded only seven finfish hybrids in commercial production, the number of hybrids farmed is much greater.

As of 2018, there were about 200–300 more species, including some hybrids, known to have been farmed in aquaculture in addition to the above-mentioned 466 species and 7 hybrids. Their absence from the FAO global production statistics is due to the difficulties encountered in field data collection, the highly aggregated species grouping in the standard list of species in national statistics system, and data confidentiality in respect of national laws.

Despite the great diversity in the species raised, aquaculture production by volume is dominated by a small number of “staple” species or species groups at the national, regional and global levels. Finfish farming, the most diverse subsector, contains 27 species and species groups, which accounted for over 90 percent of total finfish production in 2018, of which the 20 most important species accounted for 83.6 percent of total finfish production (Table 8). Compared with finfish, fewer species of crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals are farmed.


Aquatic algae

In 2018, farmed seaweeds represented 97.1 percent by volume of the total of 32.4 million tonnes of wild-collected and cultivated aquatic algae combined. Seaweed farming is practised in a relatively smaller numbers of countries, dominated by countries in East and Southeast Asia. The world production of marine macroalgae, or seaweed, has more than tripled, up from 10.6 million tonnes in 2000 to 32.4 million tonnes in 2018 (Table 9). Despite the slowdown in growth rates in recent years, the rapid growth in the farming of tropical seaweed species (Kappaphycus alvarezii and Eucheuma spp.) in Indonesia as raw material for carrageenan extraction has been the major driver in the increase of farmed seaweed production in the past decade. Indonesia increased its seaweed farming output from less than 4 million tonnes in 2010 to over 11 million tonnes in 2015 and 2016, and similar production levels in 2017 and 2018.


Because of confidentiality, there are limited data on small-scale seaweed farming reported by a small number of producing countries in Europe and north America. However, seaweed farming is gaining increasing attention to be promoted and monitored for climate and environmentally friendly bioeconomy development.

Of the 32.4 million tonnes of farmed seaweeds produced in 2018 (Table 9), some species (e.g. Undaria pinnatifida, Porphyra spp. and Caulerpa spp., produced in East and Southeast Asia) are produced primarily as human food, although low-grade products and scraps from processing factories are used for other purposes, including feed for abalone culture.

The farming of microalgae fits into the widely accepted definition of aquaculture. However, microalgae cultivation tends to be tightly regulated and monitored at the national or local level separately from aquaculture. A recently conducted national aquaculture census in one of the top 20 aquaculture-producing countries covered microalgae farming, but it is yet to be part of the national aquaculture data collection and reporting system.

Although FAO recorded 87 000 tonnes of farmed microalgae from 11 countries in 2018, 86 600 tonnes were reported from China alone. Farming of microalgae such as Spirulina spp., Chlorella spp., Haematococcus pluvialis and Nannochloropsis spp., ranging in scale from backyard to large-scale commercial production, is well established in many countries for production of human nutrition supplements and other uses. The FAO data understate the real scale of world microalgae farming because of unavailable data from important producers such as Australia, Czechia, France, Iceland, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar and the United States of America.

Aquaculture production distribution and major producers

As shown in Table 10, the uneven distribution pattern in aquaculture production and development across regions and countries around the globe remain largely unchanged. There are many developing nations with high aspirations for strong aquaculture development to feed their fast-growing populations. This requires political will to promote appropriate policies, strategies and private and public investment and cooperation with a clear focus on sustainable production increases.


World aquaculture production of farmed aquatic animals has been dominated by Asia, with an 89 percent share in the last two decades or so. Over the same period, Africa and the Americas have improved their respective shares in world production of farmed aquatic animals, while those of Europe and Oceania have dropped slightly. Among major producing countries, Egypt, Chile, India, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Norway have consolidated their share in regional or world production to varying degree over the past two decades. In addition to Egypt, Nigeria has increased its aquaculture production significantly to become the second major producer in Africa, although the share of Africa is still low at about 2.7 percent of world aquaculture production.

China has produced more farmed aquatic food than the rest of the world combined since 1991. Ongoing policies, introduced since 2016, aim to reshape the aquaculture sector in the country towards greener practices, improved quality of products, and improved efficiency and performance in resource utilization, as well as an enhanced role in rural economic development and in poverty alleviation in targeted regions. As a result, the annual growth rate of fish farming was only 2.2 percent and 1.6 percent in 2017 and 2018, respectively. China’s share in world production fell from 59.9 percent in 1995 to 57.9 percent in 2018 and is expected to fall further in coming years. In recent years, other major producing countries have reported low market prices of staple species, reflecting market saturation at least seasonally and locally for these mass-produced species.

Figure 12 illustrates that, while the level of overall aquaculture development varies greatly among and within geographical regions, a few major producers dominate the production of certain groups of species. Inland aquaculture of finfish production is dominated by developing countries such as China, India and Indonesia, while a small number of OECD member countries such as Norway, Chile, Japan, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Canada and Greece are major producers of mariculture of finfish species, especially coldwater salmonids. Several developing countries in East and Southeast Asia rely more on coastal aquaculture for farmed finfish production than mariculture in the sea, especially in countries that are exposed to typhoons every year, including China, the Philippines and Viet Nam.


Marine shrimps dominate the production of crustaceans typically farmed in coastal aquaculture and are an important source of foreign-exchange earnings for a number of developing countries in Asia and Latin America.

Although the quantity of marine molluscs produced by China dwarfs that of all other producers, some countries produce significant quantities of bivalves. These include Japan, the Republic of Korea, Spain, France and Italy (Table 11).


Fishers and fish farmers

In 2018, an estimated 59.51 million people were engaged in the primary sector of fisheries and aquaculture (Table 12), 14 percent of them women. In total, about 20.53 million people were employed in aquaculture and 38.98 million in fisheries. Figure 13 shows the regional breakdown in percentage terms of employment in fisheries and aquaculture. Overall, total employment (including full-time, part-time and occasional work status) in the primary sector has grown slightly, following measured increases in both fisheries and aquaculture employment. Compared with corresponding figures in previous editions of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, these figures also reflect a revision of the 1995–2017 time series. FAO carried out this work through an extensive set of consultations with Members to revise historical data, uncover new data source, check data errors, and make imputations as necessary. For 35 countries, this activity was conducted in collaboration with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), harmonizing the employment datasets and also streamlining the data collection through the delivery of a join questionnaire on fisheries and aquaculture employment in the primary and secondary sector in order to eliminate a double reporting burden for Members.



NOTE: Panel A shows values of all regions. Panel B shows all regions except Asia for increased resolution


Of all those engaged in fishing and fish farming, most are in developing countries, and the majority are small-scale, artisanal fishers and aquaculture workers. The various types of work in the primary sector cannot be considered equal as the forms of employment or engagement vary from occasional to full-time and between seasonal, temporary and permanent occupations. Workers in fisheries and aquaculture are often engaged in more precarious types of employment, and at the far end of the spectrum there is forced labour and slavery. FAO’s extensive work in the forum of decent work is detailed in the section Social sustainability along value chains, p. 118.

The number of people engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture primary sector varies by region. Figure 14 provides the regional breakdown using sex-disaggregated data. Overall, the highest numbers of fishers and aquaculture workers are in Asia (85 percent of the world total), followed by Africa (9 percent), the Americas (4 percent) and Europe and Oceania (1 percent each). Africa has experienced steady growth in the employment numbers in the sector, with most of the employment still being provided in fishing. Employment in aquaculture continues to increase in Africa, but with smaller absolute values. Asia continues to grow in terms of employment in the sector, albeit at a more measured pace with its large absolute number of people employed in the primary sector of aquaculture and fisheries. Oceania also displays a small, but steady increase in employment, with fisheries being quite consistent and the low numbers for aquaculture slowly climbing. Employment in the Americas and Europe has been declining in fisheries and aquaculture. However, viewed separately, in Europe, aquaculture employment has continued to grow slowly while fisheries employment has been declining since 2010.


Globally, the proportion of women in the total work force in aquaculture (19 percent) is larger than that in fisheries (12 percent) (Figure 14). Overall, women play a crucial role throughout the fish value chain, providing labour in both commercial and artisanal fisheries. Where appropriate technologies and capital are at their disposal, they also act as small-scale entrepreneurs, particularly in household-level cottage operations. In most regions, women are less involved in offshore and long-distance capture fishing. For example, in the United States of America, women in the Alaskan fisheries are mainly engaged in the near-shore salmon fisheries (Szymkowiak, 2020). In small-scale coastal fisheries, women are generally responsible for skilled and time-consuming onshore tasks, or they manage the smaller boats and canoes going out for fishing.

Aquaculture is being promoted as a significant growth sector, and as an activity that can empower women and young people, notably by facilitating women’s decision-making on the consumption and provision of nutritious food (FAO, 2017). However, Brugère and Williams (2017) recall that attention must be given to the species grown, preconceptions about gender roles5 and control over production in order for women to be indeed empowered and benefit from these potential advantages.

Although FAO does not routinely collect statistics on employment in the secondary sector, many authors and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) report that one out of two seafood workers is a woman, when both the primary and secondary seafood sectors are considered (see example highlighted in Box 2). FAO is currently collaborating with the OECD for the collection of such data. The plan is to assess the availability of these data for other countries in the coming years to better reflect the relevance of post-harvest employment data and obtain a more comprehensive assessment of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, taking into account the importance of women’s contribution to production, trade, food security and livelihoods. These improvements will also be critical to allow the development and design of gender-sensitive fisheries and aquaculture policies, in order to promote the role of women in fisheries and aquaculture and pragmatically move towards gender equality in the sector. However, it must be emphasized that sex-disaggregated data are not sufficient to reflect the reality and the real position of women working in the various segments of the industry. In particular, such data do not reflect their role and responsibilities, their access and control over resources, assets, credits, information, training and technology, nor the power they have (or do not have), their decision-making, and nor their access to leadership. It is essential to adopt a gender lens alongside the collection of data, in order to enable the study of the complex power interactions and relationships between women and men in fisheries and aquaculture. Gender perceptions are deeply rooted and vary widely both within and between cultures. However, they can change over time and do not have to remain fixed (FAO, 2017). Gender studies and approaches have multiplied and have shown how women are often assigned the most unstable roles, or poorly paid or unpaid positions that require lower qualifications – most often in the secondary sector – and are under-recognized or not recognized at all in the sector.

The status of the fishing fleet

Estimate of the global fleet and its regional distribution

In 2018, the global total of fishing vessels was estimated to be 4.56 million, a 2.8 percent decrease from 2016. Between 2013 and 2018, China’s fleet was reduced by almost 20 percent from 1 071 000 vessels to 864 000 vessels. Asia continues to have the largest fleet with 3.1 million vessels, 68 percent of the global total (Figure 15). These figures reflect a decline both in absolute numbers as well as in the relative proportion of Asia’s fleet in the global total over the past decade. Africa’s fleet now accounts for 20 percent of the global total, while that of the Americas has held steady at about 10 percent. Europe’s fleet accounts for just over 2 percent of the global total, while Oceania’s share is less than 1 percent, although fishing remains an important activity in the respective regions, and particularly in the fishing communities that are home to these fleets and where the fleets operate.


After reaching a peak number of fishing vessels in 2013, the fleet capacity of China has been steadily reduced. This decline in the number of vessels drives the trend for Asia, but also globally due to the large size of the Chinese fleet. Moreover, the European Union has been following a policy of reducing fleet capacity since 2000. The European region as a whole has the highest percentage of motorized vessels – 99 percent of its fleet. The global total of motorized vessels has remained steady at an estimated 2.86 million vessels, or 63 percent of the total fleet.

Figure 16 shows the proportion of motorized and non-motorized vessels by region. The figure shows each region’s relative share of the motorized and non-motorized vessels. Note that the totals sum to 100 percent across categories, not by region. The motorized fleet is distributed unevenly around the world (Figure 17), with Asia having almost 75 percent of the reported motorized fleet in 2018 (2.1 million vessels), followed by Africa with about 280 000 motorized vessels. The largest absolute number of non-motorized vessels was in Asia, with more than 947 000 vessels estimated in 2018, followed by Africa (just over 643 000 non-motorized boats), Latin America and the Caribbean, Oceania, North America and Europe. These undecked vessels were mostly in the length overall (LOA) class of under 12 m and included the smallest boats used for fishing. The substantial proportion of unclassified vessels, both in terms of motorization status, but also as found for length categories and vessel types, points to the need to support further improvements in reporting granularity.


Note: Totals sum to 100 percent across categories, not by region.



There has both been a global downward trend in the number of fishing vessels, but also an adjustment in national and regional totals as an outcome of a comprehensive process conducted by FAO to revise and improve the fleet data for the period of 1995–2017. This period was selected as the focal time frame as it allows for the development and presentation of more than 20 years of historical data in more detailed form. The workflow followed a routine of working in close communication with Members to revise historical data, uncover new data sources, control data errors, and make imputations as necessary.

Size distribution of vessels and the importance of small boats

In 2018, about 82 percent of the motorized fishing vessels (which had a known length classification) in the world were in the LOA class of less than 12 m, the majority of which were undecked, and those small vessels dominated in all regions (Figure 18). Asia had the largest absolute number of motorized vessels under 12 m, followed by the Americas (particularly Latin American and the Caribbean). Only about 3 percent of all motorized fishing vessels were 24 m and larger (roughly more than 100 gross tonnage) and the proportion of these large boats was highest in Oceania, Europe and North America. Worldwide, FAO estimated there were about 67 800 fishing vessels with an LOA of at least 24 m. This figure is the outcome of collaborative work detailed in Box 3 and of the routine work to improve data quality and accuracy. One area of particular note is that the reporting of vessels of unknown size and type remains a significant factor, with Members that have some of the largest fleets not reporting their fleet statistics by size classification.


Note: The proportion is only for reported or estimated size classes and does not include vessels of uncategorized length


Despite the global dominance of small vessels, estimations of their numbers are likely to be less accurate, as, unlike industrial vessels, they are often not subject to licensing and registration requirements. Moreover, even when registered, they may not be reported in national statistics. The lack of information and reporting is particularly acute for inland water fleets, which are often entirely omitted from national or local registries. Regarding the reporting of inland vessels for Europe, although the data trend appears to show an increase in the number of inland vessels, this only reflects a change in reporting. Data reporting still does not allow for accurate disaggregation between marine and inland water fleets. However, work is under way to improve this through efforts such as those described in the section Illuminating Hidden Harvests, p. 176, focusing on small-scale fisheries and ongoing FAO work conducted on improving data quality and reporting. Information on vessels (best collected through registries) not only allows countries to report on the numbers of vessels, supporting the development of more informed fisheries management, but also constitutes a critical first step in recognizing and formalizing small-scale fishery activities and their actors at the regional and global level.

Table 13 shows the number of vessels reported by selected countries and territories from each region, categorized by LOA class and motorization status. These selected countries and territories provide reliable data and offer a good regional representation. While these figures are not necessarily representative of the average for each region, it is notable that only 7 of the 28 countries and territories shown in the table had 200 or more vessels over 24 m LOA. Usually, non-motorized vessels were a minor component of the total national fleet, with the exception of Benin, where they constituted the large majority, and Cambodia and Sri Lanka, where they were up to 50 percent of the total. Of the selected countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, the great majority of the vessels were motorized, and a similar pattern was observed with Oceania and Europe. A recent study (Rousseau et al., 2019) has confirmed that although the small vessels in the motorized category make up a significant share of the global motorized fleet in numbers, they still do not represent the largest share of total engine power. The study also found that the large vessels making up about 5 percent of the fleet constituted more than 33 percent of the total engine power.


The status of fishery resources

Marine fisheries

Status of fishery resources

Based on FAO’s assessment,6 the fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels7 decreased from 90 percent in 1974 to 65.8 percent in 2017 (Figure 19). In contrast, the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased, especially in the late 1970s and 1980s, from 10 percent in 1974 to 34.2 percent in 2017. This calculation treats all fish stocks equally regardless of their biomass and catch. In terms of landings, 78.7 percent of current landings come from biologically sustainable stocks.




In 2017, the maximally sustainably fished stocks accounted for 59.6 percent and underfished stocks for 6.2 percent of the total number of assessed stocks. The underfished stocks decreased continuously from 1974 to 2017, whereas the maximally sustainably fished stocks decreased from 1974 to 1989, and then increased to 59.6 percent in 2017.

In 2017, among the FAO’s 16 Major Fishing Areas, the Mediterranean and Black Sea (Area 37) had the highest percentage (62.5 percent) of stocks fished at unsustainable levels, followed by the Southeast Pacific 54.5 percent (Area 87) and Southwest Atlantic 53.3 percent (Area 41) (Figure 20). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific (Area 77), Southwest Pacific (Area 81), Northeast Pacific (Area 67), and Western Central Pacific (Area 71) had the lowest proportion (13–22 percent) of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels. Other areas varied between 21 percent and 44 percent in 2017 (Figure 20).


Note: Tuna stocks are singled out as they are largely migratory and straddling across statistical areas


The temporal pattern of landings differs from area to area depending on the productivity of ecosystems, fishing intensity, management and fish stock status. In general, after excluding Arctic and Antarctic areas, which have minor landings, three groups of patterns can be observed (Figure 21): (i) areas with a continuously increasing trend in catches since 1950; (ii) areas with catches oscillating around a globally stable value since 1990, associated with the dominance of pelagic, short-lived species; and (iii) areas with an overall declining trend following historical peaks. The first group had the highest percentage (71.5 percent) of biologically sustainable stocks in comparison with the second group (64.2 percent) and the third group (64.5 percent). Linking the catch pattern with stock status is not straightforward. In general, an increasing trend in catch usually suggests an improving stock status or an expansion in fishing intensity, whereas a decreasing trend is more likely to be associated with declines in abundance. However, other causes, such as environmental changes and fisheries measures to reduce fishing intensity in order to rebuild overfished stocks, may also explain decreasing catch.


Status and trends by major species

Productivity and stock status also vary greatly among species. For the ten species that had the largest landings between 1950 and 2017 – anchoveta (Peruvian anchovy), Alaska pollock (walleye pollock), Atlantic herring, Atlantic cod, Pacific chub mackerel, Chilean jack mackerel, Japanese pilchard, Skipjack tuna, South American pilchard, and capelin – 69.0 percent of stocks were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017, slightly higher than the world average. Of these ten species, Chilean jack mackerel, Atlantic cod and Japanese pilchard had higher than average proportions of overfished stocks.

Tunas are of great importance because of their high catches, high economic value and extensive international trade. Moreover, their sustainable management is subject to additional challenges owing to their highly migratory and often straddling distributions. The seven species of tunas of global commercial importance are albacore (Thunnus alalunga), bigeye (Thunnus obesus), skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and three species of bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus, Thunnus maccoyii and Thunnus orientalis). Their combined landings were 5.03 million tonnes in 2017, a 5 percent increase from 2015 but 1 percent below the historical peak of 2014.

In 2017, among the seven principal tuna species, 33.3 percent of the stocks were estimated to be fished at biologically unsustainable levels, while 66.6 percent were fished within biologically sustainable levels. Three stocks have seen their status improve from unsustainable to sustainable, including Eastern and Western Pacific bigeye tuna and Eastern Pacific yellowfin tuna.

Tuna stocks are generally well assessed, and very few stocks of the principal tuna species are of unknown status. In contrast, most minor tuna species and/or tuna-like species remain unassessed or assessed under high uncertainty. Market demand for tuna remains high, and tuna fishing fleets continue to have significant overcapacity. Effective management, including the implementation of harvest control rules, is needed to restore overfished stocks and to maintain others at sustainable levels. Moreover, substantial additional efforts on data collection, reporting and assessment for minor tuna and tuna-like species are required.

Status and trends by fishing area

The Northwest Pacific has the highest production among the FAO areas, producing 25 percent of global landings in 2017. Its total catch fluctuated between 17 million tonnes and 24 million tonnes in the 1980s and 1990s, and was about 22.2 million tonnes in 2017. Historically, Japanese pilchard (Sardinops melanostictus) and Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) used to be the most productive species, with peak landings at 5.4 million and 5.1 million tonnes, respectively. However, their catches have declined significantly in the last 25 years. In contrast, landings of squids, cuttlefishes, octopuses and shrimps have increased greatly since 1990. In 2017, two stocks of Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonicus) were overfished, while for Alaska pollock two stocks were sustainably fished and another one overfished. Overall, in 2017, about 65.4 percent of the fish stocks monitored by FAO (hereinafter referred to as the assessed stocks) were fished within biologically sustainable levels, and 34.6 percent fished outside of these levels, in the Northwest Pacific.

In recent decades, catches in the Eastern Central Pacific have oscillated between 1.5 million tonnes and 2.0 million tonnes. Total landings in 2017 were 1.7 million tonnes. A large proportion of the landings in this area are small and medium-sized pelagic fish (including important stocks of California pilchard, anchovy and Pacific jack mackerel), squids and prawns. These stocks of short-lived species are naturally more susceptible to variations in oceanographic conditions, which generate oscillations in production even if the fishing rate is fixed at a sustainable level. Overfishing currently impacts selected coastal resources of high value, such as groupers and shrimps. The percentage of assessed stocks in the Eastern Central Pacific fished within biologically sustainable levels has remained unchanged since 2015 at 86.7 percent.

The Southeast Pacific produced 7.2 million tonnes of fish in 2017, about 10 percent of global landings. The two most productive species were Peruvian anchoveta (Engraulis ringens) and jumbo flying squid (Dosidicus gigas), with landings of almost 4.0 million tonnes and 0.76 million tonnes respectively. These species are considered to be within biologically sustainable levels, although some concerns about the status of the jumbo flying squid off the Chilean coast have been identified. Chilean jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi) and Pacific chum mackerel (Scomber japonicus) were also fished within biologically sustainable levels. In contrast, the South American pilchard (Sardinops sagax) continued to be severely overfished, and Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is currently being fished at unsustainable levels. Overall, 45 percent of assessed stocks in the Pacific Southeast are being fished within sustainable levels.

The Eastern Central Atlantic has seen an overall increasing trend in catches, but with fluctuations since the mid-1970s, reaching 5 million tonnes in 2017, the highest value in the time series. Sardine (Sardina pilchardus) is the single most important species, with reported catches of about 1 million tonnes per year since 2014 and its stocks remained underfished. Round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) is another important small pelagic species. Its catches have been generally decreasing since 2001, to about 220 000 tonnes in 2017, only about 50 percent of its peak value. The species is considered overfished. The demersal resources are known to be intensely fished in the region, and the status of the stocks varies – some are classes as being sustainable and others unsustainable). Overall, 57.2 percent of the assessed stocks in the Eastern Central Atlantic were within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

In the Southwest Atlantic, total catches have varied between 1.8 million tonnes and 2.6 million tonnes (after a period of increase that ended in the mid-1980s), reaching 1.8 million tonnes in 2017, a 25 percent decrease from 2015. The most important species in the landings is the Argentine shortfin squid (Illex argentinus), representing 10–40 percent of the region’s total catches. However, total landings of this species experienced a sharp drop from more than 1.0 million tonnes in 2015 to 360 000 tonnes in 2017. Patagonian grenadier (Macruronus magellanicus) and southern blue whiting (Micromesistius australis) have shown a continuous decrease in catches in the last 20 years. Argentine hake (Merluccius hubbsi), the second-most important species in terms of landings in the region, has had stable landings at about 350 000 tonnes in the past decade, but its status has remained at unsustainable, although with signs of slow recovery. Overall, 46.7 percent of the assessed stocks in the Southwest Atlantic were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017, a 4 percent improvement from 2015.

In 2017, landings in the Northeast Pacific remained at the same level as 2013, at about 3.3 million tonnes. No significant changes have seen in species composition of the catches since then. Alaska pollock (Theragra chalcogramma) has remained the most abundant species, representing about 50 percent of total landings. Pacific cod (Gadus microcephalus), hakes and soles are also large contributors to the catches. Salmons, trouts and smelts have experienced great inter-year variations in the past decade, between 0.3 million tonnes and 0.5 million tonnes, with the catch being 480 000 tonnes in 2017. All the assessed stocks in the Southwest Atlantic seem to be sustainably managed except salmon stocks. Overall, 83.9 percent of the assessed stocks in the area were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

The Northeast Atlantic had the third-largest production in 2017, with a catch of 9.3 million tonnes. Its landings reached a peak of 13 million tonnes in 1976, then dropped, recovered in the 1990s and stabilized at about 70 percent of the peak value. The resources in this area experienced extreme fishing pressures in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Since then, owing to resource depletion, countries have decreased fishing pressures in order to rebuild overfished stocks. Most stocks have retained the same status since 2015, with positive results of some stocks no longer being classed as overfished. In the Northeast Atlantic, 79.3 percent of the assessed stocks were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

The Northwest Atlantic produced 1.84 million tonnes of fish in 2017, and continued a decreasing trend from its peak of 4.5 million tonnes in the early 1970s. The group of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), silver hake (Merluccius bilinearis), white hake (Urophycis tenuis) and haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) has not shown a good recovery, with landings remaining at about 0.1 million tonnes since the late 1990s, only 5 percent of their historical peak value of 2.2 million tonnes. Although fisheries have dramatically reduced catches, stocks have not recovered yet. The lack of recovery may be largely caused by environmental factors, although further management actions are still needed. In contrast, American lobster (Homarus americanus) has seen a rapid increase in catches to 160 000 tonnes in 2017. Overall, 56.2 percent of the assessed stocks in the Northwest Atlantic were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

Total catches in the Western Central Atlantic reached a maximum of 2.5 million tonnes in 1984, then declined gradually to 1.2 million tonnes in 2014, and rebounded slightly to 1.5 million tonnes in 2017. Important stocks such as Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus), round sardinella (Sardinella aurita) and skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis) have shown decreased catches, but are estimated to be biologically sustainable. Snappers and groupers have been intensively fished since the 1960s, but some of their stocks are now starting to recover in the Gulf of Mexico following tighter management regulations. Valuable invertebrate species such as Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) and queen conch (Lobatus gigas) appear to be fully fished, as do shrimp resources in the Gulf of Mexico. However, some stocks of penaeid shrimps in the Caribbean and Guianas shelf have not shown signs of recovery in recent years, despite reductions in fishing effort. Stocks of American cupped oyster (Crassostrea virginica) in the Gulf of Mexico are now experiencing overfishing. In the Western Central Atlantic, 61.4 percent of the assessed stocks were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

The Southeast Atlantic has shown a decreasing trend in landings since the early 1970s, from a total of 3.3 million tonnes to 1.6 million tonnes in 2017, a slight recovery from the 2013 value of 1.3 million tonnes. Horse mackerel and hake support the largest fisheries of the region, and their stocks, including both deep-water and shallow-water hake off Namibia and South Africa have recovered to biologically sustainable levels as a consequence of good recruitment and strict management measures introduced since 2006. The Southern African pilchard (Sardinops ocellatus) is still very degraded, warranting special conservation measures from both Namibia and South Africa. The sardinella (Sardinella aurita and S. maderensis) stocks, very important off Angola and partially in Namibia, remained at biologically sustainable levels. Whitehead’s round herring (Etrumeus whiteheadi) was underfished. However, Cunene horse mackerel (Trachurus trecae) remained overfished in 2017, and perlemoen abalone (Haliotis midae), targeted heavily by illegal fishing, continued to deteriorate and remained overfished. Overall, 67.6 percent of the assessed stocks in the Southeast Atlantic were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

After reaching a historical maximum of about 2 million tonnes in the mid-1980s, total landings in the Mediterranean and Black Sea declined to a low of 1.1 million tonnes in 2014, and since 2015 have been about 1.3 million tonnes per year. Demersal stocks of the region have experienced higher fishing mortality rates than small pelagic stocks. Important commercial stocks of hake (Merluccius merluccius) and turbot (Scophthalmus maximus) show particularly high fishing pressure, while many stocks of anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardine (Sardina pilchardus) show biomass levels below biologically sustainable levels. Despite the decreasing trend in fishing rates of some stocks in recent years (e.g. turbot in the Black Sea), this region continues to face serious overfishing. In 2017, 37.5 percent of the assessed stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Sea were fished within biologically sustainable levels.8

The Western Central Pacific produced the second-largest landings, 12.6 million tonnes (16 percent of the global total) in 2017, continuing a linear increasing trend since 1950. Major species are tuna and tuna-like species, contributing about 21 percent of total landings. Sardinellas and anchovies are also important in the region. Fish species are highly diversified but catches are often not split by species. Landings are often recorded as “miscellaneous coastal fishes”, “miscellaneous pelagic fishes”, and “marine fishes not identified”, which together constituted 6.1 million tonnes, almost 50 percent of the region’s total landings in 2017. Few stocks are considered to be underfished, particularly in the western part of the South China Sea. The high reported catches have probably been maintained through expansion of fishing to new areas or through changes in trophic levels of targeted species. The tropical and subtropical characteristics of this region and the limited data availability make stock assessment challenging with great uncertainties. Overall, 77.6 percent of the assessed fish stocks in the Western Central Pacific were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

The Eastern Indian Ocean continues to show a steady increase in catches, reaching an all-time high of 7 million tonnes in 2017. It is unclear whether the continued increase in catches was caused by changes in fishing patterns and resource productivity or an artefact created by problems in catch data collection and reporting. The monitoring of capture fisheries production is particularly problematic in the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea regions owing to inherent characteristics of small-scale and multispecies fisheries. Due to data limitations, the status of most stocks in the region has not been well assessed (involving high levels of uncertainty) and should be treated with caution. The available information indicates that stocks of toli shad (Tenualosa toli), croaker and drums (Sciaenidae), hairtails (Trichiurus), catfish (Ariidae), sardinellas (Sardinella spp.) and Indian oil sardine (Sardinella longiceps) are likely to be overfished, but anchovies (Engraulidae), hilsa shad (Tenualosa ilisha), Indian mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta), scads (Decapterus spp.), banana prawn (Penaeus merguiensis), giant tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), squids (Sepiidae) and cuttlefish (Sepiolidae) are being fished sustainably. The current assessment indicates that 68.6 percent of the assessed stocks in the Eastern Indian Ocean were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2017.

In the Western Indian Ocean, total landings continued to increase and reached 5.3 million tonnes in 2017. Recent assessments have shown that the main Penaeidae shrimp stocks fished in the South West Indian Ocean, a main source of export revenue, continue to show clear signs of overfishing, prompting the countries concerned to introduce more stringent management measures. The Southwest Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission continues to update the assessment of the status of the main fished stocks in the region. The 2017 assessment estimated that 66.7 percent of the assessed stocks in the Western Indian Ocean were fished within biologically sustainable levels, while 33.3 percent were at biologically unsustainable levels.

Prospects for rebuilding the world’s marine fisheries

In 2017, 34.2 percent of the fish stocks of the world’s marine fisheries were classified as overfished. This continuous increasing trend (Figure 19) warrants further effort and solid actions to combat overfishing. Overfishing – stock abundance fished to below the level that can produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – not only causes negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, but also reduces fish production, which subsequently leads to negative social and economic consequences. One study (Ye et al., 2013) has estimated that rebuilding overfished stocks to the biomass that enables them to deliver MSY could increase fisheries production by 16.5 million tonnes and annual rent by US$32 billion. This would increase the contribution of marine fisheries to the food security, economies and well-being of coastal communities. The situation seems more critical for some highly migratory, straddling and other fisheries resources that are fished solely or partially in the high seas. The United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (in force since 2001) should be used as the legal basis for management measures of the high seas fisheries.

Regarding the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the situation as at 2017 indicates that it is unlikely that SDG Target 14.4 (to end overfishing of marine fisheries by 2020) will be achieved. Achieving the target will require time and:

  • stronger political will, especially at the national level;

  • enhanced institutional and governance capacity, technology transfer and capacity building in science-based best management practices;

  • controlling of fishing capacity and intensity at levels that do not impair resource productivity;

  • transformation of consumers’ perceptions through market mechanisms and education;

  • strengthening of the global monitoring system to provide transparent and timely information to the public.

The continuous increase in the percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels may mask regional differences in progress. In general, intensively managed fisheries have seen decreases in average fishing pressure and increases in stock biomass, with some reaching biologically sustainable levels, while fisheries with less-developed management are in poor shape (Box 4). This uneven progress highlights an urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and measures in the light of the realities of specific fisheries, and to focus on creating mechanisms that can effectively implement policy and regulations in fisheries with little management.

Inland fisheries

Basins that support inland capture fisheries can be found throughout the world. In some cases, these are major sources of inland fish as food in national or regional diets (e.g. the African Great Lakes, the Lower Mekong Basin, the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, and the Brahmaputra and Ayeyarwady river basins). Elsewhere, their production may be modest but of strong local-importance in the diet (e.g. interior regions of Sri Lanka, and Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia). Allocating national inland fishery catch data by basin, sub-basin and large waterbody provides a more realistic picture of the areas where inland fisheries are conducted (Figure 22).


Table 14 shows the 60 most important hydrological or river basins in terms of contribution to the global inland fish catch. The first 50 percent of total global inland fish catch can be attributed to the top 7 basins. These basins also represent some of the highest levels of per capita fish consumption in the world.


Some of the world’s largest inland fisheries come from basins or river systems that are facing severe threats from anthropogenic and natural environmental pressures. However, there is limited or no routine monitoring of the status of capture fisheries in most of these basins (see the section Improving the assessment of global inland fisheries). Inland fisheries are strongly influenced by fluctuations in environmental and climate conditions, in addition to the effects of fishing, and they experience high inter- and intra-annual variation as a result. The fishing pressure exerted on an inland fishery is a function of: human population density; primary productivity and secondary production of the waterbody; accessibility of the fishery; and socio-economic dependence on inland fish and the availability of alternative foods and livelihoods.

Both natural and anthropogenic environmental drivers affect aquatic habitats, water flows, habitat connectivity and water quality. Climate variability and seasonal effects also influence both short-term annual cycles and longer-term trends. Human activities in agriculture (including irrigation), urbanization, industry and damming all have strong impacts on water and aquatic ecosystems. The status of inland fisheries is driven by the interactions between all of these factors, typically within catchments and river basins, reflecting the linkage between water resources, aquatic ecosystems and fisheries.

A comprehensive overview of global inland fisheries was published by FAO in 2018 (Funge-Smith, 2018); this document also reviewed options for improved assessment of inland fisheries.


Based on FAO’s inland fishery catch statistics for the decade 2007–2016, the aggregated global trend is one of steady growth. This global trend in inland fisheries production may be misleading, as it shows a continuous increase over time. Some of this increase can be attributed to improved reporting and assessment at the country level and may not be increased production. The improvement in reporting may also mask trends in individual countries where fisheries are declining.

To establish how this global inland fishery catch trend was composed, an analysis was made of individual country catch for the decade 2007–2016. Analysis at the national level (using the Mann–Kendall test for trend analysis, 90 percent confidence level) can indicate the catch trend of individual countries and thus the influence this has on the global inland fishery catch trend. This allows countries that are contributing positively to growth in inland fisheries to be identified, versus those countries for which inland fishery catch has no clear trend or is declining.

It was not possible to include all the 153 countries that have an inland fishery catch. This is because some countries do not report with sufficient regularity to FAO, requiring estimation of their national catch. In order to base the trend analysis on national reports (and not FAO estimates), the analysis excluded those countries that reported inland fishery catch to FAO seven or fewer times over the decade. The 43 countries so excluded represented 15.1 percent (1 756 309 tonnes) of the global inland fishery catch for 2016. For the remaining 110 countries, a Mann–Kendall trend analysis (90 percent confidence level) was performed to establish the trend in reported production (Table 15).


Thirty-seven countries indicated an increasing production trend over the decade, representing 58.7 percent of global inland fish catch (Figure 22). The major drivers of this trend were China, India, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nigeria, the Russian Federation and Mexico.

Twenty-eight countries indicated decreasing production, representing 5.9 percent of global inland fish catch, with the trend driven by Brazil, Thailand, Viet Nam and Turkey. All four of these countries have significant aquaculture production. Inland fisheries remain extremely important at the subnational level in these countries (e.g. countries in the Mekong and the Amazon basins); hence, this decline should not be a cause for complacency.

Twenty-seven countries demonstrated stable catches, indicating that there is little or no variation in their reported catch trend. The major contributors to group are the United Republic of Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali and Kazakhstan. The group represents 7.7 percent of global inland fish catch. The remaining 17 countries had no discernible trend of increase or decrease in their catch. These countries represent 12.6 percent of global inland fish catch, and the group is dominated by Bangladesh and Egypt, followed by Zambia.

The conclusion of this analysis is that growth in global inland fisheries is driven by 34 countries, and of these, about 8 relatively large producers drive this trend. The 24 countries reporting declining catches represent a relatively low contribution to global production, but some of these have significant inland food fisheries that are locally important.

Fish utilization and processing

Fisheries and aquaculture production is highly diversified in terms of species, processing and product forms destined for food or non-food uses. As fish is a highly perishable food, particular care is required at harvesting and all along the supply chain in order to preserve fish quality and nutritional attributes, and to avoid contamination, loss and waste. In this context, many countries employ preservation and packaging to optimize the utilization of fish, increase shelf life and diversify products. Moreover, improved utilization of fisheries and aquaculture production reduces loss and waste, and can help reduce the pressure on the fisheries resources and foster the sustainability of the sector.

In recent decades, the fish sector has become more complex and dynamic, with developments driven by high demand from the retail industry, species diversification, outsourcing of processing, and stronger supply linkages between producers, processors and retailers. Expansion of supermarket chains and large retailers worldwide has increased their role as key players in influencing market access requirements and standards.

Moreover, expansion in the global marketing, trade and consumption of fish products in recent decades (see the sections Fish consumption, and Fish trade and products) has been accompanied by a significant development in food quality and safety standards, improved nutritional attributes and loss reduction. To meet these food safety and quality standards and ensure consumer protection, stringent hygiene measures have been adopted at the national, regional and international levels, based on the Codex Code of Practice for Fish and Fishery Products (Codex Alimentarius Commission, 2016) and its guidance to countries on practical aspects of implementing good hygiene practices and the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) food safety management system.

Products, utilization and trends

In 2018, about 88 percent (or over 156 million tonnes)9 of the 179 million tonnes of total fish production was utilized for direct human consumption (Figure 23), while the remaining 12 percent (or about 22 million tonnes) was used for non-food purposes. Of the latter, 80 percent (about 18 million tonnes) was reduced to fishmeal and fish oil, while the rest (4 million tonnes) was largely utilized as ornamental fish, for culture (e.g. fry, fingerlings or small adults for ongrowing), as bait, in pharmaceutical uses, for pet food, or as raw material for direct feeding in aquaculture and for the raising of livestock and fur animals.




The proportion of fish used for direct human consumption has increased significantly from 67 percent in the 1960s. In 2018, live, fresh or chilled fish still represented the largest share of fish utilized for direct human consumption (44 percent), and was often the most preferred and highly priced form of fish. It was followed by frozen (35 percent), prepared and preserved fish (11 percent) and cured10 (10 percent). Freezing represents the main method of preserving fish for food, accounting for 62 percent of all processed fish for human consumption (i.e. excluding live, fresh or chilled fish).

These general data mask major differences. Fish utilization and processing methods differ significantly across continents, regions, countries and even within countries. The share of fish utilized for reduction into fishmeal and fish oil is highest in Latin America, followed by Asia and Europe. In Africa, the proportion of cured fish is higher than the world average. About two-thirds of the fish production used for human consumption is used in frozen and prepared and preserved forms in Europe and North America. In Asia, a large amount of production is sold live or fresh to consumers.

Major improvements in processing as well as in refrigeration, ice-making and transportation have enabled distribution of fish over long distances, across borders and in a greater variety of product forms. In more developed economies, fish processing has diversified particularly into high-value-added products, such as ready-to-eat meals. In developed countries, the share of frozen fish for human consumption rose from 27 percent in the 1960s, to 43 percent in the 1980s, to a record high of 58 percent in 2018, while the share of cured forms declined from 25 percent in the 1960s to 12 percent in 2018. In many developing countries, fish processing has been evolving from traditional methods to more advanced value-adding processes, depending on the commodity and market value. Overall, in developing countries, growth has been seen in the share of production destined for human consumption in frozen form (from 3 percent in the 1960s to 8 percent in the 1980s and 31 percent in 2018) and in prepared or preserved form (from 4 percent in the 1960s to 9 percent in 2018). Fish preserved by salting, fermentation, drying and smoking – particularly customary in Africa and Asia – declined from 29 percent in the 1960s to 10 percent of all fish destined for human consumption in developing countries in 2018. However, in developing countries, fish continues to be mostly utilized in live or fresh form, soon after landing or harvesting from aquaculture, even as that share declined from 62 percent in the 1960s to 51 percent in 2018 (Figure 24).




Fish commercialized in live form is principally appreciated in East and Southeast Asia and in niche markets in other countries, mainly among immigrant Asian communities. In China and some Southeast Asian countries, live fish have been traded and handled for more than 3 000 years, and in many cases practices for their commercialization continue to be based on tradition and are not formally regulated. Yet, marketing and transportation of live fish can be challenging, as they are often subject to stringent health regulations, quality standards and animal welfare requirements (notably in Europe and North America). However, commercialization of live fish has continued to grow in recent years thanks to improved logistics and technological developments.

Nutritional quality and processing

Nutritional attributes of fish can vary according to the way in which fish are processed and prepared. Heating (by sterilization, pasteurization, hot smoking or cooking) reduces the amount of thermolabile nutrients, although their concentration can increase by cooking, which reduces the relative moisture content of foods, thereby increasing concentration of some nutrients. Several chemicals, either natural (e.g. some smoke constituents) or artificially added (e.g. anti-oxidants), can reduce the impact of heating or other processes on the nutritional quality of fish. Refrigeration and freezing have the least impact on the nutritional attributes of fish.

Products: fishmeal and fish oil

As indicated above, a significant but declining proportion of world fisheries production is processed into fishmeal and fish oil. Fishmeal is a proteinaceous flour-type material obtained after milling and drying of fish or fish parts, while fish oil is obtained through the pressing of cooked fish and subsequent centrifugation of the liquid obtained. Fishmeal and fish oil can be produced from whole fish, fish trimmings or other fish processing by-products. A number of different species are used for fishmeal and fish oil production, as whole fish – mainly small pelagic species, including Peruvian anchoveta in large volumes.

Fishmeal and fish-oil production fluctuate according to changes in the catches of those species, in particular anchoveta, dominated by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation, which affects stock abundance. Over time, the adoption of good management practices and certification schemes has decreased the volumes of unsustainable catches of species targeted for reduction to fishmeal. The amount utilized for reduction to fishmeal and fish oil peaked in 1994 at over 30 million tonnes and then declined to less than 14 million tonnes in 2014. In 2018, it rose to about 18 million tonnes due to increased catches of Peruvian anchoveta (see the section Capture fisheries production).

This progressive reduction in supply has been coupled with a surging demand driven by a fast-growing aquaculture industry, which increased the prices of fishmeal and fish oil. As a result, a growing share of fishmeal and fish oil is being produced from fish by-products. It is now estimated that these by-products are used to produce up to 25–35 percent of the total volume of fishmeal and fish oil, but regional differences exist. For example, by-product use in Europe was estimated at a comparatively high proportion of 54 percent of total production (Jackson and Newton, 2016). With no major increases in raw material expected to come from whole wild fish (in particular, small pelagics), any increase in fishmeal production will need to come from by-products, with different nutritional value, being lower in protein, but richer in minerals and amino acids in comparison with fishmeal obtained from whole fish.

Nevertheless, fishmeal and fish oil are still considered the most nutritious and most digestible ingredients for farmed fish, as well as the major source of omega-3 fatty acids (eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA]). However, their inclusion rates in compound feeds for aquaculture have shown a clear downward trend, largely as a result of supply and price variation coupled with continuously increasing demand from the aquafeed industry. They are increasingly used selectively at specific stages of production, such as for hatchery, broodstock and finishing diets, and the incorporation of fishmeal and fish oil in grower diets is decreasing. For example, their share in grower diets for farmed Atlantic salmon is now often less than 10 percent.

With regard to direct human consumption, fish oil represents the richest available source of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which perform a wide range of critical functions for human health. However, the Marine Ingredients Organisation (IFFO) estimates that about 75 percent of annual fish-oil production still goes into aquaculture feeds (Auchterlonie, 2018). Because of the variability of fishmeal and fish-oil production and associated price variations, many researchers are seeking alternative sources of PUFAs. These include stocks of large marine zooplankton, such as Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and the copepod Calanus finmarchicus, although concerns remain over the impacts on marine food webs. Krill oil in particular is marketed as a human nutrient supplement, while krill meal is finding a niche in production of certain aquafeeds. However, there are practical challenges regarding the processing of this raw material, notably due to the need to reduce its fluoride content, and because the cost of zooplankton products is too high for their inclusion as a general oil or protein ingredient in fish feed.

Fish silage, a rich protein hydrolysate, is a less expensive alternative to fishmeal and fish oil, and it is increasingly being used as a feed additive, for example, in aquaculture and in the pet-food industry. Obtained by acidification and natural protein hydrolysis, silage has potential to improve growth and reduce mortality of fed animals (Kim and Mendis, 2006; Toppe et al., 2018).

By-product utilization

The expansion of fish processing has resulted in increasing quantities of by-products, which may represent up to 70 percent of processed fish. Historically, fish by-products were often: thrown away as waste; used directly as feed for aquaculture, livestock, pets or animals reared for fur production; or used in silage and fertilizers. However, other uses of fish by-products have been gaining attention over the past two decades, as they can represent a significant source of nutrition and can now be used more efficiently as a result of improved processing technologies (Al Khawli et al., 2019). The great amount of processing by-products involves significant environmental and technical challenges due to their high microbial and enzyme load and their susceptibility to rapid degradation unless processed or stored properly. Thus, timely collection and treatment of these by-products is crucial for their further processing. The by-products are usually composed of heads (which represent 9–12 percent of total fish weight), viscera (12–18 percent), skin (1–3 percent), bones (9–15 percent) and scales (about 5 percent).

Fish by-products can serve a wide range of purposes. Heads, frames, fillet cut-offs and skin can be used directly as food or processed into fish sausages, pâté, cakes, snacks, gelatine, soups, sauces and other products for human consumption. Small fish bones, with a minimum amount of meat, are consumed as snacks in some countries. By-products are also used in the production of feed (not only in the form of fishmeal and fish oil), biofuel and biogas, dietetic products (chitosan), pharmaceuticals (omega-3 oils), natural pigments, cosmetics, alternatives to plastic, and constituents in other industrial processes.

Enzymes and bioactive peptides can be obtained from fish waste and used for fish silage, fish feed or fish sauce production. There is also increasing demand for fish proteolytic enzymes, which can be isolated from fish viscera, because of their wide range of applications in leather, detergent, food and pharmaceutical industries, and in bioremediation processes (Mohanty et al., 2018).

Fish bones, in addition to being a source of collagen and gelatine, are also an excellent source of calcium and other minerals such as phosphorus, which can be used in food, feed or food supplements. Calcium phosphates present in fish bone, such as hydroxyapatite, can help regenerate bones after major trauma or surgery. Collagen is used for a variety of applications such as edible casings, cosmetics and biomedical materials for pharmaceutical applications. Fish gelatine is an alternative to bovine gelatine and can stabilize emulsions, even after being subjected to changes in temperature, salt concentration and pH. Fish skin, in particular from larger fish, provides gelatine as well as leather for use in clothing, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts and other items. Antifreeze proteins from polar fishes’ skin tissue can be used to reduce the damage caused by frozen storage of meat. Antifungal and antibacterial properties of the epidermis, epidermal mucus of different fish species, liver, intestine, stomach and gills of some fish species, and the blood and shell of some crustaceans can act as an immunological barrier.

Beyond finfish, crustaceans and bivalves also offer numerous applications for their by-products, which not only increase the value of these products, but also address waste disposal issues caused by the slow natural degradation rate of their shells. Chitin, a polysaccharide extracted from crustacean shell waste, is a potential source of antimicrobial substances. Its derivative chitosan has shown a wide range of applications, notably in the fields of wastewater treatment, cosmetics, toiletries, food, beverages, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. Pigments such as astaxanthin and its esters, β-carotene, lutein, astacene, canthaxanthin and zeaxanthin are also found in crustacean waste. Some of these have important medical and biomedical applications due to their high antioxidant effects and as vitamin A precursors. The shells of bivalves, such as mussels and oysters, can be turned into calcium carbonate or calcium oxide, two highly versatile chemical compounds with wide industrial applications. Other uses for shells include their transformation into cosmetics and traditional medicines (pearl powder), calcium supplement in animal feed (shell powder), handicrafts and jewellery.

Other marine organisms are the subject of extensive research because of their potential for the discovery of powerful new molecules. Anti-cancer drugs, in particular, have been developed from marine sponges, cyanobacteria and tunicates. Other applications include ziconotide, a powerful painkiller derived from the venom of cone snails, and vidarabine, an antiviral drug that was isolated from a marine sponge (Malve, 2016). While these chemical compounds are chemically synthesized, the culture of some sponge species for this purpose is also being investigated.

Seaweeds and other aquatic plants have been used as food for centuries in Asia, and they are increasingly gaining attention in many countries elsewhere due to their perception as being an environmentally friendly food that is rich in nutrients, such as iodine, iron and vitamin A (Tanna and Mishra, 2019). Seaweeds can be used, generally in dried powder form, for feed additives, cosmetics (for example, the seaweed Saccharina latissimi), dietary substitutes and additives, and are industrially processed to extract thickening agents such as alginate, agar and carrageenan. In medicine, seaweeds can be used to treat iodine deficiency and as a vermifuge (Marine Biotechnology, 2015). Research is also exploring the use of seaweeds as a salt substitute and in the industrial preparation of biofuel.

Food loss and waste11

Global food loss and waste is a serious issue and is the focus of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 12.3, which aims at halving wastage by 2030. Proper handling, hygiene and respect of the cold chain from harvest to consumption are crucial to preventing loss and waste and preserving quality. In fisheries and aquaculture, it is estimated that 35 percent of the global harvest is either lost or wasted every year. In most regions of the world, total fish loss and waste lies between 30 percent and 35 percent. Wastage rates have been estimated to be highest in North America and Oceania, where about half of all fish caught is wasted at the consumption stage. In Africa and Latin America, fish is mainly lost because of inadequate preservation infrastructure and expertise, with Latin America being the least wasteful region (under 30 percent of total fish lost).

Fish losses, in quantity and quality, are driven by inefficiencies in value chains. Despite technical advances and innovations, many countries – especially the least developed economies – still lack adequate infrastructure, services and practices for adequate onboard and on-shore handling and for preserving fish quality. Key deficiencies relate to access to electricity, potable water, roads, ice, cold storage and refrigerated transport. Effective fish loss and waste reduction requires appropriate policies, regulatory frameworks, capacity building, services and infrastructure, as well as physical access to markets. Understanding how these different factors interact in a given context is important, with the interaction and priorities varying according to location, species, climate and culture. It should be emphasized that reducing fish loss and waste can lead to a reduction in pressure on fish stocks and contribute to improving resource sustainability as well as food security.

Fish consumption

For over 60 years, global apparent food fish consumption12 has increased at a rate significantly above that of world population growth. In the period 1961–2017, the average annual growth rate of total food fish consumption was 3.1 percent, outpacing annual population growth rate (1.6 percent). In the same period, the average annual growth rate of total food fish consumption (i.e total supply, see Box 5) also outpaced that of all other animal proteins (meat, eggs, milk, etc.), which increased at an average of 2.1 percent per year, and of all terrestrial meat combined (2.7 percent per year) or by individual groups (meat of bovine, mutton and goat, pig), with the notable exception of poultry, which grew at 4.7 percent per year. In per capita terms, food fish consumption rose from 9.0 kg (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.3 kg in 2017, at an average rate of about 1.5 percent per year, while total meat consumption grew by 1.1 percent per year in the same period. Preliminary estimates for per capita fish consumption in 2018 currently stand at 20.5 kg. The expansion in consumption has been driven not only by increases in production, but also by a combination of many other factors. These include: technological developments in processing, cold chain, shipping and distribution; rising incomes worldwide, which strongly correlate with increased demand for fish and fish products; reductions in loss and waste; and increased awareness of the health benefits of fish among consumers.

Given the wide diversity of aquatic life, the nutritional composition of fish varies significantly according to species and the way in which they are processed and marketed. Although they are not calorie dense, fish and fish products are appreciated and important for their high-quality proteins and essential amino acids, PUFAs and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals. Fish provided an average of only about 35 calories per capita per day in 2017, exceeding 100 calories per capita per day in countries where a preference for fish has developed and endured traditionally (e.g. Iceland, Japan, Norway and the Republic of Korea) and where alternative proteins are not easily accessible (e.g. the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and several small island developing States [SIDS] such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Maldives and Tokelau). The dietary contribution of fish is more significant in terms of high-quality animal proteins, PUFAs and micronutrients of fundamental importance for diversified and healthy diets. Fish proteins are essential in the diet of some densely populated countries where the total protein intake is low, particularly in SIDS. For these populations, fish often represents an affordable source of animal protein that may not only be cheaper than other animal protein sources, but preferred and part of local and traditional recipes. In 2017, fish accounted for about 17 percent of total animal protein, and 7 percent of all proteins, consumed globally. Moreover, fish provided about 3.3 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein (Figure 25). In Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Gambia, Ghana, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and some SIDS, fish contributed 50 percent or more of total animal protein intake.


Average daily consumption of total fat supplied by fish is also relatively low, at about 1.2 g per capita, but fish is an important source of healthy long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, essential amino acids, vitamins (particularly A, B and D) and minerals such as iron, calcium, zinc and selenium. This unique nutritional composition means that fish represents a valuable source for healthy dietary diversification, even in relatively small quantities. This is more important for many low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) and least developed countries (LDCs), where populations may be overly dependent on a relatively narrow selection of staple foods, which cannot provide adequate amounts of essential amino acids, vitamins, micronutrients and healthy fats.

According to the 2019 edition of The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (FAO et al., 2019) about 11 percent (more than 820 million people) of the world’s population remain undernourished, up from 10.6 percent in 2015. While, in absolute terms, the majority of undernourished people are located in South Asia, in Africa, and in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, this indicator has been pointing to deteriorating global food security. This is due to many factors, including the pressure of increasing population, conflicts and instability, income inequalities, poverty and ineffective nutritional policies. At the same time, progress towards World Health Organization global malnutrition reduction targets for 2030, now aligned with the timeline of the SDGs, in particular of SDG 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture), has also been slower than hoped. Notably, some malnutrition problems such as anaemia in women of reproductive age and prevalence of obesity, including in children, are following an upward trend at the global level. Excessive consumption of sugar-rich, high-fat foods and their negative health impact is a growing problem in many countries, both developing and developed. Increased consumption of fish, with its diverse and valuable nutritional attributes, can directly reduce the prevalence of malnutrition and correct imbalanced high-calorie and low-micronutrient diets. This requires the adoption of proper nutrition policies to increase fish consumption and addresses many of the most severe and widespread nutritional deficiencies in the developing world, in particular deficiencies of iron, iodine, vitamin A and zinc. Full nutritional benefits can result from the consumption of the entire fish of small species, as their head, bones and skin are rich in micronutrients. This also helps to reduce waste and enhance global food security. Beyond meeting basic nutritional requirements, studies have also identified multiple health benefits associated with regular consumption of fish. For pregnant women and very young children in particular, fish consumption contributes to cognitive development during the most crucial stages of an unborn or young child’s growth (the first most critical 1 000 days). In addition, there is evidence of beneficial effects of fish consumption on mental health and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and age-related macular degeneration.

Global data on fish consumption hide considerable regional variation both between and within countries. Annual per capita fish consumption varies from less than 1 kg to more than 100 kg because of the influence of cultural, economic and geographical factors, including the proximity and access to fish landings and aquaculture facilities. To a large extent, this explains why island nations such as Iceland, Kiribati, Maldives and several SIDS continue to record levels of fish consumption that are in some cases hundreds of times higher than many landlocked States such as Ethiopia, Mongolia and Tajikistan. These inland countries still consume less than 1 kg of fish despite the fact that advances in logistics and supply chain infrastructure have made it progressively easier to access fish products harvested and processed thousands of kilometres away. Differences in income levels represent another important factor underlying differences in fish consumption, as do the availability and price of substitutable proteins. Other determinants include climate, market penetration, regional demographic characteristics, as well as the density and quality of transportation and distribution infrastructure.

Despite persistent differences in levels of fish consumption between world regions and between individual States (Figure 26), some clear trends can nevertheless be identified. In developed countries, annual apparent fish consumption increased from 17.4 kg per capita in 1961 to peak at 26.4 kg per capita in 2007, and gradually decline in the following years to 24.4 kg in 2017. In developing countries, the corresponding value is lower, although it grew significantly from 5.2 kg in 1961 to 19.4 kg in 2017, at an average annual rate of 2.4 percent. Among these, the LDCs, most of which are located on Africa, increased their annual per capita fish consumption from 6.1 kg in 1961 to 12.6 kg in 2017, at an average annual rate of 1.3 percent. This growth rate has increased significantly in the last 20 years, reaching an average of 2.9 percent per year, explained primarily by the expansion of fish production and imports, in particular of small pelagic species, by a number of African States. In LIFDCs, where annual per capita fish consumption increased from 4.0 kg in 1961 to 9.3 kg in 2017, the growth rate has remained approximately stable at some 1.5 percent. Despite their relatively lower levels of fish consumption, consumers in developing countries record a higher share of fish protein in total animal proteins in their diets than do those in developed countries. In 2017, fish consumption accounted for about 29 percent of animal protein intake in LDCs, 19 percent in other developing countries, and about 18 percent in LIFDCs. This share, although it has increased since 1961, has stagnated in recent years because of the growing consumption of other animal proteins. The share of fish in animal protein intake grew consistently in developed countries, from 12.1 percent in 1961 to a peak of 13.9 percent in 1989, then decreased to 11.7 percent in 2017, while consumption of other animal proteins continued to increase.


Historically, a major proportion of global fish consumption has been accounted for by Japan, the United States of America and Europe. In 1961, the combined consumption of these three markets accounted for almost half (47 percent) of the world food fish supply. In 2017, this share was closer to one-fifth (19 percent) of the 153 million tonnes of total food fish consumption, while Asia accounted for 71 percent (up from 48 percent in 1961). In particular, China increased its share from 10 percent in 1961 to 36 percent in 2017. In 2017, the Americas consumed 10 percent of the total food fish supply, followed by Africa with 8 percent, and Oceania with less than 1 percent. This considerable decline in the importance of the developed markets is the result of structural changes in the sector. These include the growing role of Asian countries in fish production (in particular of aquaculture), urbanization and the significant increase in population of emerging economies, and their proportion of middle-class citizens with higher income, particularly in Asia.

Since 1961, average per capita fish consumption has been increasing in Asia at an annual rate of 2 percent. Per capita fish consumption in Latin America and Africa has also been increasing faster than the large traditional markets in the same period, both at 1.3 percent, but these regions started from a lower base. Meanwhile, per capita fish consumption in Europe and North America has been increasing by less than 1 percent (0.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively), while it has decreased by 0.2 percent per year in Japan. More recently, the growth rate of per capita consumption in the latter markets has declined further. Demand growth in value can still occur as per capita consumption levels off in maturing markets, reflecting a shift toward more expensive, value-added products rather than increases in quantity consumed.

At the regional and continental levels, the lowest per capita fish consumption occurs in Africa, where it peaked at 10.5 kg in 2014 and then declined to 9.9 kg in 2017 (Table 16). Yet, within Africa, consumption ranged from a maximum of about 12 kg per capita in West Africa to 5 kg per capita in East Africa. Major growth was observed in North Africa (from 2.9 kg per capita to 14.7 kg per capita between 1961 and 2017), while per capita fish consumption has remained static or decreased in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Low fish consumption in sub-Saharan Africa is the result of a number of interconnected factors, including among others: population increasing at a higher rate than food fish supply; stagnation of fish production because of pressure on capture fisheries resources; and a poorly developed aquaculture sector. Moreover, low income levels contribute to low fish consumption, as do inadequate landing, storage and processing infrastructure and the lack of marketing and distribution channels necessary to commercialize fish products. However, it should be stressed that in Africa actual values are probably higher than indicated by official statistics, in view of the under-recorded contribution of subsistence fisheries, some small-scale fisheries and informal cross-border trade.


The broad trends that have driven growth in global fish consumption in recent decades have been paralleled by many fundamental changes in the ways consumers choose, purchase, prepare and consume fish products. The globalization of fish and fish products, propelled by increased trade liberalization and facilitated by advances in food processing and transportation technologies, has expanded supply chains to the point where a given fish may be harvested in one country, processed in another and consumed in yet another. International trade has helped to reduce the impact of geographical location and limited domestic production, broadening the markets for many species and offering wider choices to consumers. Imports make up a substantial and increasing portion of fish consumed in Europe and North America (about 70–80 percent) and Africa (35 percent in 2017, down from over 40 percent in previous years) because of solid demand, including that for non-locally produced species, in the face of static or declining domestic fish production. This development has allowed consumers to access species of fish that are caught or farmed in regions far from their point of purchase, and it has introduced new species and products to what were previously only local or regional markets. Although the choices available to an individual consumer have multiplied, at the global level they are increasingly similar among countries and regions. Seasonal shortages of individual species in certain markets are also mitigated to some extent by the international diversification of supply sources and advances in preservation technologies. As a result, major supply shocks affecting key species are likely to affect consumption for a greater number of people in more geographically dispersed markets. Increasing consumer awareness of sustainability, legality, safety and quality issues is driving demand for traceability systems and certification schemes of a growing range of fish and fish products.

Urbanization has also shaped the nature and extent of fish consumption in many countries. Since 2007, the urban population has accounted for more than half of the world’s people, and it continues to grow. The number of megacities (cities with more than 10 million inhabitants) reached 33 in 2018, of which more than 15 are in developing countries (UN DESA, 2018). Urban inhabitants typically have more disposable income to spend on animal proteins such as fish, and they eat away from home more often. In addition, the infrastructure available in urban areas allows for more efficient storage, distribution and marketing of fish and fish products. Hypermarkets and supermarkets are developing rapidly throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America, and fish products are increasingly sold through these channels as opposed to traditional fishmongers and fish markets. At the same time, the ease of food preparation represents an increasingly important consideration for urban dwellers with fast-paced lifestyles and higher demands on their time. As a result, the demand for fish products prepared and marketed for convenience, through both retail and fast-food services, is rapidly increasing. The dietary preferences of modern urban consumers are also characterized by an emphasis on healthy living and a relatively high interest in the origin of the foods they eat – trends likely to continue to influence fish consumption patterns in both traditional and emerging markets.

Although fish producers and marketers can maintain a degree of responsiveness to the evolution of consumer preferences, natural resource availability and biological considerations are key in determining which species and products are made available to consumers. Significant expansion of aquaculture since the mid-1980s has resulted in a sharp increase in the proportion of farmed fish consumed relative to wild-caught alternatives, even if differences exist among countries and regions in terms of preference, with a higher share of farmed fish being consumed by Asian countries, the main producers. At the global level, since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish available for human consumption, a remarkable increase considering that this share was only 4 percent in 1950, 9 percent in 1980 and 19 percent in 1990 (Figure 27). In 2018, this share was 52 percent, a figure that can be expected to continue to increase in the long term. It is also important to mention that these figures do not refer to the quantity effectively eaten (Box 5). If the edible amount is taken into account (e.g. excluding shells and other inedible parts, which can differ also according to traditions), capture fisheries should be still the main source of the fish eaten due to the higher share of farmed bivalves and crustaceans compared with wild ones, but the gap is narrowing.




The dominance of aquaculture in global fish markets has significant implications for fish distribution and consumption. Fish farming allows greater control over production processes than do capture fisheries, and it is more conducive to vertical and horizontal integration in production and supply chains. As a result, aquaculture has expanded fish availability to regions and countries with otherwise limited or no access to the cultured species, often at cheaper prices, leading to improved nutrition and food security. The expansion in aquaculture production, especially for species such as shrimps, salmon, bivalves, tilapia, carp and catfish (including Pangasius spp.), has resulted in a steady increase in the rates of per capita consumption of these species groups in recent years. From 1990, at the start of the expansion in aquaculture production, average annual growth rates of per capita consumption up to 2017 were most significant for freshwater and diadromous fish (3.9 percent), crustaceans (2.9 percent) and molluscs, excluding cephalopods (2.7 percent). Meanwhile, species categories comprised mainly of wild fish (cephalopods, pelagic fish, demersal fish and other marine fish) saw zero or negative growth in the same period, with the exception of cephalopods, for which per capita consumption increased slightly at an average annual growth rate of 0.1 percent in the period 1990–2017.

In 2017, more than two-thirds of the fish consumed were finfish. However, since 1961 the share of total finfish (freshwater and marine) in total food fish supply has decreased from 86 percent to 74 percent. This is mainly due to decline in the share of marine fish (from 69 percent to 34 percent), the increase in that of freshwater and diadromous fish (from 17 percent to 40 percent), crustaceans (from 5 percent to 10 percent) and molluscs, excluding cephalopods (from 7 percent to 13 percent) in the period 1961–2017. The main group of species consumed in 2017 were freshwater and diadromous fish, at 8.1 kg per capita, followed by pelagic fish (3.1 kg), molluscs, excluding cephalopods (2.6 kg), crustaceans (2.0 kg), demersal fish (2.8 kg), other marine fish (1.0 kg), cephalopods (0.5 kg) and other aquatic animals and invertebrates (0.2 kg). It should be noted that the same calculation done using values instead of volumes would be significantly different, as a large proportion of freshwater species are of low value, e.g. carp, whereas crustaceans such as shrimps and lobsters, for example, are much more expensive.

Seaweeds and other aquatic plants, the majority being farmed, are not currently included in the FBS, but they are important components of national cuisines in many parts of Asia, in particular East Asia. Cultivated species include red seaweed nori (Pyropia and Porphyra species), used to wrap sushi, Japanese kelp (Laminaria japonica), which is a popular snack in East Asia in dried or pickled form, and Eucheuma seaweeds used for food processing as well as an ingredient in cosmetics. Seaweeds contain micronutrient minerals (e.g. iron, calcium, iodine, potassium and selenium) and vitamins (particularly A, C and B-12) and are the only non-fish sources of natural omega-3 long-chain fatty acids.

Fish trade and products

After some 50 years of rapid expansion, international trade has confirmed its important role in today’s global fisheries and aquaculture sector as a driver of economic growth and a contributor to global food security. Exports of fish and fish products are essential to the economies of many countries and regions. For example, they exceed 40 percent of the total value of merchandise trade in Cabo Verde, Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Maldives, Seychelles and Vanuatu. In 2018, 67 million tonnes of fish (live weight equivalent) were traded internationally, equating to almost 38 percent of all fish caught or farmed worldwide (Figure 28). In the same year, 221 States and territories reported some fish trading activity. The total export value of USD 164 billion recorded in 201813 represented almost 11 percent of the export value of agricultural products (excluding forest products) and about 1 percent of the value of total merchandise trade. If exports for human consumption of fish and terrestrial meat are taken into account, since 2016 those of fish have been higher than those of terrestrial in value terms (51 percent versus 49 percent). However, these global figures do not include the value of trade in fisheries services such as consulting, resource management, infrastructure development, certification and labelling, trade promotion and marketing services, maintenance and research. The overall value generated by these services is not yet known, as it is usually recorded together with the value of services related to other activities.




To a large extent, the growth of international trade in fish and fish products has followed the expansion of trade in general, enhanced by globalization and liberalization policies in recent decades. From 1960 to 2018, the share of merchandise trade in world gross domestic product (GDP) grew from 16.7 percent to 46.1 percent (World Bank, 2020). For the fisheries and aquaculture sector and many other industries, this progressive process of global economic integration can be broken down into a number of interconnected but distinct trends, as follows. The various economic activities that are necessary to produce, process, preserve and package fish have become more geographically segmented, with the fish supply chains becoming longer and more complex. Fish products often cross multiple international borders during their journey from production to processing and on to final consumer. Extensive international marketing campaigns have become a regular occurrence as producer countries seek to expand and diversify their export markets and, together with information technology, have also helped to facilitate the integration of once nation-specific dishes such as sushi into seafood menus across the world. For local producers, the dynamics of the wider international market have become increasingly relevant, with an estimated 78 percent of fish and fish products exposed to competition from international trade (Tveterås et al., 2012). For many species frequently traded internationally, the impact of supply disruption shocks such as disease outbreaks and other causes of price volatility is no longer confined to the country or region in which they occur.

From 1976 to 2018, the value of global exports of fish and fish products increased at an annual rate of 8 percent in nominal terms and of 4 percent in real terms (adjusted for inflation). Export revenue in 2018 was more than 20 times the 1976 figure of USD 7.8 billion. In the same period, global export quantity increased at an annual rate of 3 percent from 17.3 million tonnes (live weight equivalent). The relatively slower growth rate in volume points to a steady increase in unit value over time, a reflection both of increasing fish prices and of a higher proportion of processed products in trade volumes.

Following the global financial and economic crisis of 2008–09, the upward trends in international trade in fish and fish products generally slowed, reflecting a slowdown in world GDP growth that saw several major developed and emerging markets lapse into periods of recession and weak consumer confidence. Both fish trade and total merchandise trade then fell steeply in 2015, by 10 percent and 13 percent respectively. Some of the factors behind this contraction included trade sanctions on the Russian Federation, economic decline in Brazil and the strengthening of the United States dollar against an array of currencies, which reduced the apparent value of trade conducted in those currencies. A recovery was subsequently realized in 2016, 2017 and 2018, with respective growth rates for trade in fish and fish products of 7 percent, 9 percent and 5 percent, as economic conditions improved in most of the world’s economies and fish prices rose strongly.

More recently, the escalation of trade tensions between two of the world’s largest trading partners, China and the United States of America, has introduced a note of uncertainty into the global fish market. While a number of heavily traded fish product items such as tilapia and lobster have been included on the list of tariffs of both countries, it is the wider economic impact and general uncertainty that have ultimately been the primary drivers of a growth slowdown, not only in China and the United States of America, but globally. Available estimates for 2019 suggest that total trade value contracted by about 2 percent in both quantity and value compared with the previous year. The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), ongoing at the time of writing (March 2020), has already negatively impacted trade among key exporters and importers in 2020.

Figure 29 shows the top exporters and importers of fish and fish products. In addition to being by far the major fish producer, China has also been the main exporter of fish and fish products since 2002, and since 2011 the third major importing country in terms of value. China’s imports have increased in recent years partly as a result of the outsourcing of processing from other countries, but also reflecting China’s growing domestic consumption of species not produced locally. According to the latest available estimates for 2019, China’s exports declined by 7 percent compared with 2018 (USD 20 billion versus USD 21.6 billion), possibly impacted by trade disputes between China and the United States of America.


Since 2004, Norway has been the second major exporter, now followed by Viet Nam, which has become the third major exporter since 2014. Catches by the Norwegian fleet comprise large volumes of small pelagics and groundfish species such as cod, while Norway’s aquaculture sector for salmonids (salmon, trout, etc.) is the largest in the world. High cod and salmon prices worldwide saw Norway’s seafood export industry achieve record export revenues in recent years, peaking at USD 12 billion in 2018 before slightly declining (–0.1 percent) in 2019. Meanwhile, Viet Nam has successfully maintained steady growth in recent years, thanks mainly to strong trading connections with a fast-growing Chinese market, an expanding Pangas catfish (Pangasius spp.) aquaculture sector in the Mekong Delta, and a booming processing and re-export industry.

Since 2017, India has become the fourth major exporter, boosted by a steep increase in farmed shrimp production. However, after peaking at USD 7.2 billion in 2017, the value of India’s exports declined by 3 percent in 2018 and by a further 1 percent in 2019 (USD 6.8 billion), driven primarily by a decline in shrimp prices. In Chile, aquaculture production of Atlantic salmon, coho salmon and rainbow trout has grown into a modern multibillion dollar industry, second only to Norway in global aquaculture production. Chile has seen sustained export revenue growth on the back of strong global demand for salmonids throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia and increase in prices. In 2018, Chile became the fifth major exporter of fish and fish products, but in 2019 their value declined by 3 percent to USD 6.6 billion. Thailand, the sixth major exporter, has experienced a significant decline in exports since 2012, mainly as a result of its reduced shrimp production due to disease outbreaks that have eroded its competitiveness at the global level.

The steady increase in developing countries’ share of international trade flows, with faster rates of growth compared with developed countries (Figure 30), has been a defining feature of global fish market development. From 1976 to 2018, exports from developing countries increased by an average of 8.4 percent per year in value terms, compared with 6.8 percent for developed countries. In the period 1976–2018, the share of developing countries of trade in fish and fish products increased from 38 percent of global export value to 54 percent, and from 39 percent to 60 percent of total quantity (in live weight equivalent), supported by strong aquaculture production growth and heavy investment in export market development. China, the rest of developing East Asia, Southeast Asia and South America made the most substantial gains in this period. In 2018, fish exports of developing countries were valued at USD 88 billion, and their net fish export revenues (exports minus imports) reached USD 38 billion, higher than those of other agricultural commodities (such as meat, tobacco, rice and sugar) combined. Both as a source of export revenue and as a provider of employment, trade in fish and fish products represents an important contributor to economic growth in developing countries.




For many decades, three major markets have accounted for a large proportion of total imports – the European Union,14 the United States of America and Japan – all heavily dependent on imports to meet consumer demand, often of relatively more expensive species than those consumed in other countries. In 1976, the value of imports by the European Union, the United States of America and Japan represented 33 percent, 22 percent and 21 percent, respectively, of the global total. In 2018, while the share of the European Union was largely unchanged (34 percent), the shares of the United States of America and Japan had fallen to 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively. According to the latest available estimates, these trends continued in 2019. Their declining shares are rather the result of much faster demand growth in many emerging economies, particularly in East and Southeast Asia.

While developed markets still dominate fish imports, the importance of developing countries as consumers as well as producers of fish and fish products has been steadily increasing. Urbanization, improved disposable income and expansion of the seafood-consuming middle class, have been fuelling demand growth in emerging markets that is far outpacing that observed in their developed counterparts. In 2018, fish imports by developing countries represented 31 percent of the global total by value and 49 percent by quantity (live weight), compared with 12 percent and 19 percent, respectively, in 1976. As consumer purchasing power increases and preferences evolve, an increasing proportion of production that would previously have been exported to developed markets is now being directed to meet the demand of regional and domestic consumers. Countries such as Brazil and China are now large consumers of high-value species such as shrimp and salmon. For LIFDCs, the value of imports has been increasing at an average annual growth rate of about 6 percent in the period 1976–2018, but in most cases these values remain at very low levels relative to the rest of the world.

In 2018, the average value of imports of fish and fish products by developing countries was USD 1.6 per kilogram (live weight equivalent), while the corresponding figure for developed countries was USD 3.4 per kilogram. Thus, while the import volumes of the two groups were comparable, developed countries accounted for about 69 percent of global import value in 2018 and, according to preliminary data, also in 2019. This discrepancy is in large part explained by the role of income levels in determining the types of products that consumers demand, in addition to different habits in food consumption. Another factor driving down the unit value of developing country imports is the extent of processing and re-export activities in these regions.

Interregional trade flows (Figure 31) continue to be significant, although this trade is often not adequately reflected in official statistics, in particular for Africa and selected countries in Asia and Oceania. Oceania, the developing countries of Asia and the Latin America and the Caribbean region remain solid net fish exporters. Latin American exports, comprising primarily shrimp, tuna, salmon and fishmeal from Ecuador, Chile and Peru, were boosted in 2018. Europe and North America are characterized by a fish trade deficit (Figure 32). Africa is a net importer in volume terms but a net exporter in terms of value, reflecting the higher unit value of exports, which are destined primarily for developed country markets, particularly Europe. African imports consist largely of cheaper small pelagic species such as mackerel or tilapia, but represent an important source of dietary diversification for populations that are otherwise dependent on a narrow range of staple foods.



The growing importance of regional trade flows has been facilitated by a steady increase in the number of regional trade agreements since the 1990s. These agreements are reciprocal trade agreements establishing preferential terms of trade among trading partners in the same geographical region. They currently apply to a large proportion of global trade in fish and fish products and are expected to continue to play a prominent role in the structure and dynamics of international trade.

As constituents of bilateral agreements or as unilaterally imposed measures, tariffs are widely utilized trade policy tools and are important determinants of global trade flows. The World Trade Organization (WTO) principle of most-favoured nations generally prevents its members from discriminating against trading partners, but tariffs can be reduced or removed as part of free-trade agreements or to facilitate market access for developing countries through the application of preferential tariff regimes such as the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Tariff rates for fish and fish products generally remain low, particularly for unprocessed raw material. However, many developing countries still apply high tariffs for fish and fish products, which can limit interregional trade. In other cases, certain fish products, such as canned tuna and tuna loins, are subject to tariff rate quotas. This allows a certain quantity of the product to be imported at a reduced tariff. Tariff rates can also be used as incentives, such as within the European Union’s GSP+ regime, which offers further trade incentives to countries that can demonstrate their commitment to implementing international conventions on human and labour rights, sustainable development and good government. The reduction of import tariffs has been a major driver of the expansion in international trade in recent decades, and it is generally accepted that tariffs will continue to fall further over time, despite temporary halts or reversals of this trend due to geopolitical developments or domestic policy shifts.

Furthermore, several other factors can affect access to international markets by exporting countries. Both regulators and buyers, particularly large consolidated retailers, enforce various types of standards and requirements for imported products. These non-tariff trade measures include: safety and quality standards; procedures for import licensing; rules of origin and conformity assessment; handling of customs classifications; and valuation and clearance procedures. As a result, the process of securing market access for a given product can involve extensive paperwork, lengthy certification procedures and various fees, and require a degree of knowledge and technical capacity that may be difficult to achieve, particularly for suppliers in developing countries. The entry into force of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement on February 2017 is expected to help to overcome some of these challenges and expedite the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders, reducing these negative influences on trade.

Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the potentially negative consequences of overly strict regulations and standards, as compliance can impose prohibitively high costs on supply chain participants, which are often fragmented small businesses that lack the required capacity in terms of infrastructure, technology and expertise. For fish and fish products, the regulations and standards associated with sustainability of the resources and aquaculture production are most relevant in this regard, as they are many and diverse. This is an area of potential for trade conflicts resulting from multiple and diverse standards and conformity assessment requirements.

Main commodities

Trade statistics of fish commodities can support the management of the fisheries resources and can help in uncovering the movements of illegally sourced products. However, their utility in this regard is dependent on both the accuracy and detail of reporting. Trade statistics are usually classified within specific commodity categories that are defined by the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS), developed and maintained by the World Customs Organization (WCO). The most aggregated level within this system is the six-digit level, and classification at this level should be uniform across all reporting bodies. Individual countries and territories may often introduce additional commodity categories at lower levels of aggregation in order to take into account certain products or groups of products that are of particular relevance. FAO worked with the WCO to improve the detail of the HS codes classifying fish and fish products in the 2012 and 2017 revisions of the HS classification to address the issue of inadequate breakdown by species and product forms. However, there remains significant scope for improvement in terms of the distinctions made between different species and product types. One notable distinction that is not made explicit within the HS framework at the six-digit level is that of farmed versus wild capture products. The most reliable current estimates put the approximate share of aquaculture products in international trade at one-quarter of total quantity and one-third of total value. If fish products for direct human consumption only are taken into account, the share increases to 27–29 percent of traded volumes, and 36–38 percent of value.

Over 90 percent of the quantity (live weight equivalent) of trade in fish and fish products consisted of processed products (i.e. excluding live and fresh whole fish) in 2018, with frozen products representing the highest share. The high perishability of fish notwithstanding, consumer demand and innovative chilling, packaging and distribution technology have led to increased trade in live, fresh and chilled fish, which represented about 10 percent of world fish trade in 2018. About 78 percent of the quantity exported consisted of products destined for human consumption. Much fishmeal and fish oil is traded because, generally, the major producers (in South America, Northern Europe and Asia) are not the same countries as the main consumption centres (in Europe and Asia).

The value given above for exports of fish and fish products in 2018, USD 164 billion, does not include an additional USD 2 billion from trade in seaweeds and other aquatic plants (63 percent), inedible fish by-products (29 percent), and sponges and corals (8 percent). Trade in aquatic plants increased from USD 65 million in 1976 to more than USD 1.3 billion in 2018, with Indonesia, Chile and the Republic of Korea the major exporters, and China, Japan and the United States of America the leading importers. Owing to the increasing production of fishmeal and other products derived from fish processing by-products (see the section Fish utilization and processing), trade in inedible fish by-products has also surged, up from USD 9 million in 1976 to USD 600 million in 2018.

Trade in fish and fishery products is characterized by great diversification among species and product forms. This reflects differences in consumers’ tastes and preferences, with markets ranging from live aquatic animals to a wide range of processed products. Salmonids have been the most important commodity traded in value terms since 2013 and accounted for about 19 percent of the total value of internationally traded fish products in 2018. In the same year, the other main groups of exported species were shrimps and prawn with about 15 percent of the total, followed by groundfish (i.e. hake, cod, haddock, Alaska pollock, etc.) at 10 percent and tuna (9 percent) (Figure 33). In 2018, fishmeal represented about 3 percent of the value of exports, and fish oil 1 percent. A number of high-volume but relatively low-value species are also traded in large quantities both nationally and at the regional and international levels.


The FAO Fish Price Index (FPI) is calculated across a range of prices for the major species groups. The FPI index value of 100 is the average price observed over the base period 2014–16. Despite the sharp drop in FPI levels following the 2008–09 global financial and economic crisis and price variations associated primarily with boom and bust for certain heavily traded aquaculture species, overall fish prices have followed an upward trend due to limitations on supply growth, particularly for capture fisheries, and continued strong demand worldwide. International fish prices were about 3 percent lower, on average, in 2019 compared with the previous year (Figure 34). This was primarily due to price declines for many important farmed species, including shrimp, salmon, Pangas catfishes and tilapia, but also for canned tuna, as a consequence of supply outpacing demand.


Salmon and trout

Salmon, particularly farmed Atlantic salmon, has proved a versatile and popular seafood item that aligns with trends in modern consumer preferences. Driven by strong demand in both developed and developing markets in almost every world region, salmon has become the largest single fish commodity by value. The markets for farmed coho salmon, rainbow trout and wild salmon species from North Pacific fisheries have all experienced growth, but it is Atlantic salmon that accounts for the largest proportion of export revenue. Atlantic salmon aquaculture, led by Norway and Chile, is one of the most profitable and technologically advanced fish production industries globally, while on the market side the industry is notable for coordinated international marketing strategies and a rapid pace of product innovation. Physical and regulatory restraints on production growth helped to push traded salmon prices to record highs in 2018, levels that were approached once again in late 2019 and early 2020.


Shrimp and prawns have historically been one of the most heavily traded fish products, with the bulk of production taking place in Asia and Latin America and the major markets located in the United States of America, the European Union and Japan. In more recent times, however, shrimp’s share of total trade has been declining and it has been overtaken by salmon in terms of total traded value. Emerging markets, particularly China, are increasingly important targets for exporters and marketers of shrimp, whereas the scope for further growth in the traditional developed markets is limited. The farmed shrimp sector, which now supplies the majority of volume to the global market, has also suffered from the impact of disease outbreaks and price variations associated with the boom-and-bust cycle. High volumes of aquaculture production in 2018 and 2019 pushed market prices to low levels, leading to conservative planning by producers. An increase in Chinese imports, to a large extent attributable to a crackdown on illegal (and unreported) smuggling of shrimp via intermediary countries such as Viet Nam, has supported increases in export revenue for Ecuador in particular.

Groundfish and other whitefish

The global market for whitefish is competitive, with a relatively high degree of substitutability between different species, both wild-caught and farmed. Traditionally, cod and Alaska pollock have dominated this segment, but aquaculture producers of tilapia and Pangas catfishes have successfully increased their share of the global fish market, particularly in the United States of America and more recently in China. The Chinese tilapia industry, by far the largest in the world, has been negatively impacted by the imposition of tariffs on tilapia imports by the United States of America, as well as by a shift in development priorities by the Government of China. Future export growth is expected to come from other Asian producers such as Indonesia as well as the expanding Latin American industry. Viet Nam’s expanding aquaculture sector continues to account for almost all Pangas catfishes traded internationally, although exporters have become increasingly dependent on the Chinese market to absorb additional supply. Supplies of wild-caught marine groundfish were lower overall in 2019 than in 2018, driving prices higher for some species such as cod (Figure 35). The continued increase in processing costs in China has created incentives to relocate processing to Europe, and to also take advantage of the opportunity to reduce transportation costs to European markets.



Most canned tuna is destined for the markets of the United States of America and the European Union, while Japan is the world’s largest importer of fresh and frozen tuna in whole or loin form. Major imported-tuna processing and re-export industries are located in China, Ecuador, the Philippines, Spain and Thailand. Raw material is sourced from long-distance tuna fleets fishing regional tuna stocks managed by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs). It comprises multiple species in the tropical and subtropical latitudes of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Bluefin and bigeye tuna are typically used for sashimi and sushi, while skipjack, albacore and yellowfin are used in canned and other prepared and preserved products. Canned tuna is marketed and sold largely through consolidated supermarket chains as an affordable food fish item, while sashimi and sushi are targeted at health-conscious consumers amid a general increase in the popularity of Japanese cuisine in international markets. In late 2019, a surplus of tuna catches saw traded prices for tuna raw material drop to record lows (Figure 36), which in turn resulted in a drop in export revenues for major processors, although prices recovered in early 2020.



Cephalopods form a class of molluscs that includes octopus, squid and cuttlefish. The Chinese and Moroccan fleets account for the majority of octopus catches worldwide, while squid and cuttlefish are supplied primarily by China, Viet Nam, Peru and India. A large proportion of the Chinese catch is harvested by its long-distance fleet. Octopus is popular as an ingredient in a variety of dishes than have become popular with modern consumers, including Hawaiian poke (fish salad) and Spanish-style tapas, while squid is commonly featured on restaurant menus and as a packaged frozen seafood in supermarkets. Supplies of cephalopods, particularly of octopus, have become increasingly scarce in recent years as the productivity of important octopus fisheries has declined, requiring stringent management regimes. In recent years, demand for cephalopods has been strong, with prices increasing.


Bivalve molluscs include mussels, clams, scallops and oysters. Today, aquaculture is by far the dominant source of bivalve molluscs, and China is the largest supplier by a significant margin. Demand for bivalves has increased substantially over time, a result of rising incomes worldwide but also a consequence of the favourable characteristics of bivalve species from a consumer perspective. Responsible aquaculture production of bivalves has a positive environmental impact and significant nutritional benefits, in particular in terms of providing micronutrients. The sustained high prices for bivalves have catalysed expansion of the bivalve aquaculture industry in various regions.

Small pelagics, fishmeal and fish oil

Some of the most heavily traded small pelagic species are mackerel, herring, sardine and anchovy. Small pelagic fisheries are widespread geographically, and the network of producers and markets is complex. Small pelagic stocks often straddle multiple exclusive economic zones (EEZs), and their movements are significantly affected by climatic conditions. As a result, quota negotiations can be challenging, supply fluctuations are common, and price volatility is high. In general, the larger species such as mackerel, herring and sardine are utilized for human consumption, while smaller pelagics are more typically converted into fishmeal or fish oil for use as feed, mainly in aquaculture, but also for livestock. Increasingly, however, these smaller species, including Peruvian anchoveta are also being marketed for human consumption and for use in nutritional supplements. The growing production of fishmeal in some countries in West Africa, mainly destined for exports, is leading to concerns about food security as fewer pelagics are available for human consumption, including sardinella and bonga shad. Although prices for fishmeal have generally been decreasing since mid-2018 (Figure 37), early closure of the second Peruvian anchoveta fishing season in late 2019 and a drop in raw material supply point to a likely reversal of this trend. Prices of fish oil have been increasing since mid-2018 and are expected to increase further (Figure 38).



The twenty-fifth anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

How has the Code supported the adoption of sustainable practices?

Fisheries and aquaculture resources, in both marine and freshwater ecosystems, constitute one of the world’s largest sources of animal protein. Fisheries are crucial to global food security and nutrition, and they offer development pathways to contribute to a more prosperous, peaceful and equitable world.

Today, the importance of utilizing fisheries and aquaculture resources responsibly is widely recognized and prioritized by countries. However, responsible utilization of resources was not always at the centre of development strategies in the sector. For much of history, resources were assumed to be infinite, and after the Second World War, scientific and technological advances drove the intensive development of fisheries and fishing fleets. With time, the fallacy of infinite resources was replaced by the realization that fisheries resources, although renewable, are not infinite.

In the late 1980s, with several fish stocks collapsing globally, it became increasingly clear that fisheries resources could no longer sustain the rapid and often unfettered advances in fishing effort, and that new approaches to fisheries management embracing conservation and environmental considerations were urgently needed. Unregulated fisheries on the high seas, in some cases involving straddling and highly migratory fish species, were also becoming a matter of increasing concern.

The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code), unanimously adopted by FAO Members in 1995, is a foundational document that sets out globally agreed principles and standards for the use of fisheries and aquaculture resources, including through regional mechanisms and cooperation, to ensure sustainable use of aquatic living resources in harmony with the environment (FAO, 1995). As such, over the past 25 years, the Code has informed the development of a number of instruments to provide the overarching framework for international, regional and national efforts to sustainably and responsibly utilize fisheries and aquaculture resources.

Development of the Code

The 1987 Brundtland Report, Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment and Development, 1987), marked a paradigm shift towards global efforts to ensure sustainable development. This came amid growing international concern regarding the overfishing of important fish stocks, damage to ecosystems, economic losses, and issues affecting fish trade – all of which threatened the long-term sustainability of fisheries and, in turn, the contribution of fisheries to food security. In 1991, the Nineteenth Session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) requested that FAO develop the concept of responsible fisheries and elaborate a code of conduct to this end.

Subsequently, the International Conference on Responsible Fishing, held in 1992 in Cancún, Mexico, further requested FAO to prepare an international code of conduct for responsible fisheries. The resulting Cancún Declaration provided an important contribution to the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in particular Agenda 21, a precursor to the Millennium Development Goals and the current SDGs.

Noting these and other important developments in world fisheries, FAO facilitated negotiation of the Code to be consistent with existing instruments and, in a non-mandatory manner, establish principles and standards applicable to the conservation, management and development of all fisheries. On 31 October 1995, the Code was unanimously adopted by more than 170 Member Governments at the Twenty-first FAO Conference, to provide the world with a groundbreaking framework for national, regional and international efforts for the sustainable use of aquatic living resources.

What is in the Code?

The Code promotes responsible fisheries and aquaculture, covering virtually all aspects of the sector, from responsible fishing and aquaculture practices to trade and marketing, and it has guided government policies on all continents. It recognizes the nutritional, economic, social, environmental and cultural importance of fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the interests of all those involved in the harvesting, farming, processing, trade and consumption of seafood.


The objective of the Code is to promote responsible practices, from harvesting to consumption, in the capture fisheries and aquaculture sector. It establishes principles for fishing and aquaculture and related activities, and provides standards of conduct for all persons involved in the sector. It establishes criteria for the elaboration of national policies for the responsible management and development of fisheries and aquaculture resources. Moreover, it serves as a point of reference to assist States in establishing or improving legal and institutional frameworks for fisheries and aquaculture governance.

The Code facilitates and promotes technical and financial cooperation for the conservation and management of fisheries resources, for research on fisheries and associated ecosystems, and for trade in fish and fishery products. It promotes the contribution of fisheries to food security, giving priority to the nutritional needs of resource-dependent communities, and calls for protection of living aquatic resources and their habitats.

Nature and scope

The Code is global in scope, and is directed towards: FAO Members and Non-Members; fishing entities; subregional, regional and global organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental; and all persons concerned with the governance of fishery and aquaculture resources and their management and development, such as fishers, those engaged in processing and marketing of fish and fishery products, and other users of the aquatic environment in relation to fisheries. The Code is voluntary in nature; however, certain parts are based on relevant rules of international law. Broad in scope, it covers harvesting, processing and trade of fish and fishery products, fishing operations, aquaculture, fisheries research and the integration of fisheries and aquaculture into coastal area management.

The Code and the international legal framework for fisheries

International fisheries law (Al Arif, 2018) comprises a number of instruments on fisheries management and conservation, both binding and non-binding,15 negotiated under the umbrella of the United Nations (Figure 39). The Code is a key reference for informing the formulation of policies and other legal and institutional frameworks.



The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), often referred to as the Constitution for the Oceans, was adopted in 1982 after nine years of negotiations. This international treaty is a framework convention that provides a foundation upon which to build an international framework for the management of fisheries resources. It provides coastal States with rights and responsibilities for the management and use of fishery resources within their EEZs, which embrace some 90 percent of the world’s marine fisheries. It gives States the right to engage in fishing on the high seas, and obliges them to cooperate with other States in the conservation and management of living aquatic resources, including through the establishment of subregional or regional fisheries organizations.

Compliance Agreement

The Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas was approved by the FAO Conference in 1993 and entered into force in 2003. Its objective is to promote acquiescence with international conservation and management measures by fishing vessels operating on the high seas. Parties agree to take all necessary measures to ensure that fishing vessels entitled to fly their flag do not engage in any activity that undermines the effectiveness of international conservation and management measures, and to adopt enforcement measures in respect of fishing vessels that act in contravention of the provisions of the agreement. Parties further agree to, when and as appropriate, enter into cooperative agreements or arrangements of mutual assistance and encourage any State not Party to the agreement to accept it and adopt measures consistent with its provisions.

Fish Stocks Agreement

The 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 (United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement) was adopted in 1995 by the United Nations Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks with a view to implementing the relevant provisions of UNCLOS. This agreement establishes a requirement for management regimes based on the precautionary principle and the best available scientific information.

Port State Measures Agreement

The Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA) was adopted by the FAO Conference in 2009 and entered into force in 2016. It is the only binding international agreement specifically developed to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Its objective is to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing by preventing vessels engaged in IUU fishing from using ports and landing their catches. In this way, the PSMA reduces the incentive for such vessels to continue operating while, at the same time, blocking fishery products derived from IUU fishing from reaching national and international markets.

Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries

The Code consists of a collection of principles, goals and elements pertaining to the conservation, management and development of living aquatic resources, with due respect for the ecosystem and biodiversity. Although the Code represents a global consensus or agreement on a wide range of fisheries and aquaculture issues, the application of the Code is voluntary. The Code is to be interpreted and applied in conformity with the relevant rules of international law, and nothing in the Code prejudices the rights, jurisdiction and duties of States under international law as reflected in UNCLOS. As at the end of 2018, the set of Code products or “instruments” consisted of 8 sets of guidelines, 8 legal instruments (including the Code itself), 4 international plans of action, 3 strategies and 32 technical guidelines. The monitoring of the Code’s implementation is conducted through three biennial questionnaires, as discussed in the section Progress on the road to sustainability.

Implementation of the Code

Much has changed in the past 25 years, from overfishing to rapid development in international trade in fish and fish products, to the rapid growth of aquaculture, and to the recognition of the impacts of climate change on fisheries and aquaculture. Fish and fish products are now among the most traded food commodities in the world, totalling an estimated USD 145 billion in 2017. Fish is the main source of animal protein for billions of people worldwide, and the livelihoods of more than 10 percent of the global population depend on capture fishing and aquaculture (FAO, 2018a).

In the past 25 years, FAO and many other organizations and institutions have worked to promote the implementation of the Code and its supporting instruments. These supporting instruments, consisting of some 50 international and technical guidelines, 4 international plans of action and 3 strategies, have developed and adapted to support the international community in meeting emerging challenges. FAO has facilitated hundreds of conferences, workshops, expert and technical consultations to elaborate and disseminate the Code and its supporting instruments, and to support implementation of the Code at the regional, national and local levels.

Currently, the Code is available in more than 40 languages. It has guided the efforts of FAO and other international organizations and development agencies to provide legal, policy and technical advisory services and assistance to governments in the formulation or revision of national fisheries and aquaculture legislation, policy and institutional arrangements, and on related issues. It has informed support services to regional and subregional fisheries organizations in improving their legal framework to promote regional mechanisms and cooperation. It has shaped the development of technical capacity of governments to strengthen research, statistics and information systems to support evidence-based policy decisions at the national and regional levels.


As a universally adopted and applicable policy instrument, the Code has been a facilitator of change, catalysing cooperation at the local, regional and global levels. Today, the fisheries policies and legislation of most countries are compatible with the Code. The Code and its instruments have shaped fisheries policies, legal and management frameworks worldwide, instilling key principles of sustainable and responsible development of fisheries and aquaculture. The Code has also served as an important catalyst for incorporating conservation and environmental considerations into fisheries and aquaculture management, and inspired the development of the ecosystem approach to fisheries and aquaculture.

For a world population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, the Code and its related instruments provide the framework to promote sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and increase the role they play in sustainable food systems. Moreover, the Code provides the guidance needed to shape how to address new and emerging issues in fisheries, such as sustainable aquaculture development, ocean degradation, social responsibility, biodiversity conservation and climate change. Thus, the Code will be fundamental to international work in fisheries and aquaculture in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda).

Progress on the road to sustainability – what the Code questionnaire reveals

A mandate of COFI, as stipulated by Article 4 of the Code, is that FAO will report to COFI every two years concerning implementation of the Code (Figure 40). This task is largely performed using the FAO Questionnaire on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Related Instruments, which covers each article of the Code. FAO sends the questionnaire to all Members, regional fishery bodies (RFBs), and selected non-governmental organizations biennially, and the responses form the basis of a progress report for discussion at COFI. To date, FAO has prepared 11 such reports. FAO also sends out two other questionnaires to further monitor the implementation of the Code’s Articles 9 (Aquaculture development) and 11 (Post-harvest practices and trade). Their results are discussed biennially at the COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture and the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade, respectively.


In 2014, the Code questionnaire was digitalized, permitting participants to answer the questions succinctly, and helping with reporting on the application of the Code, as well as related developments. In 2016, 115 of the 193 Members responded to the questionnaire, an increase of 20 per cent since 2014; and for the latest questionnaire (in 2018), this figure rose again, to 128 Members responding.

At its Thirty-second Session in 2016, COFI agreed to the use of the data from the questionnaires for national reporting on SDG indicators and Aichi Biodiversity Targets, with due consideration for confidentiality. Subsequently, methodologies for SDG Indicators 14.6.1 (IUU fishing) and 14.b.1 (Access rights for small-scale fisheries) were finalized in consultation with the COFI Secretariat and approved by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators. In parallel, the COFI Secretariat expanded sections in the questionnaire that are relevant to these SDG indicators and Aichi Biodiversity Target reporting. The increasing influx of work being done in conjunction with these platforms is enabling discreet elements of the questionnaire to be processed in an unprecedented way.

Fisheries management

At the regional and global level, the questionnaire responses indicate a strong trend toward improvements in fisheries management in both marine fisheries and inland fisheries (Figures 41 and 42).



Another positive trend in the past decade has been the use of the ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) as the preferred fisheries management system. Three-quarters of Members report they have adopted the EAF, and most of these countries report having taken appropriate management actions and established ecological, socio-economic and governance objectives.

In 2011, RFBs reported that the Code was unlikely to be effective until these organizations adopted the EAF, including the use of target reference points in the fisheries of their members. Today, almost three-quarters of Members have developed target reference points with monitoring and evaluation methods.

This move towards adoption of EAF management measures could herald an improvement in integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). Despite FAO’s initiatives to integrate the EAF into coastal zone management, there has been slow progress in the past 25 years. This has possibly been exacerbated since 2010, when ICZM as a top priority for countries responding to the questionnaire dropped from 43.6 percent to 28.9 percent in 2011, and today remains at 27.4 percent. Fewer than one-third of Members report having put in place complete and enabling policy, legal and institutional frameworks for ICZM, and about half have partially developed frameworks awaiting adoption (Figure 43). The most common conflicts reported within the coastal area regard fishing gear conflicts and conflicts between coastal and industrial fisheries. However, most of the Members concerned report having conflict-resolution mechanisms in place. The hope that the situation is on the cusp of change is not unfounded, with countries reporting that they are regulating their fleets more effectively through monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), limiting fishing effort and increasing research activities. The questionnaire responses indicate that these efforts are largely undertaken in conjunction with EAF initiatives, but nonetheless have the potential to positively impact ICZM initiatives.


Small-scale marine and inland fisheries

The roles of both small-scale and inland fisheries are gaining greater attention. Members have been expressing an interest in better guidance on the governance of small-scale fisheries since the mid-2000s, especially with regard to safety at sea since 2009. In fact, interest in small-scale fishers has grown steadily in the past 25 years, with Members increasingly referencing their importance. The adoption of the human-rights based Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) in 2014 has been hailed as a major leap forward in managing both marine and inland small-scale fisheries. Members have also noted the SSF Guideline’s auxiliary role in developing social policy and regulation on aspects closely related to small-scale fisheries.

One recent trend catalysing this process is the defining of small-scale fisheries, with slightly fewer than half of Members having adopted a legal definition for small-scale fisheries. There is also a positive trend emerging between countries with a definition for small-scale fisheries and countries that collect sector-specific data (mainly on production, value of production, employment and trade).

The questionnaire responses also indicate a rise in the mechanisms through which small-scale fishers and fishworkers can contribute to decision-making processes, and more than three-quarters of these mechanisms would include the promotion of the active participation of women. At the global level, small-scale fisheries now feature as agenda items in COFI’s deliberations. In relation to inland fisheries, regional cooperation is focusing on: prohibiting destructive fishing methods; addressing the biodiversity of aquatic habitats and ecosystems; and addressing the interests and rights of small-scale fishers in their management plans.

Aquaculture development

The questionnaire reveals that the importance of aquaculture in national agendas grew significantly between 2011 and 2018 (Figure 43). In 2007, of the few countries that included aquaculture as an economic sector, 87 percent reported having some form of legal framework in place to regulate the development of responsible aquaculture. By 2012, 98 percent of Members reported that aquaculture occurred in their countries, but only about 40 percent of these had legislative and institutional frameworks in place. Thus, the growth of aquaculture activities appears to have outpaced the development of legislation and legal frameworks to govern aquaculture. In 2018, the figure had risen to just over half, still indicating a need for some countries to adopt a legislative framework to better manage and benefit from aquacultural economic activity. In addition, Members that have taken measures to promote responsible aquaculture practices are equally ensuring support to rural communities, producer organizations and fish farmers.

Post-harvest practices and trade

In 2012, 77 percent of Members reported having largely complete and enabling effective food-safety and quality-assurance systems for fish and fisheries products implemented nationally. Progress in this field has advanced steadily since 2001, when only 58 percent of Members reported having an effective food safety management system in place. An indication of this progress can be observed in the priority that countries assign to post-harvest practices, with a decrease of 6.9 percent between 2011 and 2018. Responses in 2018 reflected an increasing inclination to improved bycatch utilization. Moreover, more than three-quarters of Members reported that processors were in a position to trace the origin of the fisheries products they purchase, and this too can be observed in the 6.1 percent increase in priority that countries give to trade. The questionnaire section on post-harvest practices and trade highlights the global increase in food safety and quality assurance systems implemented since 2012. One possible deduction to be made from the shift in priorities is that, as countries have developed their post-harvest practices, they have been able to focus more on sustainable trade options, which have increasingly proved more lucrative as consumers in high-value markets are demanding guarantees on sustainable and certified seafood.

With trading in illegally harvested fish commonly recognized as an issue, most Members have taken measures to address it, frequently through enhanced fisheries control and inspections, as well as through customs and border controls, and implementation of national plans of action to prevent, deter and eliminate IUU fishing. In recent years, the uptake of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes has supported such actions. The coming into force and implementation of the PSMA is expected to be a major advance in combating IUU fishing and advancing traceability efforts.

Constraints and suggested solutions

Regarding the Code’s implementation, most Members report constraints related to insufficient budgetary and human resources. To overcome these constraints, Members highlighted the need for: access to more financial and human resources; training and awareness raising; and improvements in research and statistics.

The focus on small-scale fisheries and aquaculture will perhaps prompt greater engagement with civil society in achieving the Code’s objectives. FAO’s role in catalysing this engagement, and indeed across all areas of the Code, can be seen through ongoing regional and national workshops, as well technical guidelines, the translation of some guidelines, and assistance in elaborating national plans of action. However, to improve the use of the indicators reporting system, the COFI Secretariat has introduced a tool to allow users to extract a report of each indicator after completing the questionnaire.

Lastly, many countries advising on the interface between the Code and the questionnaire have suggested the need for periodic reviews of the questionnaire in order to integrate new challenges and frontiers in fisheries and ocean governance.

The future of the questionnaire

Overall, the questionnaire has proved an important tool for reporting by Members and RFBs on their implementation of the Code globally. Moreover, in recent years, it has shown itself adaptable to emerging issues, and reporting on related SDG targets.

It is encouraging to see the increased number of responses since digitalization of the questionnaire and its improved accessibility. Moreover, the broadening of the topics in the questionnaire has proved beneficial for reporting on areas such as small-scale fisheries that previously may not have received due attention. The questionnaire should be proactive – including emerging issues, and learning from past responses in the formulation of new questions. Provision of quality and reliable responses by Members and RFBs, to reflect the reality on the ground at the local, national and regional levels, should make the questionnaire a valuable tool to gauge progress towards sustainable fisheries and aquaculture and related SDGs.

Monitoring fisheries and aquaculture sustainability

FAO fisheries and aquaculture data and information systems

Guided by its Members and with concern to respond to global societal demand, FAO has developed a wide range of data and information products in order to establish baselines, monitor changes, and support decision-making. At the apex, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, as an FAO flagship publication, informs high-level policy audiences and supports evidence-based policy-making. Since 2015, the SDGs have been a key policy driver for fisheries and aquaculture. This section reviews FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture data and information systems and how they inform the status and trends of the three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social (Box 6).

Economic and social dimensions

FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture statistics databases on production, fleet, trade, employment, and the Food Balance Sheets (see Box 5), were originally designed to respond to post-war society’s focus on food security and economic growth. In the following three decades, the quality of these databases – highly dependent upon Members’ capacity to collect, manage and report statistical data – improved thanks to the development of international standard classifications on aquatic species, fishing areas, gear types, vessels, trade, etc. guided by the Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP). These classifications were complemented with illustrated catalogues aimed at helping countries with identification and terminology.

With the adoption of the Code in 1995 (FAO, 1995), the emphasis on sector sustainability induced complementary approaches to core statistics. The FAO strategy for improving information on the status and trends of capture fisheries and aquaculture promoted inventories of socio-economic indicators to develop a comprehensive knowledge base needed to demonstrate the importance of small-scale fisheries and related livelihoods. This was followed by the National Aquaculture Sector Overview maps initiative to compensate for insufficient knowledge on the sector. Moreover, an inventory of capture fisheries (see below) was initiated to promote higher visibility of those fisheries not monitored through existing statistical systems.

Environmental dimension

With the 2000 Millennium Development Goals, ecosystem sustainability gained traction with the Reykjavik Declaration on Responsible Fisheries in the Marine Ecosystem giving rise to the EAF. As a result, FAO and RFBs launched various information systems and partnerships, such as:

  • Fisheries and Resources Monitoring System (FIRMS), which disseminates inventory-based information on the status of stocks and fisheries;

  • Database on Introductions of Aquatic Species, Vulnerable Marine Ecosystem Database and Database of Measures on the Conservation and Management of Sharks, which reflect actions taken by stakeholders (RFMOs and States) to preserve fragile habitats (such as vulnerable marine ecosystems [VMEs]) and vulnerable species (e.g. sharks);

  • EAF-Net, which facilitates access to FAO resources on EAF application;

  • in the near future, FAO’s Aquatic Genetic Resources Monitoring System (see the section An aquatic genetic resources information system to support sustainable growth in aquaculture).

One key area for restoring the sustainability of fishery resources during the last decade, as also emphasized by the SDGs, has been combating IUU fishing. Vessel registries constitute the spearhead of data-sharing efforts at the international level, and, since 2018, FAO has launched the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels (Global Record). These and other developments have resulted in the FAO fisheries and aquaculture knowledge base as it is today (Box 6).

These information systems are maintained using different levels of control, ownership and integration (Box 7). The core is fully integrated and directly maintained by different FAO units, either through countries’ submissions or through partnerships (e.g. with RFBs) where FAO acts as custodian. The operations of the information systems rely increasingly on cloud platforms through commercial agreements or partnerships with not-for-profit organizations. The use of non-FAO-owned external databases is envisaged through partnerships and/or specific data-sharing agreements. In these new models, FAO acts as custodian, ensuring the high quality, neutrality, independence, transparency and long-term preservation of the knowledge base.

This knowledge base has a high value for different users. For example, the Overview section of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture – informed by FAO’s indicators built on this knowledge base – is the highest-rated section of this FAO flagship publication. An analysis of how FAO reaches its target audiences illustrates how the flagship publication and the knowledge-base products support the science–to–policy process of global fisheries (Ababouch et al., 2016). It shows that the statistics on production, trade and apparent consumption, and the FAO Food Balance Sheets constitute main data sources for analysts from academia, policymakers and development institutions to project medium-to-long-term supply and demand of fish in the broader food security landscape, and are of considerable interest to long-term planners.

The knowledge base and SDG 14 – an example of current relevance

The relevance of the knowledge base can also be assessed against the data needs of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (see the section Reporting on fisheries and aquaculture sustainability). For example, SDG Indicator 14.4.1, which requires an understanding of the status of fish stocks to improve their management, is supported by FAO’s capture fisheries statistics database, and FIRMS and its Global Record of Stocks and Fisheries (GRSF). Sustainable Development Goal 14 Target 14.6 aims at prohibition of harmful subsidies, and WTO negotiations regularly refer to FAO’s databases on global catch and fleets, Global Record, and FIRMS-GRSF as sources of evidence.

However, application of SDG Indicator 14.4.1 is also confronted with insufficient quality of catch data and limited availability of fishing-effort data for stock assessment; the actions needed to build countries capacities (FAO, 2018a) will require an important effort by the international community to address problems such as these (see also Box 23).

Furthermore, SDG Indicator 14.b.1 requires greater understanding of the contribution of small-scale fisheries to livelihoods, while SDG Indicator 14.7.1, which measures the economic contribution of sustainable fisheries, requires systematic collection of catch value as initiated by FAO in 2019. Data on the contribution of marine aquaculture to GDP are lacking due to limitations in data availability on farming systems (a classification of which the CWP is developing) and associated sustainable practices. These examples illustrate the need to improve socio-economic data available to and collected by FAO (FAO, 2016). The Illuminating Hidden Harvests project (see the section Illuminating Hidden Harvests) is working on an updated assessment of the performance of marine and inland small-scale fisheries, and how to objectively characterize them. This could improve how small-scale fisheries are monitored in global databases.

Both SDG Indicators 14.2.1 and 14.5.1 require more emphasis on minimizing detrimental effects from fisheries on habitats and ecosystems. The pilot Protected Areas Information Management System shows how FAO’s fisheries information can be integrated with external repositories of information on biodiversity (the Ocean Biogeographic Information System), marine protected areas (MPAs; World Conservation Monitoring Centre) and their environmental and socio-economic features (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management) to support conservation and spatial applications. iMarine provides an innovative platform for data-sharing agreements with these external actors (iMarine, 2019a), for example, in the context of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

As the SDGs rely on country assessments, they constitute a unique opportunity to increase data generation, quality, availability and usage in sectoral monitoring systems for policy guidance. The above examples illustrate FAO’s way forward to leverage information technologies and partnerships to respond to the challenges of proper monitoring and reporting on the SDGs.

An aquatic genetic resources information system to support sustainable growth in aquaculture

Growth in demand for fish and fish products needs to be met primarily from expansion of aquaculture production. Several elements are necessary to achieve this growth sustainably, but one area that is sometimes overlooked is the need to effectively manage aquatic genetic resources (AqGR). Here, AqGR include DNA, genes, chromosomes, tissues, gametes, embryos and other early life-history stages, individuals, strains, and stocks and communities of organisms of actual or potential value for food and agriculture.

Typically, diversity of AqGR is considered only at the species level. More than 600 species are produced in aquaculture (while more than 1 800 species are fished), and this number is growing as culture techniques develop for new species. Although there is some consolidation of production around a small number of “commodity” species such as carps, tilapias, salmonids and shrimps, the total number of farmed species will probably continue to grow. While there is relatively good understanding of the diversity of farmed species, there is a paucity of knowledge on AqGR below the species level.

Genetic diversity is a cornerstone of aquaculture. It allows organisms to grow, to adapt to natural and human-induced impacts such as climate change, to resist diseases and parasites, and to continue to evolve and adapt to farming systems. FAO recognizes that AqGR cannot be managed effectively in a knowledge vacuum and is working to enhance understanding and to develop knowledge products on AqGR.

What is known about AqGR used in aquaculture?

FAO publishes annual statistical data on aquaculture production from all known producing countries and territories. To reflect the diversity of aquatic species, these data are registered under designated statistical units called “species items”, for which scientific names (and common names, where available) are drawn from the Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Information System (ASFIS [Box 8]).

A species item may refer to a taxonomically identified single species or to a species group. The level of aggregation of a species item varies greatly, from closely related species of the same genus to very loosely related species with common characteristics (e.g. marine invertebrates). Designed for production statistics, ASFIS has no authority over the taxonomic status of the species or species groups. It is also relatively static with periodic minor updates necessarily being based on reliable, consistent and detailed nomenclature changes or additions. For FAO global aquaculture production statistics, all recorded production is aggregated at or above the species level.

Other information sources on AqGR include Aquatic Sciences and Fisheries Abstracts (ASFA [Box 8]), which enables searches of a large database of published resources, including on the genetics of aquatic species. FishBase has detailed information on finfish species (Froese and Pauly, 2000), and SeaLifeBase has similar information on other aquatic marine taxa (Palomares and Pauly, 2019); both include published information on genetics but generally not referencing characteristics of AqGR found on farms. The Barcode of Life Data System (Ratnasingham and Hebert, 2007) is a storage and analysis platform for DNA barcodes. With sequence information for more than 15 000 fish species, it is a widely accepted standard for genetic identification of commercial species, but again not below the species level.

The FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (the Commission) recognized the paucity of knowledge on AqGR below the species level and identified collecting information on AqGR as a priority in 2007. This led to the production of The State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (FAO, 2019a). With its scope being farmed species and their wild relatives under national jurisdiction, the report presents a snapshot of the status of AqGR. While not a complete inventory, it does throw new light on the drivers of and trends in the use of AqGR in aquaculture. It identifies key needs and challenges that must be addressed to enhance the conservation, sustainable use and development of these important resources. The report’s principal sources of information were country reports from 92 countries, representing 96 percent of global aquaculture production.

The report identified some discrepancies in species reported by the national focal points through this process and those reported regularly to FAO. This highlighted the need for greater harmonization of reporting procedures nationally and globally. In analysing the country reports, the lack of standardized use of terminology to describe AqGR was evident. The report adopted standard terminology (Box 9). The term “farmed type” is a particularly important term that can describe all the kinds of AqGR found in aquaculture. A 2019 FAO expert workshop identified 12 specific farmed types for inclusion in an information system (Figure 44).


The report’s findings highlight key differences between aquatic and terrestrial genetic resources. For example, from a conservation point of view, the situation for AqGR is encouraging relative to other agriculture sectors, with wild relatives of all farmed species still existing in nature, although some are under threat. There is also a high level of interaction between farmed AqGR and their wild relatives, with aquaculture often relying on wild relatives as seed inputs. However, aquaculture systems can also have detrimental impacts on wild relative resources through habitat change or disturbance and the escape or release of hatchery-propagated AqGR.

Relatively few domesticated strains or varieties of AqGR are significantly differentiated from wild relative resources. This highlights the tremendous opportunity to sustainably increase yields in aquaculture through much wider adoption of effective genetic improvement programmes, focused on selective breeding of lower-value and high-production-volume species in developing countries. The report also found that introduced, non-native species are fundamentally important in global aquaculture, but that they can pose a threat to indigenous genetic diversity and, thus, require careful management.

Measures for effective management of aquatic genetic resources

In response to The State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the Commission requested that FAO prepare a global plan of action (GPA) on AqGR. Once endorsed by FAO and its Members, the GPA will provide a framework, and a basis for resource mobilization, for the promotion of enhanced and effective conservation, sustainable use and development of these resources. Its development and implementation will build on the momentum achieved through the preparation and publication of the report. It will also act as a catalyst for countries to develop national and regional strategies for effective management of their AqGR. FAO’s role will be to develop and promote globally applicable resources to support the development of such strategies.

Given the distinctive characteristics of AqGR relative to terrestrial genetic resources, the GPA will differ somewhat in emphasis from existing GPAs for plant, animal and forest genetic resources, particularly with the inclusion of a high level priority area focused on accelerating the development of AqGR for aquaculture. The four strategic priority areas for the proposed GPA are:

  • national regional and global characterization, monitoring and information systems for AqGR;

  • appropriate development of AqGR for aquaculture;

  • sustainable use and conservation of AqGR;

  • policies, institutions and capacity building for AqGR management.

The GPA is being developed over a two-year period in consultation with COFI and its subsidiary bodies for negotiation by the Intergovernmental Technical Working Group on AqGR in September 2020, prior to presentation to the Commission in early 2021.

An information system at the core of a global plan of action

The lack of reliable and accessible information on AqGR below the species level constrains effective decision-making on their management. While a few countries have national-level information systems, there is no standardized resource to record information on stocks, strains, varieties, hybrids or other farmed types of AqGR. Development of such a resource will enable producers, resource managers, conservationists, policymakers and researchers to make informed decisions on the effective management, sustainable utilization and appropriate exchange of these resources.

The Government of Germany is supporting FAO to develop a prototype registry of AqGR, which will provide an inventory of farmed types of cultured species available in FAO Member countries. The registry will be the core component of a broader information system on AqGR (with the working title AquaGRIS [Figure 44]). This will incorporate indicators to monitor: progress on the conservation status of farmed types and wild relative stocks; progress against a future GPA; and, potentially, progress against SDG Target 2.5, which currently only applies to terrestrial genetic resources.

Effective management of AqGR is fundamental to the future sustainable growth of aquaculture. However, it is not feasible in the absence of adequate information on the status of genetic resources, especially below the species level. The State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture captures the current status of AqGR used in aquaculture and should act as a catalyst for follow-up action. Through the development of a GPA with a global information system as a source of new knowledge, FAO is playing a leading role in transforming the future management of these vital resources.

Securing fisheries and aquaculture sustainability

Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: global developments

The year 2020 is an important milestone to review worldwide advances in combating IUU fishing. Indeed, for the last five years, SDG Targets 14.4 and 14.6 – which aim to end IUU fishing and eliminate subsidies that contribute to IUU fishing by 2020, respectively – have been the drivers for action against IUU fishing by governments, RFMOs, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations worldwide. This section reviews major advances in the uptake and implementation of international instruments, tools and initiatives that encourage and facilitate the combating of this destructive activity.

Implementation of FAO’s 2009 Agreement on Port State Measures

In 2009, the FAO Conference approved the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (PSMA). The PSMA aims to prevent fish caught through IUU fishing from entering national and international markets by prohibiting the entry into and use of ports by foreign vessels engaged, or suspected to be engaged, in IUU fishing.

The PSMA entered into force in June 2016 with 30 Parties, including the European Union as one Party representing its member States. The momentum has continued to build since then. As at February 2020, there were 66 Parties to the PSMA.

The first meeting of the Parties to the PSMA was held in May 2017 in Oslo, Norway, and the second meeting in June 2019 in Santiago, Chile. The meetings aimed to advance implementation of the PSMA, and have resulted in the following progress thus far.

Global information exchange system

One of the cornerstones of the PSMA is the swift and efficient exchange of information among Parties on foreign vessels seeking entry into, and using, their designated ports. Information such as whether vessels have ever been denied entry into, or the use of, other ports, their track record of compliance, and outcomes of any inspections conducted, should be shared almost in real time to allow swift detection of IUU fishing activities.

Parties to the PSMA have recognized the importance of access to such basic information in order to fulfil the requirements of the PSMA, and consequently proposed the establishment of a global information exchange system (GIES) to facilitate the sharing of information relevant to the PSMA. The Parties tasked FAO with developing the GIES and established an informal working group to provide guidance on the elaboration of the system.

As a first step to allow the exchange of information among Parties, FAO has developed pilot PSMA applications for States to upload their designated ports and national contact points. As at February 2020, 49 States had uploaded their national contact points, and 39 States had uploaded information on their designated ports. Regarding the development of the future GIES, Parties have agreed that: (i) the GIES should have the ability to connect and complement existing national and regional port State systems already in place, while also providing the option for Parties that do not yet have such a system available to them to access the GIES directly; (ii) active participation by States in the Global Record (see Box 10) is important to maximize the potential of the Global Record to support the functioning of the GIES; and (iii) the GIES should be operational as soon as possible.

Requirements of developing States

Developing States Parties, constituting the majority of Parties to the PSMA, are key to ensuring widespread implementation of the PSMA. In recognition of this, the Parties established a dedicated working group, the Part 6 Working Group, to address the requirements of developing States Parties. Through the Part 6 Working Group, Parties have established an assistance fund for developing States Parties to receive capacity development support for the implementation of the PSMA (Box 11). In addition, the Parties tasked FAO with developing a global portal for capacity development to combat IUU fishing, which will aim to consolidate information on capacity development initiatives worldwide to allow for better coordination and cohesion among actors.

Monitoring and evaluation

Parties have highlighted the need for a process for monitoring and reviewing implementation of the PSMA, especially at this early stage of implementation. Parties adopted a questionnaire to review and assess the effectiveness of the PSMA, with FAO responsible for distributing it to the Parties in mid-2020. The consolidated results of the questionnaire will be presented at the third meeting of the Parties to the PSMA, which is to be held in Brussels, Belgium, in November 2020. This meeting is to have a strong focus on assessing the effectiveness of the Agreement as per Article 24.2 of the PSMA.

Implementation of the PSMA by regional fishery bodies

As highlighted in an email-based survey conducted through the Regional Fishery Body Secretariats Network (RSN) in March 2019, RFBs are playing an important role in the implementation of the PSMA. Nine RFBs, comprising Contracting Parties from 93 coastal States and the European Union, provided input to the survey. Six of the nine RFBs had already adopted conservation management measures (CMMs) concerning port State measures, most of which were identified as either mostly or fully aligned with the PSMA. Five of these six RFBs had also established the mechanisms to monitor compliance with these CMMs. Finally, three of the seven RFBs that have developing State Contracting Parties had also developed capacity-building initiatives and materials to support the implementation of their CMMs related to the PSMA.

Other FAO initiatives
Study on transshipment

Transshipment has become an intensely debated issue as one of the potential loopholes in global fisheries management. Transshipment is widely used in a number of fisheries to reduce operating costs and maximize fishing opportunities. Transshipment operations, particularly those occurring at sea, are difficult to monitor and control. Therefore transhipment can become an entry point for catches originating from IUU fishing activities into the market. The risk of transshipment contributing to IUU fishing is heightened in regions where fisheries governance is weak and the capacity to monitor and control is low.

In 2017, FAO initiated a global review of transshipment regulations, practices and control mechanisms. The study was presented in July 2018 at the Thirty-third Session of COFI, where Members expressed concern about transshipment activities, and called for a further study to support the development of guidelines on best practices for regulating, monitoring and controlling transshipment. Throughout 2019, FAO therefore conducted a global study on transshipment, focusing on collecting more quantitative data and aiming to characterize the different types of practices, economic incentives, patterns, available means of monitoring and control, and areas covered by relevant regulations. Results of the study will be presented at the Thirty-fourth Session of COFI in July 2020.

Estimation of IUU fishing

Establishing a baseline level of IUU fishing is crucial to understanding the effectiveness of measures applied to combating the phenomenon. However, estimating the magnitude of IUU fishing is a complex matter that depends on many factors such as the type of fishery and the availability of information. FAO is working on a suite of documents to guide the methodology of future IUU fishing estimations – to ensure that any estimates are comparable, regardless of who conducted them. The FAO Technical Guidelines for the Estimation of the Magnitude and Impact of IUU Fishing will be composed of six volumes, the first two of which have already been published, with the other four to be published in the coming years.

Marking of fishing gear

The implementation of the recently endorsed Voluntary Guidelines on the Marking of Fishing Gear (see the section Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear) will facilitate the monitoring of fishing gear, tracking who is using it and for what purpose, thus contributing to the fight against IUU fishing.

Global momentum to combat IUU fishing

Global momentum and political will to address and end the devastating impacts of IUU fishing have been mounting in recent years, and there is no doubt that efforts are moving in the right direction to achieve SDG Targets 14.4 and 14.6, even if with some delay.

International forums, associations and conferences are increasingly drawing attention to the need to address and tackle IUU fishing, as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the G20 and the Commonwealth of Nations have recently done through various mechanisms.

States and organizations active in the fight against IUU fishing are increasingly focused on cooperation and collaboration to approach the issue in a holistic and complementary manner. For example, in October 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) joined the Joint FAO/IMO Ad Hoc Working Group on IUU Fishing and Related Matters as a full member.

At a regional level, RFBs, RFMOs and other entities are also moving towards establishing regional cooperation mechanisms, such as regional plans of action (e.g. General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission, Fisheries Committee for the West Central Gulf of Guinea) or informal information-exchange working groups (e.g. Network of Exchange of Information and Experience among Latin American and Caribbean Countries), to combat IUU fishing.

Finally, negotiations are continuing within the WTO for an agreement that would obligate States to prohibit subsidies from being given (or continuing to be given) to persons involved in IUU fishing. However, invoking such a prohibition involves a number of prerequisites, including agreeing on a set of definitions of terms such as “IUU fishing” and the steps or criteria for determining the occurrence of IUU fishing. Agreeing on these definitions and criteria is proving to be a major challenge, but there is hope for consensus.

Product legality and origin

As global demand for fish and fishery products has increased significantly in recent years, so has awareness of the need to ensure that supplies come from operations free of economic, environmental and social issues along the whole fish value chain. Besides the original requirements that seafood traceability was established to address, namely food safety, more attention has focused on the legality aspect of fish and seafood supplies. Concurrently, debate on the utility, costs and benefits of sustainability certification in fisheries and aquaculture has continued, and various improvement programmes have stemmed from concerns over challenges facing developing-country producers in this regard. Another issue linked to product legality is food fraud. While not a new phenomenon, it has come under the spotlight in recent years. Major initiatives are under way in many countries, at both governmental and private-sector levels, to combat food fraud.

Catch documentation schemes (CDSs) are broadly recognized as a useful tool for preventing the entry into the value chain of fish originating from catches inconsistent with applicable measures, with which seafood legality is ensured at the entry point. After the adoption of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes (FAO, 2019b), the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission initiated the process to develop a new CDS. This will be the fourth CDS introduced by an RFMO, after those by the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas, and Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. In the meantime, several market-related measures to combat IUU fishing have been introduced. These include the Catch Certification System of the Republic of Korea (targeting three species), the Seafood Import Monitoring Program of the United States of America, and the CDS of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Other national or regional initiatives are under discussion or development. This demonstrates the global commitment and consensus to combat IUU fishing through multiple approaches. Almost a decade after its introduction, the catch certification regulation of the European Union has evolved into “CATCH”, an electronic CDS that is expected to provide a single database with real-time monitoring of import controls.

Several recent FAO publications explore the roles different national authorities could play to ensure the effectiveness of national seafood traceability, and eventually to support the functionality of CDSs (Hosch, 2018; FAO, 2018c). The Global Dialogue on Seafood Traceability (GDST, 2016) is an industry-led international platform to develop a unified framework for interoperable seafood traceability practices based on four pillars: (i) internationally agreed key data elements; (ii) technical specifications for interoperable traceability systems; (iii) internationally agreed benchmarks for verifying data validity; and (iv) harmonization of business-smart national regulations. Another international initiative, the Seafood Alliance for Legality and Traceability, seeks collaboration and synergy among efforts around seafood traceability.

The debate on sustainability certification has focused more on challenges in developing regions, such as high costs, low incentives, lack of data and poor governance. However, in recent years, the numbers and multiplicity of such schemes have been confusing. The proliferation of rating systems, fishery improvement projects and aquaculture improvement projects has further complicated the picture. Progress towards harmonization is noticeable, as the Global Sustainable Seafood Initiative (GSSI) has successfully recognized nine ecolabels (for both wild-caught and farmed seafood) using its benchmark tools (GSSI, 2019). There is no evidence that sustainability certification will be phased out in the near future, also in view of consumers’ increasing demand for sustainable seafood, and the absence of a better alternative. A significant proportion of global seafood production is not ready to engage with the available sustainability ecolabelling and certification schemes. The GSSI Measuring and Accelerating Performance Program, supported by FAO, is a market-based programme targeting seafood producers currently working towards or not participating in sustainability certification. The programme supports local producers in committing to essential incremental improvements within specific time frames, in conformity with the Code. With market incentives for verified sustainability performance improvements and a lower barrier to entry, the programme has the potential to significantly expand the participation of seafood producers in the improvement and certification process.

The fisheries and aquaculture sector is highly vulnerable to food fraud given the complexity of the sector, the price differential between lookalike species, and the multiplicity of species and their corresponding value chains. Studies in the United States of America and the European Union have shown the seafood sector to be in the top two or three food sectors most vulnerable to fraudulent activity. A recent major coordinated action by the European Commission, INTERPOL and Europol across 11 European countries detected fraudulent practices concerning tuna fish, including species substitution and fraudulently selling tuna intended for canning as fresh tuna. More than 51 tonnes of tuna were seized and 5 criminal cases initiated.

In 2018, an FAO report highlighted how combating fish fraud is a complex task requiring the strengthening of national food regulatory programmes, the development of effective, science-based traceability systems, and improved methods for fish authenticity testing (FAO, 2018d). It also emphasized the need for the fish industry to develop and implement systems for fish-fraud vulnerability assessment in order to identify potential sources of fish fraud within supply chains, and to prioritize control measures to minimize the risk of receiving fraudulent or adulterated raw materials or ingredients.

In 2019, the Codex Committee on Food Import and Export Certification and Inspection Systems established an electronic working group on food fraud with a wide-ranging remit to review existing Codex texts to determine how to progress work in this area.

Building on these initiatives, FAO held a technical workshop on food fraud in Rome in November 2019 to aid the development of a comprehensive approach to tackling food fraud. At the workshop, experts and FAO staff explored the multifaceted aspects of food fraud, and identified key measures, tools and procedures in place to combat food fraud across various value chains. Specifically, the purpose of the workshop was to agree on key elements that contribute to food fraud and to identify the elements, institutions and mechanisms that countries need to put in place in order to effectively address the issue.

Sustainability, tenure, access and user rights

For natural resources such as land, water, forests, fisheries and other aquatic resources in lakes, rivers, and seas, the term “tenure” generally refers to the norms and rules about how people govern, access and use these resources. The term “user” means the person, group of people, or other entities who may be doing these actions. Thus, the topic of tenure and user rights is about who can use these resources, for how long and under what conditions. The governance of tenure and user rights describes whether and how people are able to clarify, acquire and protect rights to use and to manage these resources.

In marine and inland fisheries, the connection between sustainable resource use and secure tenure, user and access rights is widely recognized. There is also increasing acknowledgement that environmental sustainability is intrinsically linked to and dependent on the social and economic sustainability of coastal and inland fisheries communities in the long term. The livelihoods of many, particularly among the rural poor, are based on having secure and equitable access to and management of fisheries and aquaculture resources, as these resources provide shelter and highly nutritious food, underpin social, cultural and religious practices, and are a central factor in equitable economic growth and social cohesion. Therefore, ineffective governance of tenure and user rights that does not consider the need to balance environmental, social and economic sustainability constitutes a major threat to secure livelihoods and the sustainable use of natural resources. Such governance often results in extreme poverty and hunger for communities that depend on these natural resources. Appropriate tenure systems, including clear access and user rights, are thus fundamental elements of securing sustainable fisheries and their contribution to the SDGs.

For centuries, many different tenure systems have existed, supporting different combinations of implicit and explicit social, management and policy objectives, which commonly reflect the three pillars of sustainability: ensuring resource conservation; contributing to social well-being; and generating economic benefits in a context of food security and poverty eradication. These systems range from community, traditional or other groups’ access and use rights, to individual transferable quotas or catch shares, to preferential zones for particular groups such as small-scale fishers. While some systems prioritize economic efficiency among recognized resource users (such as individuals or groups of people), others are inspired by, or bring about the formal recognition of, informal or customary tenure systems.

If properly designed, tenure and user rights systems can secure the activity of historical users and dependent communities, and establish exclusive access to the resource and create the conditions to help avoid overfishing. In doing so, fishing becomes a long-term activity where the resource users are responsible for the future of the sector and play an important role as stewards of the resource. However, as rights are allocated and limited, they also become valuable for stakeholders inside and outside the sector, and this may render the sector subject to investment forces with different objectives from those of historical users and the communities that have relied on the local aquatic resources. Therefore, it is vital to safeguard legitimate tenure rights against transactions that could threaten the livelihoods, food security and nutrition of coastal communities. This consideration is manifest in the Committee on Food Security’s Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems (CFS-RAI), the CFS Voluntary Guidelines for Responsible Governance of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security (VGGT) and in the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines).16

Different ways of recognizing and allocating tenure, user and access rights generate important social, economic and environmental trade-offs. It is vital to understand this point as aquatic resources are gaining attention in national policies for economic development and conservation of natural resources. Competition over resources within the fisheries and aquaculture sector can arise where tenure systems are not clearly defined or not properly enforced. This is, for example, the case where large-scale and small-scale fisheries target the same fish stocks, or where a growing aquaculture industry in freshwater and marine areas claims more space and generates unintended consequences for capture fisheries. Similarly, the expansion of other sectors, such as tourism, urban development, port infrastructure, energy, transport and other industries, in locations where fisheries or aquaculture operations and related activities take place needs careful assessment. Such expansion can generate livelihood opportunities that complement or integrate fisheries activities. More often, however, fisheries and aquaculture activities are not considered and nor are stakeholders consulted, despite the fact that international norms call for their inclusion in decision-making about who is granted tenure and user rights to land, water and aquatic resources, and how. International norms also require consideration of fisheries and aquaculture user rights in relation to spatial conservation measures, in particular, the designation of MPAs. More inclusive approaches and participatory area-based management systems that directly involve coastal communities whose livelihoods depend on fisheries and aquaculture are showing encouraging results for effective conservation measures that balance environmental, social and economic objectives, both within and between economic sectors.

A fundamental condition for ensuring appropriate tenure systems is that all stakeholders involved in the development and implementation process have the necessary capacity to fulfil their respective role in responsible governance. National fisheries administrations should understand the different tenure options and their respective trade-offs. Equally important is the capacity to apply participatory methods to conduct consultations with key actors to identify and operationalize the most appropriate tenure and user rights systems. The effectiveness of a given tenure system depends, to a large extent, on the collective involvement and ownership of the system by the resource users. This can be illustrated by co-management arrangements for locally managed marine areas or the use of spatial solutions such as territorial user rights that are developed with the direct involvement of local communities of resource users.

The Code is the global normative guidance framework that can inspire inclusive and fair tenure systems in support of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture (FAO, 1995). Specifically – anticipating to a certain extent SDG Target 14.b – paragraph 6.18 of the Code says: “States should appropriately protect the rights of fishers and fishworkers, particularly those engaged in subsistence, small-scale and artisanal fisheries, to a secure and just livelihood, as well as preferential access, where appropriate, to traditional fishing grounds and resources in the waters under their national jurisdiction.” Similarly, paragraph 9.1.4 of the Code calls on States to ensure that the livelihoods of local communities, and their access to fishing grounds, are not negatively affected by aquaculture developments. Other relevant paragraphs of the Code state that:

  • fishing communities should also be part of the decision-making processes and involved in other activities related to coastal area management planning and development (10.1.2);

  • institutional and legal frameworks [should] … determine the possible uses of coastal resources and to govern access to them should take into account the rights of coastal fishing communities and their customary practices compatible with sustainable development (10.1.3);

  • States should facilitate the adoption of fisheries practices that avoid conflict among fisheries resources users and between them and other users of the coastal area (10.1.4).

In addition, other related global instruments that serve as guidance frameworks for secure tenure, user and access rights include the ones listed above: the VGGT; the SSF Guidelines; the FAO Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realization of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security; and the CFS-RAI. All these voluntary guidelines support an emerging human rights-based approach that requires, among other things, good governance, participation and consultation, inclusiveness, transparency, redress, etc. Applying these frameworks helps stakeholders to better understand the impacts of different types of tenure and user rights systems – including on the most vulnerable and marginalized – and, hence, supports more informed decision-making.

Additional efforts to better understand and improve secure tenure, user and access rights systems have included FAO conferences and meetings, most recently: Tenure and User Rights in Fisheries 2018: Achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030; and Friends of User Rights 2019 Meeting. FAO is now engaged in a series of regional workshops around the world on fisheries tenure and user rights in response to the call to develop practical guidance on the options and opportunities for fisheries stakeholders to consider when advancing fisheries tenure and user rights, with particular care given to national and regional nuances. It is expected that such guidance will accelerate the uptake and adoption of both the VGGT and SSF Guidelines at the global, regional and local levels, and to support the achievement of the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda is a strong commitment to leave no one behind, and SDG Target 14.b calls specifically for small-scale artisanal fishers to be provided with access to marine resources and markets (Box 12).17 Such access needs to be underpinned by secure tenure and user rights to the aquatic resources that form the basis for social and cultural well-being, livelihoods and sustainable development of communities, including both women and men, that depend on fisheries and aquaculture (Box 13). Advancing knowledge on tenure and user rights is a crucial step for securing sustainability and achieving the objectives of the SDGs. This is true in relation to how the world’s marine and inland capture fisheries, coastal and aquatic spaces are accessed, used and managed. It also holds regarding their interactions with land, water and forest tenure and rights.

Social sustainability along value chains

In the context of the 2030 Agenda, countries have committed to leave no one behind, and here the recognition of human dignity is fundamental. In particular, in regard to SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting job creation are considered effective measures to eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking.

In fisheries and aquaculture, the voices of fishers and fishworkers need to be heard. All over the world, human and labour rights violations and abuses in the sector have been documented, and despite commendable efforts by many governments and the industry, there are still too many cases of unacceptable practices taking place. These occur not only in developing countries but also in the developed world, and at all stages along value chains.

Many operators take their responsibilities seriously and respect both national and international laws and standards. However, far too many cases of unacceptable practices persist, institutional capacity is weak, enforcement non-existent, and the voices of fishers and fishworkers are simply not heard. On a more positive note, growing awareness among countries, consumer groups, retailers and industry itself is forcing change towards higher standards, including through certification and labelling.

Various reports have revealed cases of appalling working conditions within the fisheries sector. Abuses have been reported in fish processing plants and on board fishing vessels, where working conditions are more difficult to monitor. There are strong indications that human trafficking, forced labour and other labour abuses on board fishing vessels are associated with IUU fishing, with migrant workers identified as a particularly vulnerable group.

In recent years, numerous governmental and non-governmental initiatives and participatory multi-stakeholder processes at the national, regional and international level have called for the promotion of decent work, in particular the recognition of human and labour rights throughout fisheries and aquaculture value chains.

FAO’s fisheries and aquaculture mandate

The strategic planning framework of FAO has identified social responsibility as key to eradicating hunger and rural poverty, including in fisheries and aquaculture. In 2016, at the Fifteenth Session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (in Agadir, Morocco), FAO Members highlighted the increasing concern about social and labour conditions in the industry.

In 2017, the Sixteenth Session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (in Busan, the Republic of Korea) welcomed the inclusion of social sustainability on the agenda. Members confirmed the significant importance and relevance of social sustainability issues in value chains, in particular, the recognition and protection of human and labour rights at the national and international levels.

In 2018, the Thirty-third Session of COFI recommended that future guidance on social sustainability be developed in cooperation with relevant stakeholders, including industry and fishworkers associations.

In 2019, the Seventeenth Session of the COFI Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (in Vigo, Spain) re-affirmed the importance of social responsibility in the fisheries and aquaculture sector (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2020). The Sub-Committee noted the work presented by the Secretariat and acknowledged the efforts of FAO for the broad and inclusive consultation process leading to the development of the draft guidance. It was also recommended that the Secretariat develop a scoping paper to further contextualize the issues specific to the fisheries sector, providing a clear outline of the major challenges, and underlining that any guidance should be voluntary and targeting business actors.

FAO’s work on social responsibility

FAO’s Strategic Programme on Rural Poverty Reduction promotes decent work and social protection in agriculture, including a significant range of related activities in the fisheries and aquaculture sector. This work has gained further significance since COFI recognized the linkages between IUU fishing and working conditions. However, to date, there has been no international document focusing specifically on social responsibility in fisheries and aquaculture and covering all the stages in the value chain. As a consequence, COFI has requested that FAO develop a guidance framework, compiling and integrating relevant existing international instruments covering the stages of the fish and seafood value chains where social sustainability play a key role. This document should be based on the international rule of law respecting human rights and principles, and relevant instruments and standards of the ILO.

Since 2014, FAO has organized an annual multi-stakeholder consultation called the Vigo Dialogue on Decent Work in Fisheries and Aquaculture, which reviews different experiences, their challenges and benefits, as well as ways and means of promoting decent employment in fisheries and aquaculture. The consultation aims to discuss labour issues and suggest priority actions for the implementation of relevant international and national legal frameworks and instruments by governments, unions, international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), civil society and industry, among others.

FAO’s work on social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture was scaled up in 2019 when FAO conducted four multi-stakeholders consultations, respectively, in Agadir (Morocco), Brussels (Belgium), Rome (Italy) and Shanghai (China), to share inputs, comments, suggestions and feedback from relevant stakeholders in the sector. More than 154 participants attended, representing trade unions, governments, NGOs, academia, civil society, industry and international organizations.

In addition, for six weeks, the resulting first draft of guidance on social responsibility was open to an online consultation for comments and suggestions. Of the more than 1 000 people invited by FAO to register for the e-consultation, more than 750 comments were received, with the participation of 57 subscribers. The feedback received was reviewed and used to enrich the draft guidance.

Finally, it is worth highlighting that, already in 2016, FAO together with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had developed the OECD–FAO Guidance for Responsible Agricultural Supply Chains to help enterprises observe existing standards for responsible business conduct along agricultural supply chains in order to mitigate adverse impacts and contribute to sustainable development. The OECD–FAO Guidance includes the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the CFS–RAI, and the VGGT.


Work on social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture value chains has become a major focus of the international community and key stakeholders of the fisheries and aquaculture sector. It is central to FAO’s efforts to build consensus around international guidance and provide technical assistance to developing countries, especially the least developed ones, so they can meet modern requirements and their SDG commitments for social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture. This requires resources and international collaboration with the ILO, OECD, RFMOs and other key stakeholders to support FAO in this endeavour.

Responsible fishing practices

Article 8 of the Code sets out the principles for responsible fishing practices. It covers major areas of attention in fishing operations, technology, gear types and their environmental impacts, and the duties of States to ensure that fishing operations are conducted in a responsible manner. However, these aspects need to integrate the latest developments on bycatch and discard reduction, fishing technologies, fisheries finance, safety at sea, social security and decent employment.

Safety at sea

Fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the world, with high accident and fatality rates in most countries. Despite greater awareness and improved practices, the number of accidents and deaths among fishers has risen consistently. This may be partly attributed to the significant increase in the number of people employed in capture fisheries – up from 27 million in 2000 to 40 million in 2016. Although exact figures are unavailable, conservative estimates of fishing fatalities have increased to more than 32 000 people annually. The numbers of fishers injured or suffering from work-related illnesses are much higher. These fatalities and accidents have major impacts on families, crews and communities.

The Fifth International Fishing Industry Safety and Health Conference, held in Canada in 2018, showed that annual rates in the fisheries sector in many developed countries remain above 80 fatalities per 100 000 active fishers. It also reported that the numbers in some developed countries are declining slightly, but very slowly. However, anecdotal evidence from various developing countries indicates that the number of accidents has been increasing and that the issue of safety at sea is being inadequately dealt with. It is essential to fill gaps in information on accidents and fatalities in developing countries and to assess their causes. All stakeholders need to act to address safety at sea as well as occupational health and safety in fish processing and aquaculture. Following the call by COFI in 2018, FAO and partners have supported the development of an accident and fatality reporting system for fisheries in the Caribbean, as well as a capacity-building programme on safety at sea for small-scale fishers there (Box 14). In addition, in close collaboration with the Bay of Bengal Programme Inter-Governmental Organisation, FAO has developed practical manuals on safety at sea for small-scale fishers in South Asia and the Caribbean (FAO, 2019c).

Social security, decent work and the link to IUU fishing

Social protection is a key instrument to address fishers’ specific vulnerabilities and risks. However, as other rural poor, fishers are often neglected by national social protection policies and programmes. In five Mediterranean countries, FAO reviewed small-scale fishers’ access to social protection systems, identifying several success stories, but also areas for improvement (FAO, 2019d). One such area is the collection of data on small-scale fishers, which need to be systemized, including data on the most vulnerable and post-harvest workers. Where programmes to address fishers’ vulnerability exist, coverage could be expanded by facilitating flexible contribution options. Such arrangements should be sensitive to the seasonality of fishing operations and fluctuating incomes of fishers and fishworkers.

Successful cases demonstrate social protection schemes as integral elements of the sector development strategy – linking formalization, fishing licensing and access to market. The review also suggests that fishers’ organizations are key actors for strengthening and complementing state provision of social security.

At the regional level, social protection and decent work have become integral elements of the ten-year Regional Plan of Action for Small-scale Fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Prospective areas of work include analysis to better understand and promote the role of social protection in fisheries management. This will be coupled with continuous advocacy and policy-support work to help countries achieve commitments towards SDG Target 1.3.18

Tackling IUU fishing can also help combat the drivers of substandard working conditions. With overfishing and rising costs in many fishing fleets, many operators have pared labour costs and sacrificed working standards. In supporting the uptake of international standards, FAO and partners organized seminars in Asia, the South West Indian Ocean, and West Africa to promote safety in fisheries and decent work (FAO, 2019e). The meetings led to calls for improved cooperation between safety, labour and fisheries authorities. Other actions called for included preventing labour and human rights abuses in the sector, and greater attention to the specificities of small-scale fishers.

Bycatch and discards

In 2019, FAO published its third assessment of global marine fisheries discards (Pérez Roda et al., 2019), which adopted the “fishery by fishery” approach followed in the second assessment (published in 2005). The new assessment includes, among others: an estimate of annual discards by marine commercial fisheries for the period 2010–14; an evaluation and discussion of bycatch and discards of endangered, threatened and protected species; and a review of current measures for managing bycatch (Box 15) and reduction of discards. It contains two new outcomes on bycatch and discards in global marine capture fisheries:

  • an annual discard quantity of about 9.1 million tonnes (10.1 percent of annual catches), of which 4.2 million tonnes from bottom trawls, 1.0 million tonnes from purse seines, 0.9 million tonnes from midwater trawls, and 0.8 million tonnes from gillnet fisheries;

  • an annual estimate of fisheries interactions with at least 20 million individuals of endangered, threatened and/or protected species.

Assessing progress in reducing discards is a challenge because no coherent time series of discard rates at the global level can be constructed on the basis of the series of FAO assessments. Therefore, it is not possible to estimate temporal trends in discard levels. However, the assessment indicates an increase in reporting of discards by government agencies in the last ten years. This may include country-specific reports, reporting and minimizing discards as required by third-party certification schemes, and the consequential increase in the number and scale of onboard observer and electronic monitoring programmes.

Regarding interactions with endangered, threatened and/or protected species, solid data are lacking for many fisheries and from many parts of the world. Therefore, more effort is needed to better quantify fisheries interactions with such species, and to implement measures to reduce mortality.

In 2018, COFI requested that FAO continue its work on developing best practices for reducing the bycatch of marine mammals in the form of technical guidelines. In September 2019, FAO organized an expert meeting on the matter.

Fishing technologies

Technological developments keep improving efficiency by reducing costs and saving energy. Examples include innovations in propulsion systems, improvements in vessel hull design, reduced use of wooden vessels, and the use of larger vessels. Other technological innovations focus on increasing fishing efficiency and reducing environmental or ecological impacts. Innovations in these fields that are now in widespread use are GPS, fishfinders, seabed mapping technology, fish aggregating devices (including ones that communicate with vessels via satellite), biodegradable and collapsible traps, LED light use in night fishing, bycatch reduction devices, turtle excluder devices, and circle hooks in longline fisheries. In some cases, pelagic fishing has become a highly efficient harvesting sector, with skippers largely able to estimate, when they set out, how much they are likely to catch and where.

Improvements in fishing technology and operations to address resource sustainability include: innovations in gear types to reduce bycatch in trawl fisheries; high-resolution underwater cameras to monitor fish behaviour on the gear; and ways to systematically collect and recycle used fishing gear. However, uptake by small-scale fishers in particular is often slow (FAO, 2019f).

Despite these technological improvements, overcapacity is negatively affecting the profitability of many fishing fleets. Initial findings of FAO’s 2019 techno-economic performance assessment of the world’s main fishing fleets show ageing fleets as lower levels of vessel profitability lead to reduced investment.

Finance and investment

The fisheries sector requires access to financial services (e.g. savings, credit and insurance) and investments to support the transition to more sustainable and responsible fishing, as well as to address climate change adaptation and mitigation. Investment programmes recognize that small-scale fisheries often operate within overfished coastal areas, with open-access regimes. FAO has partnered with the Asia-Pacific Rural and Agricultural Credit Association to build capacity among rural finance institutions on doing business with the fisheries sector and to increase access by small-scale fishers to microfinance, credit and insurance services. Capacity-building programmes and pilot projects in several countries in Asia in 2020 will support the implementation of guidelines developed in 2019 (Grace and van Anrooy, 2019; Tietze and van Anrooy, 2019).

Guidelines and best practices for sustainable aquaculture

Aquaculture is a millennia-old activity that has evolved slowly, often by building on traditional knowledge, advances gained through farmers’ curiosity, needs, positive experience and errors, or cooperation. As a result, it has expanded for centuries, integrated with its natural, social, economic and cultural environments. Major developments in aquaculture have benefited from scientific progress in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The result in terms of growth has been unprecedented, and aquaculture now supplies more than half of the world’s fish for human consumption (Cai and Zhou, 2019). However, there have also been undesirable environmental impacts at the local, regional and global levels. These detrimental effects include social conflicts between users of land and aquatic resources (especially water), and the destruction of important ecosystem services. Moreover, recent aquaculture undertakings have raised concern and societal debate, especially with regard to: poor site selection; habitat destruction (e.g. of mangroves); the use of harmful chemicals and veterinary drugs; the impact of escapees on wild stocks; inefficient or unsustainable production of fishmeal and fish oil; and social and cultural impacts on aquaculture workers and communities.

Although most traditional systems have been viable over a long period, the need to develop and promote sustainable aquaculture practices emerged in the 1990s and has since gained strong momentum. Several approaches have been implemented in this regard:

  • The first such approach has promoted traditional sustainable aquaculture systems by giving them due recognition. One example is the designation Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS), which, for example, has been awarded to China’s rice–fish system and its mulberry–dyke and fish-pond system (FAO, 2019g). Several other countries also promote their own sustainable aquaculture heritage in different ways.

  • Other efforts have privileged the development of codes of practice, codes of conduct, good aquaculture practices, best (or better) management practices, technical guidelines, etc., and their implementation by governments and stakeholders through incentives (subsidies, tax reductions, technical support, research and development, etc.) and enforcing regulations targeting unsustainable practices (strict requirements to obtain permits, regulations banning unsustainable practices, establishment and enforcement of authorized veterinary drugs, etc.). In 1995, FAO adopted the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (the Code) (see the section How has the Code supported the adoption of sustainable practices?), the reference framework for national, regional and international efforts to ensure sustainable production and harvesting of aquatic living resources in harmony with the environment (FAO, 1995). Since 1997, the Code has been enriched by a strategy to improve information on status and trends of aquaculture and several technical guidelines to promote sustainable aquaculture (FAO, 2019h).

  • The expansion of global fisheries and aquaculture trade, at a time of food and consumer protection issues and scares in the 1990s and 2000s, led to the emergence of stricter food laws and regulations, private standards and market-based requirements, initially to tackle food safety issues by promoting good aquaculture practices, and gradually encompassing environmental and social as well as animal well-being considerations.

However, these developments have often ignored the burden for farmers (e.g. cost of certification, technical capacity of the smaller stakeholders, or the need to comply with various competing standards). Moreover, they do not always consider the local specificities of production systems (Mialhe et al., 2018). As a result, inclusive, non-sectoral, participatory and holistic approaches, such as the ecosystem approach to aquaculture, have been promoted in order to re-establish a satisfactory trade-off between the various local and global dimensions of aquaculture sustainability.

Per capita global fish consumption has doubled since the 1960s (FAO, 2018a). In a context of projected global demographic growth and rising incomes, aquaculture production will need to grow in the coming decades, while at the same time comply with the 2030 Agenda. This requires the adoption of new and more sustainable fish production systems.

To date, various policies and technologies have been implemented in several countries in support of sustainable and resilient aquaculture. These include technology-intensive innovations such as aquaponics or integrated aquaculture, and raceways-in-ponds technologies, but also innovative governance, policies for decent work, gender equity, certification and many other commendable practices (Box 16). The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture (of COFI) called for the identification of such initiatives and their documentation and compilation into guidelines. The aim is to help countries improve implementation of the Code, while engaging and enabling their aquaculture sector to effectively participate in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2018; FAO, 2019i).

The Sustainable Aquaculture Guidelines (SAG), which target primarily policymakers, will be developed by making use of, and sharing the lessons learned from, various case studies selected in different regions. In parallel, existing guidelines will be reviewed during regional consultations in order to identify the gaps to be filled, and the updates needed, as well as the specific constraints, needs and expectations of Members. The SAG will consist of three main components (Figure 45):

  1. Possible pathways towards successful implementation of sustainable aquaculture in different regional contexts, based on case studies of accomplishments in similar settings or regions.

  2. A series of practical thematic modules that will represent the core of the SAG. They will describe the rationale and attributes for approaches and practices on specific topics, the existing guidelines and practices, and the key recommendations for successful implementation and capacity development, based on the achievements and difficulties highlighted by case studies. They will be comprehensive and practical. They will cover both the aquaculture farms and their wider environments (i.e. at the sector, value chain, landscape, territory, country or region levels). At the farm level, the thematic modules will focus on: the impact of fish farming (zoning, site selection, area management, environmental impact assessment, risk assessment and mitigation measures); farm operation and business management (biosecurity and aquatic health management engineering or rehabilitation, food safety and quality management, animal well-being, decent and safe work); and special aquaculture operations (aquaculture-based fisheries, capture-based aquaculture, offshore and high seas aquaculture, etc.). Beyond the farmgate, they will focus on: market access; governance; gender; sector and value chain performance; specific capacity of the State in monitoring the sustainable development of the sector; integration; synergies and trade-offs between aquaculture, surrounding ecosystems and other stakeholders (small-scale fisheries, tourism, and shipping); data and statistics; communication and knowledge exchange; and resource sharing.

  3. A series of case studies describing the process, the accomplishment and the constraints, to illustrate the possible pathways and thematic fact sheets.


The methodology for development of the SAG was discussed at an expert consultation held in Rome in June 2019 and presented at the tenth session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture in August 2019. The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture welcomed the work proposed and expressed its full support, requesting Members to contribute their experiences. For this, a regional consultation took place in Bamako, Mali, in December 2019, and further consultations will be organized in Asia and Latin America in 2020. The Sub-Committee on Aquaculture also underlined the need to develop guidelines covering all aspects of aquaculture and applicable to large-, medium- and small-scale farms. It further recommended that the SAG be a dynamic document, regularly revised.

Reporting on fisheries and aquaculture sustainability

Fisheries, aquaculture and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

2030 Agenda

Sustainable development presents an international challenge that will require consistent, coherent and effective cooperation among countries and institutions. To this end, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) was adopted in 2015. The 2030 Agenda builds on the foundations of the Millennium Development Goals and provides a comprehensive set of objectives by which businesses, governments and individuals may focus their efforts for the betterment of society. The objectives are built on 17 wide-ranging SDGs, which, among other objectives, aim to end all forms of poverty, reduce inequality and tackle climate change. Inclusive development is at the heart of all policies. The targets are highly interlinked, such that progress in one area will aid the achievement of other objectives and bring benefits for society as a whole. Having a quantifiable and agreed-upon set of targets allows individual countries, subnational entities and other bodies to formulate policy and assistance in a focused, coordinated and effective manner. As part of this process, gender and social equality should be addressed, while also providing opportunities to improve the standard of nutrition and secure sustainable livelihoods for those most in need.

Sustainable Development Goals

In the context of fisheries and aquaculture, the SDGs promote environmentally and socially sustainable production systems. In principle, this promotes a fair and just way of meeting the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. Fisheries and aquaculture are central to the achievement of food security, and economic, social and environmental goals. Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) has clear and important implications for fisheries and aquaculture; by extension, achievement of its objective will bring progress across other SDG objectives. Enhanced fisheries management, policy, practices and technology are pivotal in providing quality food to ever-more people while ensuring that practices are ethical and sustainable. The challenges are many, especially improving data collection, protecting threatened species, preventing IUU fishing, sustaining MPAs and ensuring social sustainability in the value chain. FAO-led initiatives have laid the foundations for progress in many aspects pertinent to fisheries and aquaculture through, among others, implementation of the Code, PSMA and SSF Guidelines. Measurable outputs that should result from implementing the SDGs include improving livelihoods and achieving greater equality, while preserving natural resources, and directing policies, programmes, partnerships and investments.

The comprehensiveness of the SDGs reflects the extent of the challenge faced, and provides a road map to enable development that is socially, environmentally and economically sustainable and inclusive.

Food security goals

The framework of SDG 2 balances food security concerns with sustainability considerations, seeking to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.” The underlying issues threatening food and nutrition security are often complex and continue to present challenges for development. It is estimated that 821 million people, 1 out of 9 people in the world, were undernourished in 2018. Having been on a declining trend for many years, this figure been rising since 2014. The need for sustainable and resilient food systems is increasingly apparent. The fisheries and aquaculture sector offers unique opportunities to support all four pillars of food security, namely: availability, access, utilization and stability. Efforts are under way to increase fish availability and consumption, and thereby contribute to the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. Fish consumption levels continue to rise, feeding billions of people and helping to ensure that diets are nutritious. Fish often provides a cheap and nutritious source of protein rich in essential amino acids and it is an important source of essential micronutrients, necessary for healthy diets. This is particularly true for isolated communities that rely on small-scale and artisanal fisheries and aquaculture, where fish is a central part of the diet. With proper management, fisheries and aquaculture provide a resilient, high-quality and sustainable component of nutrition.

Economic goals

The SDGs promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth that is able to guarantee decent employment and reduce social and gender inequality. The fisheries and aquaculture sector encompasses numerous opportunities to enable sustainable development and income enhancement, especially in the achievement of SDG 1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere) and SDG 8 (Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all). The fisheries and aquaculture value chain extends from harvesting through to processing and marketing. The sector provides income and employment for an estimated 250 million people and, as a consequence, it is central for ensuring the livelihoods of a substantial proportion of the world’s population. This is particularly relevant in developing countries. In some instances, small-scale and subsistence fisheries may provide the principle source of income for entire communities, providing economic resilience where often sources of alternative employment are limited or non-existent.

Social sustainability goals

Social sustainability, non-discrimination, gender equality and shared growth are key focuses of the SDGs, with the objective of ensuring the widest distribution of benefits from natural resources and their use. The SDGs aim to nurture broad development and engender wider social inclusiveness and stability. As part of this process, efforts to empower organizations that support the development of fishing and aquaculture communities and fish processors are key areas of focus. The fostering of social sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture may serve as a catalyst for improving equality within society as a whole by promoting gender equality, securing workers’ rights, enacting social protection schemes and reducing social inequalities overall. A particular focus is the empowerment of women through SDG 5 (Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls), especially in the marketing of fish and the post-harvest processing of fisheries products, where women make up the majority of the workforce. In many less-developed communities that depend on fisheries and aquaculture, improving conditions and equality along the value chain will have wide-ranging benefits for society as whole and help to ensure that the benefits of development are felt by all.

Environmental goals

The use of natural resources and the principles of sustainable food systems permeate all of the SDGs, being particularly pertinent to SDG 12 (Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns) and SDG 13 (Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts). The output of fisheries and aquaculture produces lower greenhouse emissions for the equivalent nutrition than do most agricultural food systems. At the same time, there are environmental challenges relating to fisheries management, climate change and preventing illegal exploitation. Properly managed fisheries combined with aquaculture practices that foster the sustainable use of resources while preserving aquatic biodiversity are needed to ensure the future of the sector. The role of new technologies in minimizing food loss and waste across the fish value chain will allow for the more efficient use of resources, and move towards more complete utilization of fish, thereby reducing the need to extract further resources. This includes the transformation into valuable and nutritious goods of that part of the harvest that would otherwise be wasted. Robust fisheries management, more efficient transport and greater waste reclamation must all play a part in reducing post-harvest losses and limiting the environmental effects of the sector.

Sustainable Development Goal 14

Fisheries and aquaculture are integral to sustainable development and have a key role to play in achieving the objectives set out by the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development) has clear implications for marine fisheries and aquaculture, providing actionable objectives that require international collaboration. The strong linkages that exist between the SDGs mean that achieving the targets set out in SDG 14 will have positive knock-on effects that are felt across society, and that achieving SDG 14 will be dependent on good progress being made towards the other closely related SDGs. The ten targets of SDG 14 are wide-ranging and diverse, addressing fundamental issues for healthy, sustainable economies. FAO is the custodian agency for the implementation and monitoring of four targets: end overfishing; curtail harmful subsidies; increase economic benefits from sustainable fisheries; and ensure access to resources and markets for small-scale fishers. The work of FAO has high relevance to successfully achieving SDG 14, which also includes targets to reduce marine pollution, protect aquatic ecosystems, minimize ocean acidification, develop scientific capacity relevant to fisheries, and improve the implementation of international law pertinent to the sustainable use of oceans.

Stock sustainability

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Indicator 14.4.1, for which FAO is the custodian United Nations agency, measures the proportion of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels (see the section The status of fishery resources, and Box 4). A fish stock whose abundance (total number or biomass of all the fishes that constitute a stock) is at or greater than the level that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) is classified as biologically sustainable. In contrast, when abundance falls below the MSY level, the stock is considered biologically unsustainable.

To calculate this proportion, it is necessary to establish a reference list of stocks, and to assess the status of each stock using agreed methodologies. In ideal circumstances, a stock assessment would be conducted to diagnose the current status of all stocks in the reference list. However, reliable stock assessment requires catch statistics data as well as fishing effort data, life-history parameters of fish stocks, and technical parameters of fishing vessels, which in many cases are not available. Moreover, stock assessment requires numerical modelling skills. As a result, today only about 25 percent of the global catch comes from numerically assessed stocks. Estimating the status of the large number of unassessed stocks is a highly challenging task, but one that is necessary in order to significantly increase the volume of stocks for which estimates of status are known. For implementation of SDG Indicator 14.4.1, FAO has worked to develop new methods that are applicable to data-limited and capacity-poor fisheries, while maintaining current methodologies for assessed stocks. Below is a summary of FAO’s plan for country-level assessment and reporting.

Target and current status for SDG Indicator 14.4.1

FAO has been monitoring the state of the world’s fishery stocks since 1974, classifying about 445 stocks every 2–3 years. The species that have been assessed account for about 75 percent of global catch, and thus provide a comprehensive overview of global sustainability status. For some species, different types of data exist, whereas for others, little information apart from catch statistics is available. To balance the goals of using the best available data and assessing stock status worldwide, FAO uses various methods ranging from recognized model-based assessment to surrogate measures of abundance supplemented by expert opinions.

FAO’s current assessment is carried out based on FAO statistical areas, rather than by country, and classifies fish stocks into three categories: underfished, maximally sustainably fished, and overfished. Overfished stocks are considered biologically unsustainable, while both underfished and maximally sustainably fished stocks are considered biologically sustainable. The percentage of biologically sustainable stocks is used as SDG Indicator 14.4.1.

FAO’s global assessment results are published biennially in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture. The percentage of biologically sustainable stocks was used as an indicator for the United Nations Millennium Development Goal 7 – Sustainable Environment, and is now used for SDG Indicator 14.4.1 and the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Target 6. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 has set a target of 100 percent of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels by 2020. The latest assessment shows that SDG Indicator 14.4.1 decreased from about 90 percent in 1973 to 67 percent in 2017. This continuous decrease indicates that the 2020 target is unlikely to be achieved because: (i) the indicator is moving further away from the target; and (ii) no matter what measures are taken before 2020, not all fish stocks can be rebuilt to the MSY level within such a short period. A fish stock usually needs 2–3 times its lifespan for management regulations to turn into effective results in stock abundance. For long-lived species such as blue shark (Prionace glauca) and shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus), it may take dozens of years, especially under unfavourable environmental circumstances.

FAO’s effort to facilitate implementation of SDG Indicator 14.4.1
Development of methodologies

The SDGs are country-led and country-owned. To implement SDG Indicator 14.4.1, a country-level assessment is needed. However, up to 80 percent the world’s fish stocks are unassessed (Costello et al., 2012) owing to insufficient data and limited capacity, particularly in developing countries. In order to make SDG Indicator 14.4.1 meaningful, it must include data-poor stocks that make a significant contribution to fisheries, in addition to the small number of assessed stocks of high landings for which there is ample information. However, there is no commonly accepted method for assessing data-poor fisheries. To carry out a country-level assessment, it is necessary to develop a new method that will work fairly well with limited data and require less technical capacity.

In the past decade, FAO has invested a great deal of human and financial resources in developing new methods in pursuit of increased coverage of its assessment and monitoring of global fish stocks. Although a universally applicable, reliable method has not yet appeared, cumulative progress and achievements have led to the stage that a potential method is emerging. FAO is now collaborating with institutions to produce such a new method, which should be ready for testing by 2020.

E-learning course

An e-learning course developed by FAO is part of a series on the framework, methodologies, estimation and reporting of the SDG indicators. It aims to support countries in the collection and analysis of statistical information for SDG Indicator 14.4.1.

The course targets individuals who play a role in the monitoring of and reporting on the indicator, including policymakers, national experts and professionals working in national statistical offices, institutions and bodies designated for the estimation and reporting of SDG Indicator 14.4.1. It may also be of interest to professionals in FAO and other international and national agencies responsible for providing support at the country level, as well as to universities and research institutions.

The e-learning course consists of five chapters:

  1. General introduction on SDG Indicator 14.4.1.

  2. Concepts and process behind the estimations of the indicator.

  3. Estimation of the indicator from classic stock assessment outputs.

  4. Estimation of the indicator from data-limited methods.

  5. Guidelines for national monitoring and reporting.

Considering the needs of capacity-limited countries, a virtual research environment has been developed to facilitate the application of the data-poor stock assessment methods discussed in Chapter 4. Data can be uploaded and a few simple methods can be run online (iMarine, 2019b). With the outputs, stock status can be determined to help with the estimation and reporting of the indicator. However, these methods have limitations and should be used with caution. The data-poor method through the virtual research environment will be updated periodically.

Progress in implementing international instruments to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems, undermining efforts to manage fisheries sustainably and to conserve marine biodiversity (see the section Combating illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing). Fisheries resources are frequently poached, often leading to the collapse of local fisheries, with fisheries in developing countries proving particularly vulnerable. Products derived from IUU fishing can find their way into overseas trade markets, thus throttling the local food supply. In short, IUU fishing threatens livelihoods, exacerbates poverty, and augments food insecurity.

In order to eliminate IUU fishing, various international instruments have been developed. They cover the responsibilities of flag, coastal, port and market States. Together, these instruments comprise a powerful suite of tools to combat IUU fishing. Following the entry into force of the PSMA in June 2016 (see the section How has the Code supported the adoption of sustainable practices?), the first international binding agreement developed expressly to combat IUU fishing, FAO has stepped up its capacity development efforts to assist developing countries in their implementation of the PSMA and complementary international instruments and regional mechanisms to combat IUU fishing.

Progress by countries in implementing international instruments to combat IUU fishing is measured under SDG Indicator 14.6.1. The methodology for this indicator was approved in April 2018 by the Inter-agency and Expert Group on SDG Indicators. It is based upon responses by States to the FAO Questionnaire on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Related Instruments (see the section Progress on the road to sustainability). The indicator is comprised of five variables, each of which has been assigned a weighting depending on its importance in eliminating IUU fishing, while taking into consideration areas of overlap between certain instruments. The five variables are:

  • adherence and implementation of UNCLOS (10 percent);

  • adherence and implementation of the United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement (10 percent);

  • development and implementation of a national plan of action to combat IUU fishing in line with the International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (30 percent);

  • adherence and implementation of the PSMA (30 percent);

  • implementation of flag State responsibilities in the context of the Compliance Agreement and the Voluntary Guidelines for Flag State Performance (20 percent).

The indicator assesses the level of implementation for each variable with regard to policy, legislation, institutional framework, and operations and procedures. Responses by countries to questions relevant to each variable within the questionnaire are used to calculate a score for this indicator. These scores are then converted into bands, assigning the States a level of implementation from 1, the lowest level of implementation, to 5, the highest. Indicator scores will be available every two years, after each edition of the questionnaire.

As shown in Figure 46, after the first reporting period for this indicator in 2018, globally, a medium level of implementation of international instruments applicable to combating IUU fishing has been reached. Regionally, figures suggest that Europe, North America, and Australia and New Zealand have registered the highest level of implementation. Conversely, the lowest levels of implementation have been in Latin America and the Caribbean, Eastern and South-Eastern Asia, and Northern Africa and Western Asia, all registering a medium level of implementation. Small island developing States (SIDS), faced with particular challenges in fully implementing these instruments due to their large EEZs, also registered a medium level of implementation. The same level of implementation was found in least developed countries.


Since the coming into force of the PSMA, the number of parties to the agreement has rapidly increased and, as at February 2020, it stood at 65 States and 1 Member Organization (the European Union, representing its member States). While this confirms the global commitment of States to combating IUU fishing (as reflected by the 2018 scores relating to SDG Indicator 14.6.1), further efforts need to be made towards the implementation of these instruments.

Further to the implementation of these instruments, transshipment has become an intensely debated issue as a potential loophole in global fisheries management. At its Thirty-third Session, COFI expressed its concern about transshipment activities, and called for an in-depth study to support the development of guidelines on best practices for regulating, monitoring and controlling transshipment. These would become a further instrument to support countries in combating IUU fishing. In addition, FAO is continually developing new tools, such as the PSMA Global Information Exchange System, and improving existing ones, such as the Global Record of Fishing Vessels, Refrigerated Transport Vessels and Supply Vessels, in an effort to support countries in eliminating IUU fishing.

Providing access for small-scale fishers to marine resources and markets

Small-scale fisheries contribute about half of global fish catches and employ more than 90 percent of people employed in fisheries, about half of them women (mainly engaged in marketing and processing, for an example, see Box 2). An estimated 97 percent of all these fishworkers live in developing countries, with many small-scale fishing communities experiencing high levels of poverty and being overlooked with regard both to resource management and from a broader social and economic development perspective.

Target 14.b of the 2030 Agenda – provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets – recognizes the importance of addressing the challenges facing small-scale fisheries. Access to marine resources and space is often challenged by: growing competition from marine aquaculture; different fleet segments targeting the same stocks and operating in the same space; and conservation measures such as MPAs. Other sectors with higher economic importance, such as tourism, energy exploitation and marine transport, are expanding in the space in which small-scale fisheries are operating. The direct participation of small-scale fishers in fisheries management, through co-management arrangements, is key to providing access to marine living aquatic resources. The evolving paradigm of blue economy / blue growth needs to address these challenges to ensure inclusive development for all.

Regarding market access, better opportunities for small-scale fishers and their products do exist. Approaches and tools are available to overcome issues, such as compliance with food safety regulations, the lack of appropriate technology, such as improved processing, information and communication technology, and low levels of organizational capacity, to ensure small-scale fisheries actors benefit fully from access to lucrative markets. Key tools to help achieve SDG Target 14.b are: capacity development of fishers and fishworkers, including for women engaged in post-harvest activities; technical assistance; and information dissemination regarding market access requirements and markets. Box 17 provides an example of a regional effort in the Maghreb in support of small-scale fisheries.

This requires a regulatory framework and an enabling environment that recognize and protect small-scale fishers’ rights to access fisheries resources and build their capacity to access markets. Such an enabling environment has three key features:

  • appropriate legal, regulatory and policy frameworks;

  • specific initiatives to support small-scale fisheries;

  • related institutional mechanisms that allow for the participation of small-scale fisheries organizations in management and related processes.

SDG Indicator 14.b.1 (Progress by countries in the degree of application of a legal/regulatory/policy/institutional framework that recognizes and protects access rights for small-scale fishers) is a tool for countries to track progress towards SDG Target 14.b. It is based on three questions of the FAO Questionnaire on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and Related Instruments that Members and RFBs complete every two years (see the section Progress on the road to sustainability). The three questionnaire questions used for SDG Indicator 14.b.1 reporting are proxies for capturing efforts to promote and facilitate access rights for small-scale fishers. More specifically, they relate to:

  • laws, regulations, policies, plans or strategies that target or address the small-scale fisheries sector;

  • ongoing initiatives to implement the SSF Guidelines;

  • mechanisms through which small-scale fishers and fishworkers contribute to decision-making processes.

Figure 47 summarizes results of reporting against these three questions in 2018 at the regional level.


As custodian agency for SDG Indicator 14.b.1, FAO is assisting Members and other partners to better understand, monitor and report on SDG Target 14.b (FAO, 2019j). An e-learning course is available online in six languages and has been used in two workshops, one at the global level in 2017 and one for the Pacific region in 2019. One outcome of the latter was the recognition that the region has a number of relevant frameworks, in particular the New Song (the Noumea Strategy, 2015) for Coastal Fisheries, for which information is regularly collected (Pacific Community, 2019). Thus, there is an opportunity to strengthen synergies between the New Song and SDG Indicator 14.b.1 reporting process.

The workshops concluded that there is a need for a participatory approach to finding information at the national level to be able to respond to the questionnaire in a responsible manner. There are many sources of information at different scales, and the information collection process should be multidisciplinary and use a bottom-up approach where local stakeholders’ information and knowledge are collected and aggregated at the national level for reporting. There was a call to support small-scale fisheries organizations and platforms to allow for their effective participation in the processes. Ensuring efficient communication between those in charge of responding to the questionnaire and national SDG focal points was also identified as a priority. Moreover, development partners, such as NGOs, should be consulted along with communities and small-scale fisheries actors; and regional organizations also have a role in facilitating data collection efforts for reporting on SDG Indicator 14.b.1.

The workshops revealed that the reporting process is helpful in understanding needs and opportunities for moving towards securing sustainable small-scale fisheries, and identifying actions and processes for implementing the SSF Guidelines. The SSF Guidelines provide a framework for action towards achieving SDG Target 14.b, in particular, Chapter 5 (Governance of tenure in small-scale fisheries and resource management), and Chapter 7 (Value chains, post-harvest and trade) (Figure 48).


An analysis of the voluntary commitments made at the high-level United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of SDG 14 in June 2017 revealed that 278 commitments for SDG Target 14.b had been submitted by a wide variety of stakeholders (United Nations, 2019a). The commitments covered issues such as: community empowerment in managing marine resources; improving access to coastal fishing grounds; improving human and institutional capacity; and transfer of fishing technologies. Access to markets generally included actions such as improving traceability, certification and ecolabelling as well as access to market-based instruments, and related capacity building for fishing communities. Moreover, the 3rd World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress, organized by the research network Too Big To Ignore in Thailand in October 2018 (Ramírez Luna, Kereži and Saldaña, 2018), also discussed SDG Target 14.b.

The declaration by the United Nations General Assembly of 2022 as the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture (see Box 12) will provide an important milestone to assess progress towards achieving SDG Target 14.b, and to share related good practices around the world.

Economic benefits from sustainable fisheries

Under the SDGs, SDG Target 14.7 is defined (United Nations, 2019b) thus: “By 2030, increase the economic benefits to small island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.” Its related indicator, SDG Indicator 14.7.1, is defined thus: “Sustainable fisheries as a percentage of GDP in small island developing States, least developed countries and all countries.”

In 2019, FAO developed a methodology for SDG Indicator 14.7.1 that monitors the economic contribution of fisheries to national economies by calculating sustainable fisheries as a percentage of GDP.

During the development of the methodology, many countries endorsed this role of promoting the importance of the fisheries sector in the economy. Given the global nature of the SDGs, SDG Indicator 14.7.1 was developed to be applicable to as many countries as possible with minimal additional reporting requirements for countries while still using internationally accepted inputs for all aspects of its calculation.

FAO’s methodology for SDG Indicator 14.7.1 focuses only on the sustainable use of marine resources by fisheries. The methodology is built on three main inputs, which are all internationally recognized standards: GDP, value added to fisheries, and biological sustainability of fish stocks.

Gross domestic product is primarily a monetary and central measure for the value of final goods and services produced by a country. It has been recognized by international agencies, policymakers and public bodies, among others. When examining the value of goods and services produced by a specific sector, such as fisheries, the value added gives a representative figure for the size of an industry within a country’s economy.

Regarding the biological sustainability of fish stocks, FAO has been estimating the status and trends of fish stocks since 1974, currently covering 584 fish stocks around the world19 (representing 70 percent of global landings; see the section The status of fishery resources). In addition, these assessments for each FAO major marine fishing area have laid solid foundations for the estimation of the sustainability multiplier – an important parameter for SDG Indicator 14.7.1.

The indicator measures the value added of sustainable marine capture fisheries as a proportion of GDP. For each country, the sustainability multiplier will be the average sustainability weighted by the proportion of the quantity of marine capture for each respective fishing area in which the country performs fishing activities. When a country fishes in only one FAO fishing area, its sustainability multiplier will be equal to the average sustainability of stocks in that area.

At the country level, the percentage contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to GDP20 is estimated by simply dividing the value added of fisheries and aquaculture by national GDP. In order to disaggregate for the value added of marine capture fisheries and the value added of aquaculture, the quantity of fish produced from marine capture fisheries will be divided by the total quantity21 of national production of fish, and then multiplied by the percentage of GDP from fisheries and aquaculture.

Subsequently, the value added of marine capture fisheries will be adjusted by the aforementioned sustainability multiplier to obtain the value for sustainable marine capture fisheries as a percentage of GDP.

Mathematically, the contribution of sustainable marine capture fisheries to a country’s GDP is calculated as follows:

  • SuGDPF: GDP from sustainable marine capture fisheries;

  • Si: average sustainability published periodically for FAO major marine fishing area i;

  • Qi: quantity fished from FAO major marine fishing area i;

  • QN: total quantity fished from FAO major marine fishing areas;

  • QM: quantity of marine capture fisheries;

  • QT: total quantity of fish;

  • VAFIA: value added fisheries and aquaculture;

  • GDP: national GDP.

An indicator monitoring the economic contribution of sustainable fisheries promotes the real importance of fisheries in the national economy of countries, supporting a more balanced allocation of resources that may benefit the sector.

The current framework established by FAO for SDG Indicator 14.7.1 can provide a robust and internationally applicable measure for the economic contribution of sustainable marine capture fisheries. It provides policymakers and the public at large with an analysis interconnecting the sector with the main pillars of the SDGs and promoting the sustainable use of the resources and sustainable economic activities.

The most recent data available for SDG Indicator 14.7.1 show that, for many regions of the world, the share of sustainable fisheries has been increasing, associated with improved fisheries management policies. Least developed countries and SIDS have been reporting steady contributions of sustainable fisheries to their GDP since 2011.

Fisheries and aquaculture sustainability in context

Mainstreaming biodiversity in fisheries and aquaculture

Why mainstream biodiversity in the fisheries and aquaculture sector

Biological diversity, also called biodiversity, is the variability of life forms at all levels of biological systems – from the ecosystem down to the molecular level. Marine and freshwater biodiversity directly and indirectly supports food security, nutrition and livelihoods that are essential for millions of people around the world (FAO, 2018a). Importantly, it provides a primary source of essential nutrients for poorer communities (see the section Fish in food systems). Maintaining the health of aquatic ecosystems is vital in order to meet the nutritional needs of a growing global population in a sustainable way.

Capture fisheries are unique food production systems, as they are the only large-scale food sector that relies fully on wild biodiversity. In addition, species are harvested with minimal physical or chemical modification of the ecosystem. Despite fisheries and aquaculture not being reliant on wholescale environmental change, fished species depend on, or support, a number of other species and habitats, as components of complex human–natural systems.

By its very nature, fishing activity affects the abundance of targeted fish populations and can have impacts on the status of associated or dependent species. The unsustainable use of fisheries resources damages their capacity for self-renewal and comes at the expense of ecosystem health and biodiversity conservation (Box 18). Overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and heat-related climate change events, among other anthropogenic pressures, put at risk prospects for food security and nutrition, and resilient livelihoods in the longer term – ecosystem services can be valued at more than the equivalent annual global domestic product of the world’s economies (Costanza et al., 2017).

In fisheries and aquaculture, the consideration of the impacts of harvests and culture of fish on natural environments has been increasing over time. This has resulted in more broadly focused, science-based governance approaches that have evolved and expanded the concept of natural resource management to include more integrated operational paradigms – management that recognizes biodiversity as indispensable for sustainable production (Friedman, Garcia and Rice, 2018; Brugère et al., 2018). This consideration of biodiversity in fisheries and aquaculture management is being progressively and interactively implemented across national, regional and international management authorities, and through cooperation and collaborations defined by multilateral agreements and treaties.

How to mainstream biodiversity – multilateral agreements

The international community is responding to increasing concern about degradation of marine and freshwater ecosystems by working at international, regional, national and local scales on actions to conserve or restore biodiversity. Multilateral agreements are being negotiated to strengthen policies and practice, considering the needs of biodiversity as a core element of sustainable use. The aim of these agreements is to maintain productivity and resilience across aquatic systems through pre-empting and countering biodiversity loss.

A prominent example of the recognition of biodiversity’s essential role in sustainable use can be seen both directly and indirectly in several of the SDGs – especially SDG 14. FAO’s guidance to countries on how to meet the SDGs, includes “mainstream biodiversity and protect ecosystem functions” as a foundational principle for sustainable food production (FAO, 2018e).

To support its Members, FAO is assisting a range of aquatic-related global policy forums relevant to the mainstreaming of biodiversity. Five exemplars are: (i) the establishment of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework; (ii) negotiations on an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction; (iii) the listing of species, as appropriate, and implementation of designated conservation actions under the appendices of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES); (iv) the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); and (v) the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention) – this an example of approaches that elevate the level of management across ecosystems. A summary explanation of activity for each of these, including its relevance to the fisheries and aquaculture sector, is provided below.

Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) continue to promote “mainstreaming of biodiversity for well-being”, the theme of the CBD 2016 global conference. As the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and its 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets are renewed, the establishment of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will set a new transformational vision for the delivery of biodiversity mainstreaming, including for “sustainable use”. Such goals have the opportunity to strengthen coherence of policy and practice in the delivery of both biodiversity conservation and fishery outcomes if they are well crafted. Therefore, it is important to define biodiversity conservation goals that both engage use sectors such as fisheries and aquaculture, and that target species-rich environments where human pressures are greatest. Such well-crafted objective-setting can focus the attention of international financing mechanisms, and engender and strengthen cross-sectoral support for actions that contribute to conserving biodiversity.

At the same time, the global community is looking at strengthening management of living resources in the deep ocean (seabed and waterbody beyond the continental shelf and States’ EEZ). In this case, a series of intergovernmental conferences has been convened to put in place an international legally binding instrument focused on this biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.22 This process responds to new understanding of life in the deep ocean, and to the need for governments and international organizations to ensure sustainable and equitable use of those renewable resources. The negotiations include elements on how to assess impacts from the use of these genetic resources, spatial management of any use of the resources, and capacity building and marine technology transfer. Considering access and use of marine genetic resources, the discussion also considers how and whether benefit sharing from the commercialization of these resources will happen (see the section An aquatic genetic resources information system to support sustainable growth in aquaculture).

A fundamental requirement for productive fisheries is maintenance of the biodiversity that offers natural systems resilience against changing conditions. Although species extinction in the oceans is markedly lower than on land (McCauley, 2015), extra-ordinary management responses, often involving a broadened range of governance actors, are being put in place to recover productivity of many ocean areas by reversing marked depletions of fish stocks. Recognizing that stocks become depleted for a range of reasons, the fisheries sector as a whole is working on reversing overfishing on target stocks and fisheries impacts on non-commercially fished species (Garcia et al., 2018). Both CITES and the CMS promote a diverse array of policy positions related to sustainable use and conservation of vulnerable and threatened species. Within the context of these two conventions, marine and freshwater species can be listed on their appendices at the will of treaty Parties, triggering increased regulation of take of or/and trade in those species. Given that status information and advice on species proposed for listing is of varied quality (Friedman et al., 2020) and that countries have reported ongoing challenges in maintaining legal trade of species once they are listed in CITES Appendix II (Friedman et al., 2018), FAO supports this process through convening an expert group that provides status information on the species proposed for listing (i.e. expert advice on whether species meet the established listing criteria). FAO also promotes best practice management advice for recovery of species already accepted onto convention appendices.

Other multilateral conventions approach biodiversity conservation at a larger scale than species. The Ramsar Convention, as the World Heritage Convention, facilitates conservation of biodiversity in locations of conservation concern – referred to as sites (Ramsar Regional Center – East Asia, 2017). The Ramsar Convention includes various measures to respond to threats to the ecological character of sites, where specific iconic species or more general aquatic biodiversity of conservation interest is found, or where fishery and/or sociocultural qualities are of global importance. The conservation and wise use of such biodiverse wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation contributes towards achieving sustainable development of freshwater and coastal systems (for example, Fiji designated Qoliqoli Cokovata [Ramsar Site no. 2331], which covers coastal fishing grounds on Fiji’s second-largest island), and presents opportunities to conserve and enhance aquatic biodiversity in managed agricultural ecosystems.

Analogous species- and area-based conservation is ongoing within RFMO/As, which may have mandates that cover waters both within and beyond national jurisdiction.23 Specific to the deep seas, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a series of resolutions24 calling on high seas fishing nations to take urgent action to protect VMEs from destructive fishing practices. Several RFMO/As and regional environmental authorities (regional seas organizations and conventions) are working together to incorporate explicit benchmarks for the conservation of this biodiversity, benchmarks that reflect the more decisive commitment of capture fisheries to address ecosystem and biodiversity considerations across its activities (CBD, 2018). While RFMOs have made significant progress, it is recognized that capacity strengthening is still needed, especially in relation to biodiversity-related planning, research, monitoring, compliance, communication and assessment of fishery-related impacts (Juan-Jordá et al., 2018). Many RFMO/As and national fishery authorities continue to respond to this changing management paradigm by further updating or replacing their policies and measures. Such sectoral efforts are increasingly being achieved through collaboration, either through the RSN, or by strengthening the relationships between sustainable use and environmental interests (Garcia, Rice and Charles, 2014).

How to mainstream biodiversity – management approaches and tools

The Code offers guidance on sustainable indicators and the use of the precautionary approach for fisheries and aquaculture (FAO, 1995), as do related guidelines. This instrument responded to growing interest in strengthening biodiversity considerations in fisheries management (Friedman, Garcia and Rice, 2018; Sinclair and Valdimarsson, 2003). The adoption of the Code and of the sustainable development objectives at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) provided a foundation for the development of the EAF and ecosystem approach to aquaculture (EAA). With the formalization of the Code in 1995 and subsequently, the fisheries management paradigm has progressively integrated the need to preserve the productivity of natural systems, together with the explicit consideration of social and economic goals and constraints of conventional fisheries approaches. This has resulted in increasing recognition of the EAF as the overall framework for fisheries management. In accordance with the WSSD, this recognizes the need to: (i) maintain essential ecological processes and life support systems; (ii) preserve genetic diversity; and (iii) ensure the sustainable utilization of species and ecosystems. These are all preconditions for achieving the goals of reducing hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

The EAF is based on holistic management of fisheries activities. It requires fisheries to minimize the negative effects of fishing on the natural productivity of ecosystems, including deleterious effects on non-target species or habitat degradation. Similarly, the EAA considers potential negative impacts, also as a consequence of species escapes, on habitats and on the biodiversity of culture systems and processes. Where effectively regulated, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is increasingly addressing, among other initiatives, the implementation of the International Guidelines on Bycatch Management and Reduction of Discards. This approach ensures that the impacts of fishing activity are managed, by addressing all fishing operations, fishing techniques across different gear types, and their impacts on the full range of species affected. Within this context, FAO has facilitated the development of best practice technical guidelines on mitigation of marine bycatch to limit the accidental capture and entanglement of vulnerable and ecologically valuable species groups, such as marine mammals, sharks and rays, seabirds and turtles (see the section Responsible fishing practices).25

Spatial management approaches can be effective tools to conserve and restore ecosystems that support commercial production of fish, to conserve or rebuild populations, or to limit a wider range of anthropogenic pressures where needed. Area-based fishery management measures are increasingly being recognized as contributing to in situ conservation of biodiversity, and/or improving the connectivity and integration of conservation seascapes across wider scales. Some of these measures comply with the criteria of “other effective area-based conservation measures” (OECMs), a spatial approach to in situ conservation of biodiversity that is part of the CBD’s Aichi Target 11. FAO is supporting its Members by raising awareness about the role that spatial fishery management measures can have in increasing the health, productivity and resilience of aquatic ecosystems. In particular, FAO and its partners are helping countries operationalize and document OECMs, a mechanism that has the potential to widen the constituency in support of biodiversity conservation, and account for many sectoral efforts already in place to support biodiversity conservation.

Management approaches to maintain species abundances or efforts to conserve natural systems are not the only mechanisms for mainstreaming biodiversity in the sector. Given the vitally important role that aquaculture will have to play in the coming decades in order to meet the growing demand for fish and fish products and to achieve food security, it is important that aquatic genetic resources utilized and developed within aquaculture are effectively managed but also that the impact of aquaculture on natural aquatic biodiversity is monitored and negative impacts controlled. FAO’s Members are being supported to report on the changing global picture of the conservation, sustainable use and development of aquatic genetic resources. Published in 2019, The State of the World’s Aquatic Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture report (FAO, 2019a) highlights the current and future potential for diversification in species and “farmed types” (cultured fish types below species level), as well as interactions between cultured species and their wild relatives.

Strengthening and promoting sustainable aquaculture practices is another important opportunity to mainstream biodiversity in the sector. To this end, FAO is supporting Members through a process of developing the Sustainable Aquaculture Guidelines (SAG; see the section Guidelines and best practices for sustainable aquaculture) that identify relevant practical themes at global and regional levels, describe successful case studies showing best practices, and promote pathways towards successful implementation suitable for supporting the long-term development of sustainable aquaculture (from species and farmed environments to value chains) at a landscape, country and region level. Through these processes, the SAG will provide practical guidance to government authorities and policymakers aimed at helping the countries achieve a better implementation of the Code, while engaging and enabling their aquaculture sector to effectively participate in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

Mainstreaming biodiversity – the way forward

Enduring food security, nutrition and livelihoods are reliant on the maintenance of biodiverse life across aquatic ecosystems. To be successful in realizing the aims of productive and sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, it is necessary to ensure that the variety of life forms that directly and indirectly support the functioning of resilient ecosystems are restored where they have become depleted, and maintained to help meet the interconnected SDGs, of particularly relevance under SDG 14.

“Mainstreaming biodiversity” is a construct that has only recently been highlighted in international arenas. Sustainable development is inherently dependent on healthy ecosystems; thus, the connection to biodiversity in its wider definition is not new. The recognition of the importance of healthy ecosystems is not new for the fisheries and aquaculture sector. However, the term biodiversity has traditionally been used mainly when referring to the detrimental impacts of fishing. The vital connection between biodiversity, food production and livelihoods is often forgotten by specialists and the general public alike and needs to be highlighted. It is the shared understanding of this connection, the ability to collectively point to and leverage the long history of fisheries-related work supporting this connection, and the development of concrete actions that support this connection that will truly enable the mainstreaming of biodiversity in support of sustainable development. This will require more effective communication across sectors, as well as diverse partnerships. Given the increasing pressures on the oceans, there is no time to waste – mainstreaming biodiversity is an imperative.

Sustainability in areas beyond national jurisdiction

Areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) cover 40 percent of the surface of the planet, or 62 percent of the total ocean surface area. Their living resources have long been utilized, whereas, in recent years, their non-living marine resources have become increasingly utilized (Jobsvogt et al., 2014).

In force since 1994, UNCLOS defines the high seas as the water column beyond the EEZ, or beyond the territorial sea where no EEZ has been declared. The seabed that lies beyond the limits of national jurisdiction is designated as “the Area”. Therefore, this distinguishes the area (seabed) from the high seas (water column above), and the total of both would then be referred to as the ABNJ. The ABNJ do not belong to any single State; instead, under UNCLOS, they are managed through a suite of agreements and global and regional bodies, each with its own mandate and priorities. All nations with a “real interest” in the ABNJ share responsibility for the proper management and conservation of ABNJ resources and biodiversity.

Despite the vast geographical extension of the ABNJ, the current understanding of their role, influence and importance to coastal waters is limited. There is increasing evidence that ABNJ and coastal waters are closely connected, and that activities in ABNJ can influence coastal zones (Popova et al., 2019).

Fisheries resources of importance in ABNJ are deep-sea fisheries and highly migratory species such as tunas. The International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas apply where the total catch (including bycatch) includes species that can only sustain low fishing rates and where fishing gear is used that is likely to contact the sea floor during operations. Deep-sea fishing (DSF) occurs over continental slopes, seamounts, ridge systems and banks on soft muddy sediments and hard, rocky substrates, mostly between 400 m and 1 500 m, although some specialized vessels may fish down to 2 000 m.

While DSF can be traced back 450 years, major expansion began with the deployment of factory-freezer trawlers in the mid-1950s, leading to huge catches. However, since 1980, only three major developments in DSF have taken place: orange roughy trawling; longlining for toothfish; and bottom trawling for Greenland halibut (Hosch, 2018).

Many deep-sea living resources have low productivity and are only able to sustain low fishing rates. Moreover, once depleted, their recovery is long and not assured. However, concerns associated with DSF extend beyond the potential impact on the targeted stocks to wider impacts on associated species and marine biodiversity.

In contrast, tuna are highly migratory species, typically crossing many EEZ boundaries and moving into ABNJ. Tuna fisheries produce a yield of about 7 000 000 tonnes (although only about 40–50 percent is estimated to be caught in ABNJ).

Apart from these widely distributed and highly migratory pelagic fish stocks, other species of conservation importance also traverse ABNJ and the territorial waters of numerous countries, or spend most of their annual cycle in ABNJ (Harrison et al., 2018). In contrast, DSF produces only about 220 000 tonnes, mainly by industrial vessels, but these vessels interact more profoundly with the habitat (operating on or close to the seafloor), including vulnerable ecosystems. Both fisheries are of major interest in terms of biodiversity conservation, as well as interactions with other users of the same marine space.

Overarching rules governing the use of oceans and seas and their resources were established by UNCLOS. However, during the UNCLOS negotiating process, fishing in ABNJ was not perceived as a major problem requiring priority attention. Therefore, with respect to fishery resources occurring partly or entirely in ABNJ, UNCLOS limited itself to providing general principles for their conservation, optimal utilization and management, calling upon all States to cooperate towards the further development and implementation of these general principles.

Other international instruments adopted in the last 20 years for the conservation and management of world fisheries resources, including in ABNJ, impose legally binding obligations on their Parties, such as: the 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; the FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas; and, most recently, the FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.

Concerns regarding DSF led to specific guidance from the United Nations General Assembly (e.g. through UNGA Resolutions 61/105 and 64/72), principally aimed at improving the management of high seas fishery areas. This has helped promote measures to protect benthic habitats and VMEs in particular, especially at the regional level – implemented by RFMOs. FAO has also been central in developing international policy frameworks for DSF. It adopted the International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-Sea Fisheries in the High Seas in 2008 and created the VME Database.26

All areas of distribution and all fleets catching tuna and tuna-like species are under the mandate of five tuna RFMOs (which encompass more than 80 countries). This reflects the importance of tuna fisheries for the economies of countries along the supply chain, as well as in providing nutrition to many coastal communities.

Eight deep-sea RFMOs and other organizations exist with the competence to manage small pelagic and demersal fisheries in the high seas, covering about 77 percent of ABNJ. Their remit includes bycatch mitigation and the wider protection of the environment from significant adverse impacts. In all areas, flag States are responsible for the activities of their fishing vessels when utilizing fishery resources in the high seas. In addition, port States and coastal States also contribute to the verification of compliance with regulations.

While recognized current best practice is to manage all associated species within ecosystem-based management frameworks, such frameworks can be complex and difficult to operationalize (Tingley and Dunn, 2018). Therefore, often, the ecosystem considerations in RFMOs have been implemented through the adoption of actions to mitigate the impact of fishing on non-target species, or on the ecosystem structure and function. In deep-sea RFMOs, in which the fisheries involve a higher level of interaction of fishing gear with the habitat, protocols have been adopted to cease fishing when a VME is encountered. Tuna fisheries have seen improved mitigation of incidental catch of important associated species such as turtles, birds, sharks and small tuna.

Minimum standards for “best available” science to support fisheries management have been developed and published (MFish, 2008). A high degree of transparency in science and management is fundamental to enabling fishers, NGOs, other science and management organizations, processers and retailers to have confidence in fisheries management.

Current guidance for managing impacts on benthic habitat proposes area closures to mobile demersal fishing gear, but these may also extend to static gear. The South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation, which manages the largest high seas orange roughy fishery, has closures amounting to more than 95 percent of its convention area, and about half of the fishable depth within that area (Tingley and Dunn, 2018).

The effectiveness of area-based management measures depends on the mobility of the species involved. Marine protected areas (MPAs) will be less effective for highly migratory species in comparison with deep-sea species that are almost resident in a particular area (for example, those associated with a seamount), especially so in ABNJ, where pelagic species may occupy large geographical areas.

The aims of area closures are diverse. Many are for the protection of specific benthic areas of interest, such as seamounts and deep-water coral reefs, or for the protection of demersal species. Other closures aim to reduce impacts on pelagic species, including both adults and juveniles (Davis et al., 2012). In general, closures are accompanied by other more targeted management arrangements, including regulation of fishing effort and catch quotas, adopted under the RFMOs. The role of pelagic MPAs in conservation and management is likely to remain controversial until more documented studies become available. The seabed and water column are inextricably linked. Emerging research increasingly links upper-ocean communities and processes to seabed ecology and biogeochemistry (O’Leary and Roberts, 2018).

Sustainability cannot be achieved without biodiversity conservation, and sustainable utilization of fisheries resources in ABNJ is compatible with biodiversity conservation. This realization is reflected by many RFMOs adopting the EAF, recognizing the need to manage fisheries more holistically. An additional challenge is to implement sufficient cross-sectoral coordination among the multiple users of ABNJ to ensure that biodiversity impacts from any user, and overall, are monitored and mitigated. Action should be taken to minimize the impact of fishing operations on biodiversity, building on the RFMOs’ existing mandate, and ensuring appropriate communication and coordination with other initiatives and users.

Since 2014, FAO, in close cooperation with many partners and with the support of the Global Environment Facility, has been implementing the Global Sustainable Fisheries Management and Biodiversity Conservation in the Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) Program – commonly called the Common Oceans ABNJ Program. This programme has offered an innovative and comprehensive initiative consisting of four projects (FAO, 2019l) that bring together governments, RFMOs, civil society, the private sector, academia and industry to try to ensure the sustainable use of ABNJ resources and to achieve global targets agreed in international forums. The successes and lessons learned have paved the way for a stronger partnership, which is now proposing a second phase of activities to reinforce the impacts of the first five years of the programme.

There is growing expectation for a more clearly defined legal, ethical and moral responsibility for all countries and individuals using ABNJ for fishing and trade. The new international legally binding instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of ABNJ (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 72/249), currently under development, presents an important opportunity to ensure that the ABNJ are managed sustainably and equitably by all sectors (United Nations, 2018).

Climate change adaptation strategies

Fisheries and aquaculture have a key role to play in feeding a growing world population with nutritious and low-carbon-footprint foods. The sector is also a provider of alternative foods such as edible seaweed. In addition, the sector is critical for the livelihoods of almost 60 million people worldwide (FAO, 2018a).

However, fisheries are expected to be significantly affected by climate change, as a result of changes in abiotic (sea temperature, oxygen levels, salinity and acidity) and biotic conditions (primary production, and food webs) of the sea affecting aquatic species in terms of their distributional patterns, growth and size, catch potential, etc. (Barange et al., 2018). There are also potential impacts from climate change on the people who rely upon these aquatic resources, many of whom are small-scale harvesters, as well as on industry, markets and trade. Sea-level rise, marine heat waves and changes in the intensity and the frequency of extreme weather events (e.g. extreme winds, and storms) are also projected to increase. In the case of inland fisheries, in addition to warming and changes in precipitation, interactions with other human activities (e.g. increasing demand for freshwater from other sectors, and dam construction) could create additional impacts, with the disappearance of habitats, and drastic changes in biodiversity or in fish migration dynamics (Harrod et al., 2018). For aquaculture, although the sector is expected to continue growing to meet the world’s demand for aquatic food, climate change could result in favourable, unfavourable or neutral changes, with negative impacts likely to predominate in developing countries as a result of a decreased productivity due to suboptimal farming conditions and other perturbations (Dabbadie et al., 2018).

In the past decade, various studies have identified ecological and social indicators of vulnerability to such changes and examined how climate change could affect aquatic resources (e.g. Barange et al., 2018). Other studies have focused on climate change impacts on fishing communities, on the basis of case studies and qualitative methods from social science perspectives. In addition, several global and regional quantitative studies have used modelling approaches to look at the potential impacts of climate change on annual catch and the redistribution of stocks or catch potential with climate change (Cheung et al., 2009; Cheung et al., 2010; Cheung et al., 2013; Blanchard et al., 2012; Merino et al., 2012; Barange et al., 2014; Lotze et al., 2019). These modelling studies generally project that fisheries productivity will increase in high latitudes and decrease in mid- and low latitudes (Porter et al., 2014), primarily due to species shift. This has important implications for developing countries, which are generally located in the tropics.

Alongside this, there is a recognition that the response to climate change will call for a variety of adaptation options, both technical and non-technical. These can be broadly categorized (Poulain, Himes-Cornell and Shelton, 2018) as: institutional adaptation; livelihood adaptation; and risk reduction and management for resilience. Institutional adaptation is mainly undertaken on the part of public bodies to address legal, policy, management and institutional issues (Box 19). It includes the management of fisheries and aquaculture in a manner that considers the dynamic nature of systems and societal needs in line with the ecosystem approach to fisheries and to aquaculture alongside climate risks. Livelihoods adaptations are commonly market and livelihood interventions to respond to climate-induced changes within the sector or along the value chain. These are mainly in and by the private sector and communities, but may also require public support to encourage and facilitate changes. Risk reduction and management interventions (e.g. early warning and information systems, and prevention and preparedness strategies) include a mix of public and private activities to reduce and manage the risks of a changing climate.

There has been considerable growth in knowledge on climate risks, impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. However, planned adaptation that results from a deliberate policy decision remains a challenge, as it has to address climate risks that can vary dynamically and non-linearly over time. That said, a number of tools/approaches have been developed and applied, as outlined below.

The starting point for climate change adaptation planning is to identify the type of adaptation problem to be addressed and to set the objectives and goals (Figure 49). The timescale for the adaptation decision is important in terms of both climate risks (whether it is near term or long term) and adaptation (whether it is for an immediate project proposal or a long-term adaptation policy). It is also important to frame adaptation in the wider context to understand whether it is a stand-alone application policy or investment, or part of a broader initiative that might require mainstreaming (integration). In the latter case, it is critical to understand the underlying decision context.


The second step is to understand climate-related risks. This generally starts with an analysis of how current weather or climate events are affecting fisheries and aquaculture today (present-day risks), and whether there have been recent trends, for example, rising temperatures, or changes in extreme weather events, that are increasing risks (Box 20) or creating new opportunities. It is also important to understand the socio-economic factors included in fisheries and aquaculture, as these will influence the adaptation response. Once the current risks and socio-economic context are understood, the next step is to consider the timing and uncertainty of future climate risks. The combined sequence of risks – from current through to the future – can then be used to consider possible adaptation, and in particular, to identify early adaptation options to address immediate, medium-term and long-term risks. This requires analysis of when potential risks might emerge in order to sequence the adaptation response, as well as the lifetime of decisions involved.

Artisanal fishers with their catch – a source of food, employment and income.

©FAO/Sergey Kozmin

The next step in the cycle is to identify adaptation options to address the potential climate risks identified. The use of frameworks to help prioritize promising early adaptation options can be very useful at this stage. These typically focus on identifying adaptation priorities for the next five years or so, to tackle short-, medium- and long-term risks. The literature (e.g. Warren et al., 2018) identifies three priorities for these early adaptation priorities:

  • Interventions that address current climate impacts and early trends (the existing adaptation deficit). These are often known as no- or low-regret actions. Many of these overlap with current good practices in the fisheries and aquaculture sector.

  • Early interventions to ensure that adaptation is considered in early decisions that have a long lifetime or a risk of lock-in, e.g. long-lived investment that will be exposed to future change such as infrastructure development.

  • Early adaptive management actions to help inform decisions that have a long lead time or longer-term risks, e.g. planning, monitoring and pilots.

All the above options may be needed, and they are not mutually exclusive.

In many cases, the application of an initial analysis as set out above may be sufficient to identify and plan adaptation road maps. In other cases, a more formalized appraisal may be needed to help select the most appropriate adaptation options. Where such an appraisal is focused on short-term, no- and low-regret adaptation, conventional decision-support methods, such as cost–benefit analysis or multicriteria analysis, can be used. For options that involve longer-term decisions, where uncertainty becomes important, a more detailed set of appraisal methods is applicable. These methods include those for decision-making under uncertainty. There is emerging guidance available on the application of these approaches (Watkiss, Ventura and Poulain, 2019), although to date this has not been widely applied for fisheries and aquaculture. Together with the appraisal of adaptation, there is a focus on mainstreaming climate change adaptation in fisheries/aquaculture policy and planning. Mainstreaming can leverage resources and activities associated with fisheries and/or aquaculture, and help integrate climate change alongside other issues, allowing a more holistic approach. However, it also raises additional challenges, given the difficulty of delivering cross-cutting and cross-sectoral policy and programmes.

Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear and its pollution of the marine environment

Marine litter from fishing operations has received much international attention and is considered one of the most prominent and impactful forms of sea-based sources of litter. Recent high-profile publications related to plastic litter in the sea have put the issue at the forefront of marine environmental problems. States have expressed growing concern about this issue and adopted resolutions on marine litter, plastic debris and/or microplastics at every session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in recent years. The key elements in these resolutions are reiterated in SDG 14, particularly in SDG Target 14.1: by 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.

Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (ALDFG), also called “ghost gear”, constitutes a significant part of marine plastic pollution in the world’s oceans and seas. It threatens marine life – 46 percent of the species on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species have been impacted by ALDFG, mainly through entanglement or ingestion, which impacts biodiversity. Through its ability to ensnare fish after it has been lost or abandoned, ALDFG can continue to catch commercially important fish species, resulting in the waste of important fisheries resources and lost value. In addition, it befouls sensitive marine habitats (e.g. coral reefs) when on the sea floor or washed ashore, and poses hazards to navigation and safety at sea when floating on the surface. Animals can die after ingesting disintegrated pieces of ALDFG, and microplastics from ALDFG can enter the food chain with potential health issues for humans.

While it is estimated that ALDFG may only constitute about 10 percent of all marine litter, it is recognized as the deadliest form of marine debris to ocean wildlife. This is due to its inherent nature for fish capture, and because ALDFG continues to ghost-fish and entangle marine animals for a long time.

Although no new global estimate of ALDFG in the ocean is currently available, its contribution to marine litter is estimated at several hundred thousand tonnes annually. In 2019, to make a better estimate of the contribution of the fisheries sector to marine litter, FAO and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) formed a working group on “Sea-based sources of marine litter including fishing gear and other shipping related litter” (Working Group 43) under the United Nation’s Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP). The overall objective of the working group is to build understanding of the amount and relative contribution of sea-based sources of marine litter, in particular from the shipping and fishing sectors, and the extent of the impacts of sea-based sources of marine litter. In order to establish a benchmark for monitoring and evaluating future mitigation measures, FAO is also working with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, the University of California, Davis in the United States of America, and the Global Ghost Gear Initiative on a global assessment to quantify the scale and distribution of fishing gear loss.

The international community as well as many regional and multilateral bodies and organizations broadly agree that preventive measures should be the priority for reducing ALDFG and its harmful impacts, together with measures to remove existing ALDFG from the marine environment. As the custodian United Nations agency for SDG Indicator 14.6.1, which measures the degree of implementation of international instruments to combat IUU fishing, FAO developed the Voluntary Guidelines for the Marking of Fishing Gear (VGMFG), which were endorsed by the Thirty-third Session of COFI in 2018 (FAO, 2019m).

The VGMFG recognize the importance of identifying ownership of the fishing gear, its location and the legality of its use. Properly marked fishing gear and an associated reporting system as stipulated in the VGMFG can reduce ALDFG and its harmful impact. Gear marking helps to identify sources of ALDFG, aid recovery of lost gear, and facilitate management measures such as penalties for discarding and inappropriate disposal. The VGMFG also encourage incentives for the reuse and recycling of used gear, and promote best practice for the management of fishing gear, including its disposal. Consistent application of an approved gear marking system may also help identify and prevent IUU fishing, which in turn will reduce illegal abandonment and disposal of fishing gear.

The VGMFG stress the importance of awareness raising and capacity building to facilitate their implementation by developing States, particularly for small island developing States (SIDS). Therefore, in collaboration with the Global Ghost Gear Initiative and host countries, FAO conducted four regional workshops in 2019: South Pacific (Vanuatu), Southeast Asia (Indonesia), West Africa (Senegal), and Latin America and the Caribbean (Panama). These workshops will be succeeded by projects such as Glo-Litter (part of a development programme with Norway and the IMO) and specific actions to support States to implement measures and tools to prevent and reduce ALDFG. These multi-stakeholder activities are being undertaken within FAO’s umbrella programme on responsible practices for sustainable fisheries and reduction of impacts of fishing operations.

FAO will continue to actively engage with stakeholders, including States and other relevant organizations to implement measures to prevent and reduce ALDFG. FAO also encourages development of gear-marking technologies that are cost-effective, operationally efficient, environmentally friendly, and versatile for different types of fishing gear. FAO supports preventive measures – including promotion of circular economy approaches – that reduce marine litter and microplastics in the ocean. Finding alternatives to plastic, including the development of biodegradable materials for fishing gear, and reducing the use of short-life-span plastics would decrease the sources of marine plastic litter and microplastics. In tackling the issues, special attention should be paid to developing States, SIDS and low-income, food-deficit countries in view of their possible lack of human capacity and finance.

Fish in food systems – strategies for food security and nutrition

Expanded aquaculture production is largely credited with meeting increases in fish consumption globally. However, decreases in food losses and waste along the value chain coupled with a decline in the use of fish products in animal feeds also mean more fish is available for consumption. Although fishmeal increasingly comes from by-products that were formerly wasted and the use of fishmeal and fish oil in feeds for aquaculture has been on a downward trend, nutrient-rich fish are still diverted from human consumption to farmed fish (and other animal) feeds.

Aquatic food27 systems strategies can help address the complex issue of the “triple burden of malnutrition” (food insecurity, undernutrition and overweight). Many coastal and inland populations rely on fish as the most accessible source of animal protein (Box 21). In addition to high-quality protein, fish, especially small fish consumed whole, can be rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A, D and B, and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iodine and iron, while seaweed represents an excellent source of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. Benefits of consuming fish include: reduced risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease; improved maternal health during pregnancy and lactation; improved physical and cognitive development during early childhood; and mitigation of health risks associated with anaemia, stunting and child blindness.

Sustainable food systems dialogues and the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health guidelines promote limited consumption of red meat as key to sustainable diets, while recognizing that fish consumption from sustainable fisheries and aquaculture is highly recommended (Willett et al., 2019). These guidelines can be improved with due consideration to trade, location and culture in the diet–environmental footprint analysis (Kim et al., 2019). Fish and aquatic food can have a lower environmental impact, are often produced more efficiently than terrestrial animal foods (Hilborn et al., 2018), and represent an excellent source of macronutrients and micronutrients. However, there is a need for stronger recognition of the complementarity of nutrient-rich, sustainably produced animal foods (including fish) paired with plant-based foods to increase the bioavailability of micronutrients that are inadequately absorbed from plant-based diets (Bogard et al., 2015)

Aquaculture supplies more fish and seaweed for human consumption than do capture fisheries (Cheshire, Nayar and Roos, 2019). However, farmed larger carnivorous fish species consumed in developed countries are grown using feed based on wild small fish, fish that are more nutrient-rich as they are traditionally consumed whole, especially in developing countries (Bogard et al., 2015). Moreover, the contribution of inland capture fisheries to food security and nutrition has been under-recognized until recently (Fluet-Chouinard, Funge-Smith and McIntyre, 2018) – 95 percent of the global inland catch is in developing countries and most of it is consumed domestically. Developing countries account for 50 percent of the value of seafood exports and only 23 percent of seafood imports, which may be seen positively through poverty reduction but can also be a significant issue from a food security and nutrition perspective (Asche et al., 2015). In addition, lower-value small fish may be diverted from human consumption to feeds for farmed fish species, although they could have a greater impact in terms of food security and nutrition if consumed directly.

There has been increased attention to the use of small fish and seaweed in value-added products such as snacks and seasonings, fish chutney and fish powders for fortifying young children’s foods. Small fish and fish powders are easy to share and mix into dishes with vegetables, legumes and other foods, enhancing nutrient bioavailability. Fish powders produced from grinding all parts of small fish or unused parts of larger fish (bones, head, eyes and viscera, which can account for up to 50 percent of the fish when processed) are micronutrient-rich and have been found to be highly acceptable to children (Bogard et al., 2015).

Communities situated at greater distances from waterbodies or fish farms (so-called “fish deserts”) may spend more money on fish; per capita income and fish consumption are positively correlated, and social norms may play into intra-household consumption patterns (Asche et al., 2015). This underlines the importance of location, seasonality, socio-economic status, and gender in relation to access to fish as food.

The significant investment required for aquaculture farms, coupled with limited purchasing power in developing countries, may drive investment into export-oriented and lucrative aquaculture (Asche et al., 2015). For aquaculture to create lasting solutions to nutrition security without exacerbating existing inequities in access to food and land, development programmes must consider the sociocultural dynamics of local food systems. Cost-sensitive production of innovative fish products, expansion of nutrition-sensitive preservation, storage and distribution of fish to fish deserts, and improving women’s direct access to fish – both economically and geographically – have the potential to enhance food security and nutrition, particularly in nutritionally vulnerable communities.

There are successful cases of aquaculture’s orientation for food security and nutrition in populations with little access to fish or income opportunities. These include approaches such as pond polyculture, where nutrient-rich small fish for household consumption are grown together with higher-value large fish to increase household income. From a livelihoods perspective, capture fisheries and aquaculture indirectly contribute to food security through livelihood opportunities for almost 60 million people engaged in the primary sectors of capture fisheries (38.98 million) and aquaculture (20.53 million). Women account for 14 percent of those 60 million people, although when secondary-sector activities such as processing and marketing are considered, the total work force is more evenly divided. Many studies have demonstrated that women’s engagement in livelihood activities is linked to better health and nutrition outcomes for themselves and their children.

Evidence of the positive impact of fish and aquatic foods on human health is prevalent in the scientific literature, but is not reaching enough decision makers, marginalizing the role that capture or culture fisheries can and should play in national food security and nutrition policies. If the benefits of fisheries and aquaculture are to be realized for food security and nutrition – particularly in nutritionally vulnerable populations – attention in policymaking and management must focus on smaller, food-critical and economically viable fisheries and fish farms (Bogard et al., 2019). Better understanding of nutritionally vulnerable populations’ fish preferences, combined with improved preservation, storage and distribution, can re-orient fisheries and aquaculture for food security and ensure that fish is available and accessible in fish deserts. Data on sustainable fish food systems can be improved through: (i) disaggregation of nutrient composition data by species; (ii) inclusion of local and underutilized species in composition and consumption data; (iii) diet–environmental footprint analysis for various fish production methods; and (iv) improved reporting methods for inland fisheries stocks. Expanding the data and evidence on fish in nutritious, sustainable food systems has the potential to improve the standing of under-recognized sources of fish in food security and nutrition decision-making and policy.

Blue growth achievements


Oceans and inland waters (lakes, rivers and reservoirs) are increasingly recognized as indispensable for addressing many of the global challenges facing the planet in the decades to come, from world food security, poverty alleviation and climate change to the provision of energy, natural resources, improved well-being and medical care.

Blue growth, also referred to as “blue economy”, “green economy in a blue world” or “ocean economy”, has its origins in the green economy concept endorsed at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in 2012. Although pioneered by SIDS at the Rio+20 Oceans Day, it was considered relevant to all coastal States and countries with an interest in waters within and beyond national jurisdiction.

At its core, the blue growth concept seeks to de-couple socio-economic development from environmental degradation by the major users of oceans and inland waters. These include traditional sectors such as fisheries, irrigation, tourism and maritime transport, but also new and emerging activities, such as renewable energy, water desalinization, marine aquaculture, seabed extractive activities, marine biotechnology and bioprospecting.

FAO’s Blue Growth Initiative

In 2013, FAO launched the Blue Growth Initiative (BGI) in support of food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable management of aquatic natural resource. FAO defines blue growth as “sustainable growth and development emanating from economic activities using living aquatic resources of the oceans, inland waters and coastal zones, that minimize environmental degradation and biodiversity loss and maximize economic and social benefits.”

For sustainable production from capture fisheries and aquaculture, the BGI builds on the international policy framework encompassing legal, environmental and management streams (Figure 50). The goal is to enable effective, joined-up implementation of policies, investment and innovation that would underpin sustainable growth in fisheries and aquaculture production and give rise to new economic opportunities in ecosystem goods and services. It aims to mobilize financial and technical support and build local capacity and governance frameworks for the design and implementation of blue growth strategies, and to create action-oriented policy options and institutions tailored to the respective economic circumstances and constraints of FAO’s Members.


As per FAO’s mandate, work on fisheries and aquaculture management is centred around the Code and its related international agreements, strategies, guidelines and plans of action. At the same time, to support the economic and social development of coastal communities, the BGI aims to address the significant inefficiencies that still characterize seafood value chains, particularly in coastal and island developing nations, often due to a lack of skills, technology and infrastructure. These inefficiencies reduce wealth extraction from value addition, cause post-harvest losses and reduce market access opportunities. The BGI also aims to engage with other relevant sectors using oceans or inland waters around key policies, investment and innovations in support of sustainable growth in fisheries and aquaculture and which open up new economic opportunities in ecosystem goods and services.

FAO’s Blue Growth Initiative in action

FAO’s BGI has proved relevant to many developing coastal countries at different scales – local, national, regional and global. Moving the BGI from concept to action, several field projects enabled beneficiary countries to weigh the relative importance of the different sectors. Thus, based on their own circumstances, they were able to decide which sectors to prioritize, including with regard to trade-offs among different groups of oceans and wetlands users and how to ensure sustainability via proper stewardship of ecosystems supporting production from those sectors. The following are illustrative examples of BGI activities to inform of the vast possibilities for promoting a good balance between sustained growth of fisheries and aquaculture, conservation and social responsibility.

International advocacy

At the core of BGI promotion and implementation, advocacy by FAO senior management and experts in international forums is key. Increasing awareness around the BGI, and mobilizing international support and resources were vital for enabling actions, piloting innovative BGI approaches, sharing and disseminating results and scaling up successful experiences. Examples of international forums organized by or with the participation of FAO include:

  • Asia Conference on Oceans, Food Security and Blue Growth (Indonesia, 2013);

  • Global Oceans Action Summit for Food Security and Blue Growth (the Netherlands, 2014);

  • Launch of the Global Action Network on Blue Growth and Food Security (Grenada, 2015);

  • fisheries and aquaculture in the context of the blue economy, at the High Level Conference – Feeding Africa (Senegal, 2015), and at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference (Kenya, 2018).

Examples of national awareness-increasing activities and consultations among the users of ocean and inland waters include:

  • Morocco: development of a blue belt strategy, which was presented at twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (2016);

  • Bangladesh Blue Economy Dialogue on Fisheries and Mariculture to enhance environmental and social sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture and to explore new opportunities in marine aquaculture;

  • a national workshop in Madagascar to review its national blue economy strategy and elaborate a road map for its implementation.

Implementation of FAO’s Blue Growth Initiative

Since its launch in 2013, BGI activities have been implemented in various regions and countries. Detailed information on these activities can be accessed through a dedicated web page and blog (FAO, 2020e). Below are three examples to illustrate the BGI in action at the national, regional and international levels.

Cabo Verde’s Blue Growth Charter: Cabo Verde is a dry Sahelian SIDS in Africa. The country is highly vulnerable to climate variability and change, with more than 80 percent of its population living in coastal areas. Ocean or “blue” sectors, including fisheries and tourism, play a key role in the national economy. In 2015, the Government of Cabo Verde adopted a charter to coordinate all blue growth policies and investment across all sectors using the ocean, with the ultimate goal of generating further economic growth and creating decent work for its population while ensuring environmental preservation. FAO, in collaboration with the African Development Bank, has been supporting the implementation of a national strategic framework, including an accounting framework, a national investment plan, and the Observatory for the Blue Economy – for implementing the transition to blue growth in Cabo Verde.

Fisheries and aquaculture governance and seafood value chain performance in West Africa: African coastal waters contain some of the richest fisheries in the world and have great potential for aquaculture development, as demonstrated by the spectacular aquaculture growth in Egypt, where production reached a record of 1 561 500 tonnes in 2018, almost triple that of 476 000 tonnes in 2007. In West Africa, up to one-quarter of jobs are linked to fisheries, and the sector contributes essential protein and micronutrients to national diets. Up to two-thirds of all animal protein in coastal West African States come from fish and seafood. Artisanal fishers are linked to consumers through a vast intraregional trading network, of fresh, salted, dried or smoked fish, in which women play a central role. However, sub-Saharan African fisheries and aquaculture are characterized by weak governance and limited capacity of institutions to drive the necessary changes for sustainable growth. Resource users feel marginalized from the decision-making process and lack social protection and incentives to comply with conservation and management measures.

The Coastal Fisheries Initiative is a project funded by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by FAO in Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme and the respective national administrations. It provides technical assistance to stakeholders to improve fisheries governance and management and value-chain performance through implementation of the ecosystem approach to fisheries and other relevant guidelines of the Code. The project pays particular attention to strengthening access and user rights, co-management and gender equality, while also supporting improved working conditions, product quality and market access along the value chain.

European Development Fund Fish4ACP: Launched in December 2019, Fish4ACP is a programme funded by the European Union and implemented by FAO to support sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture value chains in the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of States. Through the project, seafood value chains in ten of these countries are being assessed to promote blue growth actions aiming to maximize their economic returns and social benefits, while minimizing detrimental effects on natural habitats and marine wildlife, with a special attention to small-scale fisheries. The aims are to: address the main challenges in each of the value chains; help the countries explore new markets, reduce waste and losses; and improve fishers’ working conditions – all while ensuring sustainable management of fish stocks and the stewardship of the ecosystems that support those value chains.

Transformative actions of FAO’s Blue Growth Initiative

Implementation of BGI projects requires transformative actions that embrace a blue growth model requiring environmental, economic and social considerations. To start with, reducing the pressure on fish stocks often requires a reduction in fishing effort and/or capacity. To achieve this successfully, alternative income-generation activities for fishers are needed. Similarly, improving income and creating livelihood opportunities for women and young people have proved necessary in order to alleviate poverty among coastal communities in the beneficiary countries. Finally, in order to ensure that aquatic ecosystems can in the future provide the food that coastal communities depend upon, holistic management needs to be put in place and stewardship of those ecosystems promoted.

Areas explored with success under FAO’s BGI to produce alternative income-generation activities include blue fashion, ocean ecotourism, and fisheries services such as certification and ecolabelling. Blue fashion uses fish industry by-products – such as fish skins that are made into leather clothes and shoes – creating employment and income, especially for women and young people. FAO is now part of the United Nations Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, which supports projects and policies that promote the fashion value chain’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, 2020). Similarly, ecotourism that promotes responsible recreational fishing, local cultures and biodiversity conservation offers significant employment alternatives, especially for young people in coastal communities. Successful activities have been implemented in Kenya, and there is an ongoing regional project (Blue Hope) involving Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey that is looking at infrastructure, investment and innovations.

Promoting blue growth actions often requires an upgrade of fishing harbour infrastructure. A fishing harbour represents a vital link for various stakeholders (fishers, buyers, sellers, service providers, and public and private institutions) concerned with the promotion of sustainable fisheries and aquaculture – by reducing waste and environmental pollution and the preservation of fish nutritional attributes, quality, prices and exports. While having the right infrastructure at the right place is very important for the proper functioning of a fishing harbour, how it is managed and maintained are crucial considerations as well. FAO’s Blue Fishing Ports initiative aims to leverage the strategic position of fishing ports in the seafood value chain to promote positive and sustainable socio-economic growth while reducing their pollution footprint. Based on a successful project implemented in Tunisia in 2018, FAO and Spain’s Port of Vigo hosted the world’s first Blue Fishing Ports meeting in June 2019, bringing together government and non-governmental representatives from countries in Africa, Asia and Central and South America to share experiences of blue fishing ports and best practices for further dissemination.

However, implementing a blue growth model often requires new and innovative types of financing, from the public and private sectors. Various financial approaches (from impact investing to blended finance) and mechanisms (from blue bonds to microfinance) are increasingly being tested and used to promote blue growth across countries and communities worldwide. To help raise awareness about these different approaches and the prerequisites for using them, FAO has produced a series of guidance notes with the ultimate goal of helping to mobilize financial resources for blue growth transformative change.

Fisheries and aquaculture projections

Note: At the time of writing (March 2020), the COVID-19 pandemic has affected most countries in the world, with severe impacts on the global economy and the food production and distribution sector, including fisheries and aquaculture. FAO is monitoring the situation closely to assess the overall impact of the pandemic on fisheries and aquaculture production, consumption and trade. The following projections are based on the assumption that there will be a significant disruption in the short run for production, consumption and trade, with a recovery in late 2020 or early 2021. Adjustments will be introduced in future revisions of the projections as impact assessments become available.

This section presents the medium-term outlook using the FAO fish model (FAO, 2012, pp. 186–193), developed in 2010 to shed light on potential future developments in fisheries and aquaculture. The fish model has links to, but is not integrated into, the Aglink-Cosimo model used to generate the ten-year-horizon agricultural projections elaborated jointly by the OECD and FAO each year and published in the OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook (OECD/FAO, 2020). The FAO fish model uses a set of macroeconomic assumptions and selected prices used to generate the agricultural projections. The fish projections presented in this section have been obtained through an ad hoc analysis carried out by FAO for the years 2019–2030.

The future of fisheries and aquaculture will be influenced by many different factors and interconnected challenges of global, regional and local relevance. Population and economic growth, together with urbanization, technological developments and dietary diversification, are expected to create an expansion in food demand, and in particular for animal products, including fish. The projections illustrated in this section depict an outlook for fisheries and aquaculture in terms of projected production, utilization, trade, prices and key issues that might influence future supply and demand. These results are not forecasts, but rather plausible scenarios that provide insight into how these sectors may develop in the light of a set of specific assumptions regarding: the future macroeconomic environment; international trade rules and tariffs; the frequency and effects of events on resources; the absence of other severe climate effects such as tsunamis, tropical storms (cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons), floods and emerging fish diseases; fisheries management measures, including catch limitations; and the absence of market shocks. In view of the major role of China in fisheries and aquaculture, the assumptions consider policy developments in China, which are expected to continue along the path outlined by its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) (see FAO, 2018a, Box31, p. 183) towards more sustainable and environmentally friendly fisheries and aquaculture, away from the past emphasis on increasing production.


On the basis of the assumptions used, total fish production (excluding aquatic plants) is expected to expand from 179 million tonnes in 2018 to 204 million tonnes in 2030 (Table 17). In absolute terms, the overall increase up to 2030 is 15 percent (26 million tonnes) over 2018, a slowdown compared with the 27 percent growth in the period 2007–2018. Aquaculture will continue to be the driving force behind the growth in global fish production, extending a decades-old trend (Figure 51). Aquaculture production is projected to reach 109 million tonnes in 2030, an increase of 32 percent (26 million tonnes) over 2018. Yet, the average annual growth rate of aquaculture should slow from 4.6 percent in 2007–2018 to 2.3 percent in 2019–2030 (Figure 52). A number of factors should contribute to this slowdown.28 These include: broader adoption and enforcement of environmental regulations; reduced availability of water and suitable production locations; increasing outbreaks of aquatic animal diseases related to intensive production practices; and decreasing aquaculture productivity gains. The projected deceleration of China’s aquaculture production is expected to be partially compensated by an increase in production in other countries. As initiated with China’s Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020), the country’s policies in the next decade are expected to continue the transition from extensive to intensive aquaculture, aiming to better integrate production with the environment through the adoption of ecologically sound technological innovations, with capacity reduction, followed by faster growth. However, the share of farmed species in global fishery production (for food and non-food uses), is projected to grow from 46 percent in 2018 to 53 percent in 2030 (Figure 53).

PROJECTED FISH PRODUCTION, 2030 (live weight equivalent)














Asia will continue to dominate the aquaculture sector (Figure 54) and will be responsible for more than 89 percent of the increase in production by 2030, making the continent account for 89 percent of 2030 global aquaculture production. While China will remain the world’s leading producer, its share in total production will decrease from 58 percent in 2018 to 56 percent in 2030. Overall, aquaculture production is projected to continue growing on all continents, with variations in the range of species and products across countries and regions. The sector is expected to expand most in Africa (up 48 percent) and in Latin America (up 33 percent). The growth in Africa’s aquaculture production will be driven by the additional culturing capacity put in place in recent years, as well as by local policies promoting aquaculture fuelled by rising local demand from higher economic growth. However, despite this expected growth, overall aquaculture production in Africa will remain limited, at slightly more than 3.2 million tonnes in 2030, with the bulk of it (2.2 million tonnes) produced by Egypt.



In terms of species, the majority (62 percent) of global aquaculture production in 2030 will be composed of freshwater species, such as carp and Pangas catfish (including Pangasius spp.), as compared with 60 percent in 2018. Production of higher-value species, such as shrimps, salmon and trout, is also projected to continue to grow. In general, species that require larger proportions of fishmeal and fish oil in their diets are expected to grow more slowly owing to expected higher prices and reduced availability of fishmeal.

Capture fisheries production is projected to stay at high levels, reaching about 96 million tonnes in 2030, with some fluctuations over the next decade linked to the El Niño phenomenon with reduced catches in South America, especially for anchoveta, resulting in an overall decrease in world capture fisheries production of about 2 percent in those years.29 Factors influencing sustained capture fisheries production include: (i) increased catches in some fishing areas where stocks of certain species are recovering owing to improved resource management; (ii) growth in catches in waters of the few countries with underfished resources, where new fishing opportunities exist or where fisheries management measures are less restrictive; and (iii) improved utilization of the harvest, including reduced onboard discards, waste and losses as driven by legislation or higher market fish prices, both for food and non-food products. The projections also include a 9 percent decrease in capture fisheries in China, owing to the implementation of the policies that started with the above-mentioned Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020), and are expected to continue into the next decade. For capture fisheries, China’s policies aim to reduce its domestic catches through controls on licensing, reduction in the number of fishers and fishing vessels, and output controls. Other objectives include: the modernization of gear, vessels and infrastructure; regular reduction of fuel subsidies; elimination of IUU fishing; and restoration of domestic fish stocks through the use of restocking, artificial reefs and seasonal closures. However, it should be noted that the current policies also point to developing the country’s distant-water fleet, which might partly offset reductions in its domestic catches.

The share of capture fisheries production reduced into fishmeal and fish oil should decline slightly in the next decade (18 percent by 2030 compared with 19 percent in 2018). However, in 2030, the total amount of fishmeal and fish oil produced is expected to be higher than in 2018, by 1 percent and 7 percent, respectively, owing to an increased amount of the production being obtained from fish waste and by-products of the processing industry. Between 2018 and 2030, the proportion of total fish oil obtained from fish waste is projected to increase from 40 percent to 45 percent, while for fishmeal this proportion will grow from 22 percent to 28 percent (Figure 55).






In nominal terms, prices in the fishery and aquaculture sector are expected to rise in the long term up to 2030. A number of factors explain this tendency. On the demand side, these include improved income, population growth and higher meat prices. On the supply side, stable capture fisheries production, slowing growth in aquaculture production, and cost increase for inputs (feed, energy and oil) are likely to play a role. In addition, the slowdown in China’s fisheries and aquaculture production will stimulate higher prices in China, with repercussions on world prices. The increase in the average price of farmed fish (24 percent over the projection period) will be greater than that of captured fish (23 percent, when excluding fish for non-food uses). Prices of farmed fish will also grow owing to higher fishmeal and fish oil prices, which are expected to increase by 30 percent and 13 percent, respectively, in nominal terms by 2030, as a result of strong global demand. High feed prices could also have an impact on the species composition in aquaculture, with a shift towards species requiring less feed, cheaper feed, or no feed at all. The higher prices at the production level, coupled with high demand of fish for human consumption, will stimulate an estimated 22 percent increase in the average price of internationally traded fish by 2030 relative to 2018.

However, in real terms (i.e. adjusted for inflation), all average prices are expected to decline slightly over the projection period, while remaining relatively high. For individual fishery commodities, price volatility could be more pronounced as a result of supply or demand fluctuations. Moreover, because aquaculture is expected to represent a higher share of world fish supply, it could have a stronger impact on price formation in national and international fish markets.


The share of fish production destined for human consumption is expected to continue to grow, reaching 89 percent by 2030. The main factors behind this increase will be a combination of high demand resulting from rising incomes and urbanization, linked with the expansion of fish production, improvements in post-harvest methods and distribution channels expanding the commercialization of fish. Demand will also be stimulated by changes in dietary trends, pointing towards more variety in the typology of food consumed, and a greater focus on better health, nutrition and diet, with fish playing a key role in this regard. World food fish30 consumption in 2030 is projected to be 18 percent (28 million tonnes live weight equivalent) higher than in 2018. Overall, its average annual growth rate will be slower in the projection period (1.4 percent) than in the period 2007–2018 (2.6 percent), mainly because of reduced production growth, higher fish prices and a deceleration in population growth. About 71 percent of the world’s fish available for human consumption in 2030 (183 million tonnes) will be consumed in Asia, while the lowest quantities will be consumed in Oceania and Latin America. Total food fish consumption is expected to increase in all regions and subregions by 2030 in comparison with 2018, with higher growth rates projected in Latin America (33 percent), Africa (27 percent), Oceania (22 percent) and Asia (19 percent).

In per capita terms, world fish consumption is projected to reach 21.5 kg in 2030, up from 20.5 kg in 2018. However, the average annual growth rate of per capita food fish consumption will decline from 1.3 percent in 2007–2018 to 0.4 percent in 2019–2030. Per capita fish consumption will increase in all regions except Africa (with a decline of 3 percent). The highest growth rates are projected for Asia (9 percent), Europe (7 percent), and Latin America and Oceania (6 percent each). Despite these regional trends, the overall tendencies in quantities and variety of fish consumed will vary among and within countries. In 2030, about 59 percent of the fish available for human consumption is expected to originate from aquaculture production, up from 52 percent in 2018 (Figure 56). Farmed fish will continue to meet the demand for, and consumption of, species that have shifted from being primarily wild-caught to being primarily aquaculture-produced.



In Africa, per capita fish consumption is expected to decrease slightly by 0.2 percent per year up to 2030, declining from 10.0 kg in 2018 to 9.8 kg in 2030. The decline will be greater in sub-Saharan Africa (from 8.9 kg to 8.1 kg in the same period). The main reason for this decline is the growth of Africa’s population outpacing the growth in supply. Increasing domestic production (by 13 percent over the period 2019–2030) and higher fish imports will not be sufficient to meet the region’s growing demand. The share of imports of fish for human consumption in total food fish supply is expected to grow from 37 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2030. However, this increase, together with the expansion of aquaculture production (by 48 percent in 2030 compared with 2018) and capture fisheries production (by 5 percent), will only partially compensate for the population growth. One of the few exceptions will be Egypt, as the country is expected to further increase its already substantial aquaculture production (up 42 percent in 2030 compared with 2018). The projected decline in per capita fish consumption in Africa raises food-security concerns because of the region’s high prevalence of undernourishment (FAO et al., 2019) and the importance of fish in total animal protein intake in many African countries (see the section Fish consumption). The decline may also weaken the ability of more fish-dependent countries to meet nutrition targets (2.1 and 2.2) of SDG 2 (End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture).


Fish and fish products will continue to be highly traded. It is projected that about 36 percent of total fish production will be exported in 2030 in the form of various products for human consumption or non-edible goods. In quantity terms, world trade in fish for human consumption is expected to grow by 9 percent in the projection period, and to reach more than 54 million tonnes in live weight equivalent in 2030 and 47 million tonnes if trade within the European Union is excluded (Table 18). Overall, the average annual growth rate of exports is projected to decline from 2 percent in 2007–2018 to 1 percent in 2019–2030. This can be partly explained by: (i) the slower expansion of production; (ii) stronger domestic demand in some of the major producing and exporting countries, such as China; and (iii) rather high fish prices, which will restrain overall fish consumption. Aquaculture will contribute to a growing share of international trade in fishery commodities for human consumption. China will continue to be the major exporter of fish for human consumption, followed by Viet Nam and Norway. The bulk of the growth in fish exports is projected to originate from Asia, which will account for about 73 percent of the additional exported volumes by 2030. Asia’s share in total trade of fish for human consumption will increase from 48 percent in 2018 to 50 percent in 2030. Advanced economies are expected to remain highly dependent on imports to meet their domestic demand. The European Union, Japan and the United States of America will account for 38 percent of total imports for food fish consumption in 2030, a slightly lower share than in 2018 (40 percent) (Table 18).



Summary of main outcomes from the projections

The following major trends for the period up to 2030 emerge from the analysis:

  • World fish production, consumption and trade are expected to increase, but with a growth rate that will slow over time.

  • In spite of reduced capture fisheries production in China, world capture production is projected to grow moderately owing to increased production in other areas if resources are properly managed.

  • The world’s growth in aquaculture production, despite its deceleration, is anticipated to fill the supply–demand gap.

  • While prices will all increase in nominal terms, they should decline but remain high in real terms.

  • Food fish supply will increase in all regions, while per capita fish consumption is expected to decline in Africa, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, raising concerns in terms of food security.

  • Trade in fish and fish products is expected to increase more slowly than in the past decade, but the share of fish production that is exported is projected to remain stable.

  • The new fisheries and aquaculture reforms and policies to be implemented by China as a continuation of its Thirteenth Five-Year Plan (2016–2020) are expected to have a noticeable impact at the world level, with changes in prices, output and consumption.

Main uncertainties

The projections presented in this section are based on a series of economic, policy and environmental assumptions. A shock to any of these variables would result in different fish projections. Many uncertainties and potential issues may arise over the projection period. In addition to the uncertainties caused by COVID-19, the projections reported here can be affected by the policy reforms in China and a multitude of other factors. The next decade is likely to see major changes in the natural environment, resource availability, macroeconomic conditions, international trade rules and tariffs, market characteristics and social conduct, which may affect production, markets and trade in the medium term. Climate variability and change, including in the frequency and extent of extreme weather events are expected to have significant and geographically differential impacts on the availability, processing and trade of fish and fish products, making countries more vulnerable to risks (Box 22). These risks can be exacerbated by: (i) poor governance causing environmental degradation and habitat destruction, leading to pressure on the resource bases, overfishing, IUU fishing, diseases and invasions by escapees and non-native species; and (ii) aquaculture issues associated with the accessibility and availability of sites and water resources and access to credit, seeds and expertise. However, these risks can be mitigated through responsive and effective governance promoting stringent fisheries management regimes, responsible aquaculture growth and improvements in technology, innovations and research. In addition, market access requirements related to food safety, quality and traceability standards and product legality will continue to regulate international fish trade.

Illuminating Hidden Harvests: the contribution of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development

Illuminating Hidden Harvests (IHH) is a new global study into the contributions and impacts of small-scale fisheries in the context of sustainable development. With its release due in late 2020, the study has been led by FAO, Duke University and the CGIAR Research Program on Fish Agri-Food Systems led by WorldFish. The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Oak Foundation and CGIAR Trust Fund have provided funding for the study.

The IHH study represents one of the most extensive efforts to compile available data and information on small-scale fisheries around the world. It aims to contribute evidence to inform global dialogues and policy-making processes to enable fishers, civil society organizations and NGOs to advocate for productive, sustainable and equitable small-scale fisheries.

Sustainable development and the contributions and impacts of small-scale fisheries

From roadside drainage channels in Southeast Asia, to the mega-deltas of the world’s large river systems and the nearshore waters of oceans and seas, small-scale fisheries play an important role. While small-scale fisheries can look very different in each of these contexts, they have in common that they provide livelihoods for millions, essential nutrition to billions, and contribute substantially to household, local and national economies and economic growth. It is estimated that small-scale fisheries provide 90 percent of the employment in the marine fisheries sector (World Bank, 2012). Inland rivers, lakes and floodplains support even more fishers, processors and traders than do marine sectors, often as a crucial component of a complex and seasonally variable livelihood. In addition, small-scale fisheries are often culturally important to the identity of those involved, and can be central to coastal communities’ social structures, cultural heritage and trade.

However, owing to the highly diverse and dispersed nature of small-scale fisheries, quantifying and understanding their multiple contributions to and impacts on sustainable development is difficult. As a result, despite at times impressive headline statistics, small-scale fisheries are too frequently marginalized in social, economic and political processes and not given due attention in policy. This invisibility is becoming increasingly problematic as growing pressure from outside the sector (e.g. through competition for coastal/marine space and aquatic resources, and impacts of climate change) and from within (e.g. rising fishing effort, limited investment in management, and expansion of certain types of conservation measures) and the costs of marginalization are increasingly apparent.

The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) represent a global, highly participatory multi-stakeholder framework to redress this issue (FAO, 2015). The SSF Guidelines have the goal of supporting the development of small-scale fisheries and fishing communities through a human-rights-based approach to fisheries that is socially, economically and environmentally sustainable. Achieving this goal will require substantial support and collaboration from a variety of partners, including governments, small-scale fisheries organizations, development partners, research/academia and NGOs. A key element in building the case for this support is better illuminating the diverse contributions and impacts of these fisheries, and providing credible evidence in a way that communities and advocates can use to make a strong case for support to the sector, also supporting the achieving of the SDGs, in particular SDG Target 14.b on providing access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets.

What are the hidden harvests of small-scale fisheries?

The 2012 Hidden Harvest study was a first attempt to synthesize information on the diverse and misreported contributions of capture fisheries globally (World Bank, 2012). It produced detailed case studies from countries with important inland and marine small-scale fisheries, and used these to estimate global contributions. This synthesis produced some valuable estimates of the relative importance of large-scale and small-scale fisheries, including:

  • Millions of tonnes of fish from the small-scale fisheries are “hidden” – in the sense of being invisible and unreported – with the inland fisheries catch estimated to be underreported by about 70 percent.

  • Of the 120 million people who depend on capture fisheries, 116 million work in developing countries. Of these, more than 90 percent work in small-scale fisheries, and women make up almost 50 percent of the workforce.

  • In developing countries, small-scale fisheries produce more than half the fish catch, and 90–95 percent of this is consumed locally in rural settings where poverty rates are high and good-quality nutrition is sorely needed.

  • Employment in small-scale fisheries is several times higher per tonne of harvest than in large-scale fisheries.

Shedding new light on hidden harvests

To support the growing momentum in implementing the SSF Guidelines – and in response to the SDGs – FAO, WorldFish and Duke University have been working in partnership with experts globally to revisit and build on the initial Hidden Harvest study. Encompassing the harvesting and post-harvesting sectors of inland and marine fisheries, the IHH study aims to address the following questions:

  • What are the social, environmental, economic and governance contributions and impacts of small-scale fisheries at the global and local scales (Table 19)?

  • What are the key drivers of change in these sectors, including both threats and opportunities?



Case study approach

The IHH study is using a case study approach to engage with local expertise in priority countries that have substantial small-scale fisheries sectors or notable nutritional dependence on small-scale fisheries, both from marine and inland systems. A global synthesis will be built from country case study data, available global and regional datasets and responses to an FAO ad hoc questionnaire to all countries.

The IHH study seeks to reflect the need for more comprehensive approaches to sustainable development by expanding the scope of analysis compared with the 2012 Hidden Harvest study by also providing new synthesis on social and nutritional benefits, governance characteristics, and social differentiation in the flow of benefits from different fisheries sectors. A series of thematic studies will highlight available information on important themes, for example: gender, indigenous peoples and cultural identity.

The methodology for the study has been informed by consultations with experts, and a technical advisory group is supporting the IHH core team.

Country case studies

The IHH study includes about 50 country case studies. The countries were chosen for the absolute importance (global level) and/or relative importance (country level) of their small-scale fisheries, considering fisheries production, estimated small-scale fisheries production, employment in fisheries, role of fish for food security, and geographical representation.

The case-study countries represent 76 percent of the global marine catch, 83 percent of the global small-scale fisheries catch, and 86 percent of marine fishers. For inland fisheries, the countries account for 89 percent of global inland catch and 96 percent of inland fishers and post-harvest workers. By continent, the breakdown of the case-study countries is: Africa, 26; Asia-Pacific, 18; America, 10; and Europe, 5.

Key audiences and engagement

National governments and fisheries institutions: With primary responsibility for policy and as central actors in fisheries management, government institutions are an important target group as well as collaborators in the IHH study. For case-study countries, the study is expected to offer expert synthesis of existing survey and research data that can provide new, policy-relevant understandings of the diverse contributions and impacts of the national inland and marine small-scale fisheries sectors.

Fisheries administrations actively contribute to the IHH study by completing an FAO ad hoc survey on small-scale fisheries that will feed into both national case studies and global synthesis. This survey includes specific questions about the small-scale fisheries sector and the availability of data. It also complements the existing section on small-scale fisheries of the FAO questionnaire on the implementation of the Code (see the section Progress on the road to sustainability) and related instruments.

Small-scale fisheries advocates, in particular small-scale fisheries organizations: Small-scale fisheries organizations and related civil society organizations and NGOs supporting small-scale fisheries actors at the national, regional and international level are important voices in advocating for a productive, equitable and sustainable future for small-scale fisheries grounded in the principles of the SSF Guidelines. The development of the IHH study includes engaging directly with these groups to understand information needs and the best approaches to presenting outcomes of the study in a way that more effectively supports the inclusion of small-scale fisheries in relevant processes within and beyond fisheries.

Science and development communities: For both advocates and research partners in the sector, local contextual and high-level synthesized data and information on the contributions of small-scale fisheries are important in setting the priorities, direction and design of research. The IHH study engages local, national and international research centres, scientists and practitioners, as relevant, in case-study countries to help identify existing data and studies most relevant to the small-scale fisheries sector. It also encourages exploring available data that are usually not analysed from a small-scale fisheries perspective, for example, in relation to nutrition, but that can provide important insights on the contributions of the sector and, hence, help in directing policy and development attention.

Study outputs

The IHH project will produce a major synthesis report that will be launched in late 2020. Thematic studies, and possibly a number of country case studies, will appear as separate reports and scientific journal articles where appropriate. A communications strategy supports the process, involving close engagement with key stakeholders to understand communication needs to support small-scale fisheries communities and the drive to implement the SSF Guidelines.

In addition, methods developed for the IHH study will be made available, including in the form of e-learning, to facilitate their uptake. This is expected to further support capacity development in relation to gathering and analysing information on small-scale fisheries.

More information about the IHH study is available online (FAO, 2019n).

Improving the assessment of global inland fisheries

The lack of routine monitoring across a wide range of inland fisheries constrains the ability to provide an indication of the status or health of global inland fisheries (see the section Inland fisheries). This limitation covers both the effect of fishing activity, as well as that arising from anthropogenic drivers (including climate variability).

With the exception of some notable large-scale fisheries, monitoring of individual fisheries does not adequately reflect the state of inland fisheries across river basins or within national boundaries. The current global level of information available for analysis is national catch data, which is an aggregate of all national production data reported by countries.

Observing trends of increasing or decreasing national catch provides little insight into the state or sustainability of individual fisheries and their stocks within a country. Therefore, a meaningful assessment of inland fisheries must attempt to link the multiple environmental pressures acting on waterbodies across catchments and basins. This can indicate the extent to which these factors will exert influence on the degree to which a catchment can support inland fisheries activities (FAO, 2018f). FAO is cooperating with the United States Geological Survey to develop a global threat map for inland fisheries. This work uses a nested modelling approach to combine global geographical information datasets of 20 identified pressures (subindicators) that influence inland fisheries (Table 20).



The output is a composite map intended to provide a visual (and quantifiable) indication of the relative levels of threat to the potential of the waterbody to support inland fisheries or aquatic biodiversity within a basin and its sub-basins. The threat map can also be considered a proxy for the relative combined anthropogenic pressure on a specific basin or sub-basin supporting fisheries (Figure 57), noting that, up to a point, some of the drivers measured may increase fishery productivity rather than constrain it.



This work is an ongoing programme under the United States Geological Survey. Upon completion, the threat-mapping GIS layer will be freely available through ScienceBase and other open-source information systems. ScienceBase will serve as the data repository, a catalogue of code and data processing documentation, and a link to acquired datasets and relevant collaborations (United States Geological Survey, 2020). It is expected that at the aggregated, global scale, data layers will only change significantly over a five-to-ten-year period, and this would be the typical time frame for periodic updates on a global state of threats to the inland fisheries. FAO will be able to use the information and data generated for further analysis and linkage to capture fisheries reporting, preferably at the subnational level.

The mapping in Figure 58 identifies areas that are most prone to negative impacts as a result of pressures from increased eutrophication, high population density, pollution, land use and habitat fragmentation. It can provide insight as to where effort should be directed to understand the consequences of these pressures, especially if the area has a high catch or is of particular significance for aquatic biodiversity. The preliminary results of the analysis covered 87 identified basin areas, which produce 95 percent of the global inland fish catch (Table 21).





At the basin scale, the highest threat scores facing inland fisheries, arise from a combination of loss of hydrologic connectivity, water abstraction, low gross domestic product and high population density (this will tend to drive fishing for food), and land-use change and associated runoff. These threats may be more relevant to riverine and floodplain systems rather than large lake systems.

Only two of the basins score below 3, reflecting either low population densities and relatively low agricultural pressures, or regions where environmental management places some limits on the threat to freshwater environments and their fisheries. However, these two basins produce a negligible amount of inland fish.

The majority of the world’s inland fishery catch comes from basins that score 4–5 (47 percent) or higher at 6–7 (38 percent). The latter category represents some of the world’s most productive inland fisheries that have rather high threat scores, underlining the fact that, in these basins, high population densities and nutrient loadings, coupled with abundant water resources, might drive their productivity. Only 10 percent of global inland fish catch comes from the basins with the highest threat scores.

The threat maps may be more representative of fisheries in large, shallow lakes (e.g. Tonlé Sap) and riverine floodplains, wetlands, deltas and reservoirs, than those in very large waterbodies (e.g. Caspian Sea, Laurentian Great Lakes, Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria). This may be due to the high residence time and slow water exchange of large lake systems, allowing them to absorb or accumulate impacts, through processes that occur over a period of many years, before reaching a tipping point. Hence, a “low-impact” basin, could surround a large lake where significant eutrophication effects are seen (e.g. Lake Victoria). Such waterbodies will require a separate threat analysis for the waterbody itself.

Figure 58 presents four basin-level threat maps for important inland fisheries in Africa and Asia. The sub-basin disaggregation shows how different parts of a basin may contribute to its overall threat level. The different levels may be due to a high concentration of impacts in some areas, but not in others. It emphasizes that not all parts of basin are affected in the same way, and this has implications for both fisheries and biodiversity in each of these subareas.

An important feature of these threat maps is that they are scalable, ranging from the global map (Figure 57) through to basin and sub-basin scales (Figure 58) and to even lower resolution where the data exist. This allows fisheries and environmental managers to examine threats and drivers at the level appropriate to their management plans, and it supports an ecosystem approach to fishery management.

The advantage of this mapping method is that it uses global, publicly available data, allowing coverage of countries that may have very limited capacity to collect and report data to FAO. The interpretation of the maps can be greatly enhanced by triangulating the results of threat maps with field observations based on local knowledge and data collection, something that FAO and its Members could seek to strengthen. Linking the threat maps to fishery data at a subnational level will enable more detailed national analysis and planning, especially pointing to areas where there is a need for greater understanding of primary threats and their relationship to fisheries production and fish biodiversity. This would enable national fishery agencies to identify important inland fisheries (or aquatic biodiversity) that are at risk and prioritize appropriate fishery monitoring and management interventions.

The mapping could also be used to select and track some key inland fisheries as indicator fisheries, for a replicable assessment of the changes in global inland fisheries production. Such assessments could initially be supported by holistic fishery evaluation approaches, which aim to capture fishery status without the requirement for intensive sampling programmes. Linking an understanding of the state of the selected inland fisheries to the global threat map would also provide a baseline and means to report meaningfully on progress towards international goals such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets on inland fish stocks, as well as action on ecosystem restoration to support the SDGs.

Ultimately, this work will require commitment and additional resources to undertake assessments of the indicator fisheries on a routine basis, and agreement to report into a common framework in order to enable FAO to collate a global assessment in a similar manner to that of the FAO marine stock status assessment.

New and disruptive technologies for innovative data systems and practices

The 2018 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture outlined the need to improve the availability and use of fishery data, statistics and information (FAO, 2018a). While the fisheries and aquaculture sector has historically lagged behind in terms of adoption of efficient information systems, increased attention is now focusing on the opportunities that innovations in information technologies can provide, and on how these can change the way fisheries and aquaculture sustainability issues are generated, interpreted and communicated (FAO, 2020f). New tools building on proven technologies such as mobile phones or cloud-based systems are being deployed to address some of the persistent weaknesses (Box 23). However, the irruption of new and emerging technologies – such as high-resolution satellite imagery, the Automatic Identification System (AIS), cameras and in situ sensors, DNA and genetic profiling, blockchain, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning – is likely to significantly affect the established data supply chain and disrupt the sector’s management in the short-to-medium term.

In line with the vision of the SDGs, which anticipates benefits from innovation in information technologies, the fisheries and aquaculture sector is rapidly introducing these technologies to improve economic, social and environmental sustainability along value chains. This will result in fully monitored fisheries and precision aquaculture, with vessels and farms connected to multiple-sensor networks generating big datasets that can be used for all management purposes.

Automatic Identification System, artificial intelligence and machine learning

With advances in satellite technology, the tracking of vessel movements around the globe is well within the realms of technical possibility. One tracking technology designed for navigation safety is AIS. Every 10–30 seconds, it transmits a vessel’s position, identity, course and speed. The tracking of the movements of tens of thousands of industrial fishing vessels, analysed jointly with vessel registers by machine-learning algorithms enables predictions of the type of fishing activity, and quantification of fishing intensity by fishing gear. Thus, it is possible to create a global database of fishing effort by gear type with unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions. To this end, FAO and its partners are promoting the potential of AIS to assist fisheries management and research around the globe, and highlight its strengths, limitations and gaps (Taconet, Kroodsma and Fernandes, 2019).

In 2017, AIS started to be considered a valid technology for estimating fishing indicators. It can track most of the world’s large fishing vessels (those longer than 24 m), especially distant-water fleets and vessels on the high seas from upper- and middle-income countries. However, these larger vessels represent only 2 percent of the world’s total of 2.8 million motorized fishing vessels (Taconet, Kroodsma and Fernandes, 2019), and only a small fraction of the smaller and more coastal fleets carry AIS. The performance of AIS in tracking fishing activity varies significantly by fishing areas. For example, in Europe, where almost all vessels of more than 15 m in length have AIS, it provides a good estimate of fishing activity in the Northern Atlantic. However, in Southeast Asia, where the proportion of small vessels is large, where very few of them have AIS, and where reception quality is poor, AIS reports only a small fraction of the fishing activity. The largest discrepancy between AIS-based information and other fishing data occurs for fishing activity in the Eastern Indian Ocean.

Although AIS can provide information on fishing activity much more rapidly than can logbooks or official assessments via a vessel monitoring system (VMS), its level of detail (e.g. number of fishing gear or species captured) could be insufficient for many other uses, and compared with a VMS, vessels can easily turn off their AIS or broadcast incorrect identity information. Many benefits can be derived from combining AIS with VMS and logbook data.

The ability of AIS to differentiate gear is improving, although progress is still needed. Longliners, with a wide presence on the high seas worldwide, are the type of vessels best captured by AIS-based algorithms, to the point that this technology can be considered for providing metrics of fishing effort for stock assessments. The system also captures well other main fishing vessel types, such as purse seiners and trawlers, but tends to under-represent their importance compared with longliners. However, AIS is still limited in its ability to discriminate fishing activities for multi-gear vessels.

Overall, AIS can begin to be considered a viable technology for near-real-time estimates of fishing effort and marine spatial planning, provided it is supported by human verification (given the variable accuracy of AIS). Many actors see AIS as a technology that can track illegal fishing. However, AIS was originally designed for maritime security purposes – so that ships are aware of other ships’ positions – and its use for another purpose is likely to lead to problems and is not recommended. That said, AIS data could be used to provide statistical estimates of illegal fishing in certain situations.

In the future, AIS should be able to support fisheries management in the face of uncertainty and changing climate. It, or similar technologies, should be able to provide near-real-time monitoring of catch volume by fishery together with fishing effort. This step requires improved algorithm performance to integrate additional data sources, including VMS and logbooks, and comprehensive knowledge on species biology, fishing techniques, and the physical and jurisdictional environment. Generating intelligence and accurate estimates of fishing effort and catch of this big data assemblage will increasingly require AI and machine learning. Moreover, new infrastructures will be necessary to fill in the missing data of currently undetectable fleet segments. These include low-cost devices installed on small vessels to transmit their position, which are already being tested, and newer satellites that will be capable of detecting smaller transponders, detecting vessels using radio frequencies, or combining synthetic-aperture radar with AIS to identify vessels not using AIS or a VMS.

Precision aquaculture and monitoring technologies

In aquaculture, sensors increasingly collect optical (e.g. by video camera) and physical data to monitor, for example, fish growth, health and feed loss reduction. While past innovations focused on hardware and data collection, the problem is now the pressure on farmers to consistently interpret the large amount of data. Here, AI and data processing can help by identifying patterns in feeding activities and presenting strategies to farmers, ranging from cost-efficient use of feed to maintaining fish welfare.

Genomics is rapidly impacting many facets of life. In the fisheries and aquaculture sector, DNA technology has become important in: fish breeding; the detection of pathogens; early warning systems for detecting plankton-borne threats to aquaculture based on environmental DNA; and fish authentication and provenance, especially for fish products in international trade. Moreover, DNA can be used to confirm the authenticity of specific products, with data also being stored in a blockchain structure (Table 22). However, there is no regulatory standard for DNA-based authentication of fish products, and an international collaboration based on industry-agreed systems is needed in order to make this innovation accessible.



The knowledge needed for developing aquaculture systems under a blue growth paradigm requires innovations in monitoring. This is achievable through intensive data integration across various scales. Satellites, with, for example, normalized difference vegetation index products, can elucidate the location, number, surface of cages or ponds, and even the type of aquaculture practised. The IoT provides this interconnectedness among systems and across sensors, and enables managers to analyse data generated by satellite observations jointly with those provided from electronic fish tags.

The key challenge with all these innovations is to combine data across data providers and countries and analyse them in a consistent way. Cloud computing and AI will benefit if data are consistent and follow standards for their collection and processing. Here, FAO can play a leading role by contributing to the development of standards, guidelines and best practices through standard-setting bodies such as the Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP), United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business, and the Research Data Alliance.


Blockchain has considerable potential to improve traceability, accuracy and accountability along fisheries value chains, although significant constraints remain. It can provide an online traceability infrastructure for the permanent storage and sharing of key data elements (e.g. catch area, species and product type, production or expiry date) along with critical tracking events (e.g. fishing vessel operations, landing, product splits and processing). Blockchain is already used as a digital ledger for recording transactions of products between supply chain actors.

Blockchain consists of a linked chain that stores auditable data in units called blocks (FAO and ITU, 2019). It can be used to record, track and monitor physical and digital assets in fish supply chains. It offers opportunities to integrate and manage, in real time, processes, product attributes and transactions that are added by supply-chain actors and the IoT, i.e. sensors and other devices. Table 22 illustrates a fish supply chain supported by blockchain where the end-user (consumer) will be able to retrieve the full history of the product as well as its attributes. Data stored in the blockchain are secure, decentralized and immutable.

Applications of blockchain in food supply chains can address a wide array of issues (FAO and ITU, 2019; Nofima, 2019; Bermeo-Almeida et al., 2018). These include: improving food safety, traceability and transparency; and enhancing performance, revenue, accountability, data security, and brand protection. From an operational perspective, blockchain in fish value chains could provide incentives for different stakeholders in the industry. For the private sector, it could improve operational efficiencies and bolster brands in the marketplace, while for governmental authorities it could be a means to verify and validate catch reports and to document that export market requirements are met.

A fish farmer harvesting fish from one of the 120 ponds FAO has sponsored in the area.

©FAO/Marco Longari

A recent FAO study (Blaha and Katafano, 2020) has investigated blockchain applications in fish value chains. Tuna is by far the most tracked commodity using blockchain, with other commodities being Patagonian toothfish and farmed shrimp. Although building on different blockchain platforms, the various initiatives converge in their objectives of data sharing and securing immutability of data. Implementing blockchain is practical in a context of high-value fish commodities with clearly defined value chains, as well as where there is effective buy-in from value chain stakeholders. Challenges include: the reliance on human inputs subject to tampering, or on physical fish tags or labels (which could be lost, damaged or tampered with); the lack of openness to the public of private and consortium blockchain platforms, resulting in transactions that cannot be independently verified; and the incompletely tested solutions regarding real-world complex fish value chain scenarios where the value chain actors are unknown.

Tools for developing blockchain solutions continue to improve, and solutions for implementation continue to grow. However, in general terms, adoption, implementation and the scaling up of blockchain-based solutions are currently impeded by a number of barriers. The most important of these are uncertainties regarding forthcoming regulations, the lack of trust among users, and the difficulties in bringing existing networks together and achieving interoperability (Tripolo and Schmidhuber, 2018). In the particular case of traceability in fish value chains, the inherent challenges of the sector and the opportunities offered by the technology need to be taken into account when developing business cases, with careful cost–benefit analysis building on well-designed decision models (FAO and ITU, 2019; Litan, 2019) in order to determine whether blockchain-based solutions are the best choice when compared with existing electronic traceability systems.

In light of the above, and considering that blockchain is a high-technology system that builds on and improves existing systems, the lack of traceability, standardization and interoperability remains a major concern. FAO has a role to play in providing technical assistance to countries to develop and implement traceability systems, while recognizing the different applications of these systems, such as food safety, legality, ecolabelling, catch documentation and food fraud (FAO and ITU, 2019).

Perspectives and challenges of augmented technology

The above examples illustrate how the fishing industry is collecting and analysing more and more data, which contribute to the reality of the “data deluge” together with the increasing availability of huge public datasets, such as the Copernicus earth observation programme and its Global Ocean Observing System, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s observation systems. In the past decade, the world has gained access to unprecedented amounts of data on the fishing and aquaculture sector. About 400 hundred satellites observe the earth’s climate and environment, several thousand floats collect environmental data, and almost 50 000 fishing vessels were already being tracked in 2017. Moreover, the technology should soon be able to track fishing activity and (lost) fishing gear. The 100 million small-scale fishers who need safety at sea and fair prices will benefit from mobile applications for improving their livelihood, and by the same token be able to transmit data. Sensors will be everywhere – in vessels, on gear, on animals, in space, and in water.

On top of this, big-data flows, AI and machine learning will generate reports that will inform authorities and the owners of aquaculture farms and fishing vessels in real time. In aquaculture and fisheries, these innovations offer cheap and reliable alternatives for relatively simple tasks such as performance analysis using environmental and technical data, or more complex tasks such as identifying safe and profitable fishing routes. In fisheries management, the combination of big data and AI is likely to be a game changer. For example, they are anticipated to be able to forecast biomass or to provide real-time support to decision-making regarding which fishing areas should be closed. Truly adaptive fisheries management strategies responding to signals from the field could become the norm. The enforcing of regulations will become more data-driven, and monitoring agencies should considerably improve their understanding of the sector.

High-tech and big-data approaches have the potential to improve sustainability and working conditions for fishers and fish farmers, and help society to understand better the interdependences that aquaculture and fisheries have with the environment. However, new technologies can infringe on privacy, run the risk of breaking established monitoring and management frameworks, and may not automatically result in efficient controls on activities. Here, FAO has a role to play in promoting the use of standards, in ensuring that fishers’ rights and livelihoods are improved in the future by fostering international collaboration on data management and privacy, and in encouraging the development of appropriate regulations, guidelines and best practices for information systems.

Aquaculture biosecurity

Disease emergence

Aquatic animal disease is one of the most serious constraints to the expansion and development of sustainable aquaculture. Globally, a trend in aquaculture is that a previously unreported pathogen that causes a new and unknown disease will emerge, spread rapidly, including across national borders, and cause major production losses approximately every three to five years (FAO, 2019o). Such serious transboundary aquatic animal diseases are most often caused by viruses, but occasionally a bacterium or a parasite may be the causative agent. A long time lapse (usually years) then ensues, from the time that a serious mortality event is observed in the field, to the subsequent identification and confirmation of its causative agent, to global awareness, and to the establishment and implementation of surveillance and reporting/notification systems and effective risk management measures. In this regard, as stated in the previous edition of this publication (FAO, 2018a), “a paradigm shift is needed in dealing with aquaculture biosecurity risks.” By the time the pathogen has been identified and its host range determined, it may have already become widespread globally (including to wild populations), through the movement of live animals of uncertain health status, most often for aquaculture development.

In recent years, the understanding of the drivers for disease emergence in aquaculture has increased, and the factors and pathways involved can be grouped in four general categories (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2019a), namely:

  • Trade and movement of live animals and their products: Fish, shrimp and other cultured aquatic animals (and aquatic plants) have become food commodities, traded globally as live aquatic organisms (e.g. eggs, larvae, fry and adults) and products (fresh, frozen, dried, salted and smoked), often in huge volumes. When adequate national biosecurity is lacking, pathogens (and invasive aquatic species) may be transferred at the same time.

  • Knowledge of pathogens and their hosts: Due to their unique aquatic medium, the health of cultured populations of aquatic animals is not readily apparent. The large number of species reared under a variety of aquaculture systems (more than 600 species are farmed globally) means that knowledge on new diseases and the range of susceptible host species often lags behind aquaculture development. Moreover, there is often a slow collective awareness of new threats among relevant stakeholders and entities responsible for maintaining biosecurity. Basic knowledge on the pathogen (e.g. pathogenicity and transmission routes) and its host(s) (e.g. species, life stages infected, immunity and genetics) is often lacking, as are sensitive, specific, and rapid diagnostic tests for identification.

  • Aquatic animal health management: A lack (or insufficient number and quality) of institutional and technical capacities limits the application of effective biosecurity measures. Some of the more important ones are: (i) weak regulatory frameworks, enforcement and implementation of international standards and guidelines for biosecurity best practices; (ii) weak coordination between the multiple institutions involved in aquaculture production and aquatic animal health management (i.e. fisheries, aquaculture and veterinary authorities); (iii) a lack of adequate and well-implemented biosecurity strategies at the farm, sector and national levels; and (iv) absent or insufficient capacity for response to emergencies;

  • Ecosystem changes: Aquatic ecosystems are dynamic, changing through both direct human activity (dams, community expansion, pollution, shipping, tourism, new species introductions, etc.) and non-human impacts (climate change, hurricanes, algal blooms, etc.). In these evolving situations, achieving successful aquaculture is complicated by the physiology of the animals (e.g. poikilothermic constraints to adaptation), emergence of pathogens, and changing geographical ranges of wild stocks, and microbes and parasites as environmental factors change near the tolerance levels for hosts and disease agents.

The environmental, social and economic impacts of disease outbreaks in aquaculture are many, and can be very substantial. They can include: direct costs of lost production due to mortalities and slow growth; temporary or permanent closure of aquaculture facilities, causing loss of employment in aquaculture and related upstream and downstream industries; and decreased trade and loss of markets due to bans on exportation, and loss of domestic sales due to public concerns over the safety of consuming fish and shellfish (with spillover into capture fisheries). A recent study (Shinn et al., 2018) estimated the economic losses in Thailand due to acute hepatopancreatic necrosis disease in the period 2010–2016 at USD 7.38 billion, with a further USD 4.2 billion in lost exports. Also for Thailand, losses due to Enterocytozoon hepatopenaei could be up to USD 180 million per year. According to the China Fisheries Statistics Yearbook, disease outbreaks caused a direct production loss to Chinese aquaculture of 205 000 tonnes, worth USD 401 million (CNY 2.6 billion), in 2018. In the questionnaire for the Census of Aquaculture 2018 carried out by the Department of Agriculture in the United States of America, disease was listed ahead of all other causes of production losses.

Biosecurity has been challenging the aquaculture sector for the last three decades. Stakeholders from national competent authorities, producer and academic sectors, regional and international entities and development institutions as well as donors agree that actions need to be taken, and they have exerted great efforts in addressing biosecurity. However, very often, such actions have been reactive and costly because less-costly preventative approaches based on international biosecurity best practices have not been implemented. Is there something else that can be done?

Challenges and solutions

To assist its Members in supporting the goals of FAO’s BGI, in particular that of promoting sustainable aquaculture development for food security and economic growth, the COFI Sub-Committee on Aquaculture endorsed the Progressive Management Pathway for Improving Aquaculture Biosecurity (PMP/AB) at its tenth session held in Trondheim, Norway, August 2019 (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2019b). This new paradigm, introduced in The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2018 (FAO, 2018a), focuses on building management capacity through combined bottom-up and top-down approaches with strong stakeholder engagement, leading to co-management of biosecurity and promotion of long-term commitment to risk management.

Using the PMP/AB platform, a participating country or enterprise may progress through four stages, as appropriate to its specific situation:

  1. Biosecurity risks identified and defined.

  2. Biosecurity systems developed and implemented.

  3. Biosecurity and preparedness enhanced.

  4. Sustainable biosecurity and health management systems established to support the national aquaculture sector.

As countries and aquaculture enterprises advance along the biosecurity pathway, the following outcomes can be expected: reduced burden of diseases; improved aquatic health at the farm and national levels; minimized global spread of diseases; optimized national socio-economic benefits from aquaculture; attraction of investment into aquaculture; and achievement of One Health goals. These outcomes will provide benefits at the enterprise, national, regional and global levels.

This process will include the development of PMP toolkits to support its implementation, for example: governance and national application guidelines; risk-based surveillance; decision trees for investigating aquatic animal (including plant) mortality events; emergency preparedness and response system audits; aquatic animal disease burden; public–private-sector partnerships; and biosecurity actions plans specific to farms and commodities (sectors).

Another milestone decision reached at the tenth session of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture was the recommendation to COFI to consider the development, as part of FAO’s global aquaculture sustainability programme, of a multidonor-assisted, long-term component on aquaculture biosecurity and its five pillars:

  1. Strengthening disease prevention at the farm level through responsible fish farming (including reducing antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture and application of suitable alternatives to antimicrobials) and other science-based and technology-proven measures.

  2. Improving aquaculture biosecurity governance through implementing the PMP/AB, enhancing interpretation and implementation of international standards and strengthening the One Health approach by bringing together state and non-state (producers and value chain stakeholders) actors, international and regional organizations, and research, academic, donor and financial institutions to design and implement mandated biosecurity measures.

  3. Expanding understanding of aquaculture health economics (burden and investments).

  4. Enhancing emergency preparedness (early warning and forecasting tools, early detection, and early response) at all levels.

  5. Actively supporting Pillars 1–4 with several cross-cutting issues such as capacity and competence development, disease intelligence and risk communication, education and extension, targeted research and development and innovation (FAO Committee on Fisheries, 2019b).

The PMP/AB emphasizes the need to understand aquaculture health economics (burden and investments, costs and benefits). With respect to Pillar 3, FAO is collaborating with the University of Liverpool and partners to address diseases in aquaculture within the Global Burden of Animal Diseases programme. This programme, coupled with guidance for the estimation of losses due to aquatic diseases, is expected to support more consistent and accurate estimates of the cost of diseases at the national, regional and global levels. This information will demonstrate the potential economic benefits to be gained by implementing the PMP/AB.

The need for long-term biosecurity management strategies, including implementation of international standards on aquatic animal health of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE, 2020), has long been emphasized, including in the previous edition of this publication (FAO, 2018a). Among such strategies, the mandatory development of domesticated, specific pathogen-free (SPF) stocks for aquaculture species targeted for sustainable industrial production is becoming essential. It is now timely to optimize the use of SPF stocks. While the use of SPF shrimp stocks varies greatly between regions and farming practices, evidence is increasingly showing that they have reduced the introduction of pathogens and disease expression in farms, and provided a means for the safe introduction of Penaeus vannamei around the world – the species of choice and the dominant species in shrimp farming. Moreover, SPF shrimp has become an important asset in laboratory-based studies such as disease challenges and other nutritional and biochemical studies (Alday-Sanz et al., 2018). The use of infected broodstock perpetuates disease problems all along the production cycle.

In conclusion, to meet the ever-growing demand for fish and seafood for human consumption, aquaculture systems must become more efficient by increasing production and profitability through prevention and long-term biosecurity management strategies that can greatly reduce the economic and environmental losses caused by diseases. Creating healthy and resilient hosts through good biosecurity – in combination with good genetics and nutrition – is needed for a maturing aquaculture industry. It is now time to pursue multi-stakeholder commitment and multidonor support towards a coherent, cooperative and coordinated aquaculture biosecurity component of the global aquaculture sustainability programme.

Towards a new vision for capture fisheries in the twenty-first century

The capture fisheries sector is at a crossroads. On the one hand, fish and fish products make a crucial and increasing contribution to economic growth, food, nutrition and livelihood security. For example, of the 34 countries where fish contributes more than one-third of the total animal protein supply, 18 are LIFDCs. Moreover, per capita fish consumption has doubled in the last 50 years (see here); and dietary recommendations include a significant increase in fish consumption (Willett et al., 2019). On the other hand, 34 percent of assessed fish stocks are fished at levels that exceed biological sustainability (see here). Furthermore, the fish stock status in developed countries is improving, while many developing countries face a worsening situation in terms of overcapacity, production per unit of effort and stock status (see Box 4). The capture fisheries sector is therefore in need of significant management action in some regions, particularly in the context of the expected impacts of climate change in coming decades.

Navigating this crossroads demands a vision that outlines how the sector can respond to the complex and rapidly changing challenges facing society. This vision needs to recognize the crucial role of fisheries in future economic development, food, nutrition and livelihood security, in the context of the multiple environmental impacts that humans have to address, on land and in water, in order to place humanity on a more sustainable footing. To develop this vision, FAO hosted the International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability, on 18–21 November 2019 in Rome (FAO, 2020f). The event attracted almost 1 000 attendees from more than 100 countries, including academia, the private sector, governments, and intergovernmental, non-governmental and civil society organizations, to discuss a number of strategic questions addressed in eight topical sessions. The recommendations emerging from the debates are summarized below, by topic, for information and consideration by all stakeholders. These recommendations do not constitute a set of necessary steps agreed by all, and they are not geographically or temporally explicit or prioritized in any way. They represent a collective set of views on issues that need consideration in order to drive sustainability forward.

TOPIC 1. On the challenges to achieving ecological sustainability of global and regional fisheries:

  • Promote assessment and monitoring of individual stocks and improve transparency at the stock and country level to better understand the status of fisheries at relevant geographical scales.

  • Encourage the development and implementation of simpler stock assessment methods that require less-detailed data and less technical expertise to reduce the proportion of unassessed stocks around the globe.

  • Improve the monitoring of inland fisheries and the collection of biological, fishery and habitat information in a cost-efficient and rigorous manner.

  • Mobilize resources and provide financial support for continued capacity development programmes aimed at strengthening stock and fisheries assessment and monitoring systems, particularly in developing-world, small-scale and inland fisheries.

  • Consider adoption of a new global target for sustainable management that would be more conservative or precautionary in data-limited situations and/or where governance is weaker.

  • Data-poor does not always mean information-poor. Develop and implement better mechanisms to incorporate multiple types of available information, including local knowledge and expertise, and their integration into assessment and management approaches.

  • Collect basic data needed for a particular fishery and capture local knowledge to help design empirical, simple harvest control rules.

  • Encourage appropriate communication, knowledge mobilization and education across all actors (fishers, scientists and managers) involved in decision-making to improve transfer of information and buy-in compliance to regulations to achieve effective management systems.

  • Promote appropriate communication and awareness about the impact of illegal fishing on overfishing and fish stock recovery.

  • Encourage mechanisms to improve and reward compliance with management regulations.

TOPIC 2. On how to better link biodiversity conservation and food security objectives:

  • Support the development of joint biodiversity and food security objectives that recognize trade-offs and are nationally and locally relevant.

  • Engage and influence existing and emerging policy frameworks (for example, the CBD’s post-2020 global biodiversity framework, and the SDGs) that represent opportunities to design, implement and monitor joint objectives.

  • Continue developing inclusive integrated management frameworks that rapidly move to reference points consistent with ecosystem sustainability goals, promoting stewardship and participatory management that effectively translate into action at all scales.

  • Enhance the ability to monitor and report on ecological, economic and social sustainability by incorporating information on ecosystems (including people), drawing on diverse sets of knowledge (social, economic and biological sciences, and local and traditional knowledge), disaggregated by gender.

  • Promote and strengthen diverse, inclusive and accountable partnerships to effectively manage ecosystems for both biodiversity and food security.

  • Integrate market-based mechanisms that advance sustainability in fisheries management.

  • The tools (including new technologies) exist to help achieve joint objectives. Implementation should build on previous experiences using these tools and remain mindful of the specific context.

TOPIC 3. On the contribution of fisheries to food security and nutrition:

  • Use best available science to make food policy and nutrition action plans.

  • Improve data collection and analysis of aquatic food consumption and analysis of nutrients and food safety (at species level, considering parts used, processing and preparation methods).

  • Ensure that aquatic foods are reaching those who need them most, across diverse communities within regions, and diverse individual needs within households – to ensure that essential micronutrients, fatty acids and bioavailable proteins reach children, women and men.

  • Deploy context-specific messaging through appropriate channels to encourage consumption of diverse nutritious and sustainably produced aquatic foods.

  • Include aquatic foods in food systems policies, given their potential contribution to addressing malnutrition in all forms.

  • Improve the utilization and stability of the aquatic food supply by supporting disruptive technologies, social innovations and targeted risks to unleash new networks of supply chain governance capable of being inclusive and socially just.

TOPIC 4. On how to secure sustainable fisheries livelihoods:

  • Highlight the contribution and support the role of fisheries, in particular small-scale fisheries, in income, culture, and food security and nutrition.

  • Recognize the role of women and prioritize achieving gender equality across the value chain, including decision-making.

  • Empower fishing communities, strengthen participatory approaches and build capacity. Develop and support inclusive institutions and small-scale fisheries organizations, including those representing the rights of indigenous communities, women and marginalized sectors of societies, so that local communities can participate in resource planning, development and governance to secure access to resources and markets.

  • Modify data collection systems to include disaggregated data to account for nutrition, well-being, gender and other dimensions beyond catch. Encourage co-production of information with stakeholders to promote trust and collaboration among governments, academia and small-scale fishing communities, and build capacity to use information.

  • Promote approaches to fisheries development and governance that build on the principles of the SSF Guidelines.

  • Ensure that actors along the value chain, in particular women and small-scale producers and processors, have the capacity to seize opportunities and reap their fair share of benefits and engage fully in sustainable and equitable food systems.

  • Encourage recognition of the role of small-scale fisheries in livelihoods, food and nutrition to millions of people globally, and use the occasion of the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture in 2022 to raise the profile of fisheries livelihoods.

TOPIC 5. On the economic sustainability of fisheries:

  • Fishing is an economic activity, and the efficient and effective allocation and utilization of scarce economic resources should be part of the policy discussion also in the fisheries sector.

  • Improve the collection and analysis of economic data on the full impact of the sector to support policymakers to make informed decisions.

  • Include economic factors in policy trade-offs as social support systems in combination with value-chain development strategies.

  • Increasing average age of fishers together with higher availability of technological tools provide opportunities for sectoral restructuring and improved opportunities for young and well-qualified people, leading to reductions in catching efforts with improved economic returns and resource sustainability.

  • Promote trust across value-chain relationships. Fisheries management does not take place in isolation and instead requires building awareness through participation in sustainability at all levels of the supply chain, including consumers and fisherfolk.

  • Define and allocate property rights and implement actions, based on local contexts, to improve the economic performance of fisheries.

  • Ensure human capital is being fully utilized. Mainstream gender-inclusive polices to increase the role, well-being and working conditions of women in the sector, including at decision-making levels.

  • Improve access to credit, finance and insurance, especially in the small-scale subsector, and in particular for women entrepreneurs and operators from disadvantaged groups.

  • Reduce waste and increase utilization by developing new products and markets.

  • Reduce and eliminate harmful subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing.

  • Promote greater social responsibility in the fisheries value chain, working together through public–private partnerships, and through international collaboration with the ILO, IMO and others.

TOPIC 6. On the impacts of climate change on fisheries sustainability:

  • Transformative adaptation is urgently needed. Many fishers and aquaculture farmers are already adapting, but institutions and policies need to follow suit. Learn from examples of successful adaptation.

  • Respond to climate change by improving fisheries management through the implementation of cross-sectoral, holistic and precautionary approaches that attain robustness to variability, rather than stability.

  • Develop adaptive spatial management mechanisms that can help address shifts in species distributions and changes in the seasonality of ecological processes.

  • Climate change will almost always result in winners and losers. This requires negotiating trade-offs and building on climate justice, equity and ethical considerations when taking decisions on the allocation of and access to fisheries resources.

  • Diversify value chains by adding value to new or currently undervalued resources. Promote market diversification to avoid weak links that result in low resilience to changes and shocks. Educate consumers.

  • Design adaptation solutions that account for gender differences in terms of vulnerability and build on the specific skills and the positive role women and youth can play.

  • Invest in innovation of fishing and fish farming practices, modern insurance alternatives, early warning systems, communication, and the use of industry real-time data.

TOPIC 7. On the role of innovation and new information technologies:

  • Integrate data collection and supply chains. Deficiencies in data collection are still important, but no longer the only driver in data gaps. There is a strong need for developing countries to invest in the capacity to collect, compile and analyse data in fully integrated systems.

  • Promote online structures delivering analytic services, and invest in remote sensing technologies, Internet accessibility and sensors as ways to generate new, real-time and inclusive knowledge.

  • Development of key simple and easy data that can be collected on a phone application would greatly expand the pool of data to support fisheries management decisions.

  • Tackle unnecessary institutional and regulatory barriers. Recognize the importance of institutional, governmental and regulatory barriers in the implementation of effective fisheries information systems and data sharing, and consider open-data policies governed by principles that are secure and transparent.

  • Build trusted knowledge from data. Develop well-defined, transparent and inclusive processes to facilitate communication at the science–policy interface in order to ensure that trusted sources of data and information (including indigenous ones) produce credible, relevant and legitimate fisheries knowledge, openly accessible, at all scales.

  • Reduce the digital divide. Invest in mobile data collection and the use of remote-sensing technologies, involve fisherfolk communities, including women and youth, and empower them with services (including analytics) to improve their livelihoods and facilitate ownership. Ensure awareness of new available technologies, and build capacities to facilitate their adoption, ensuring sustainable choices.

  • Support capacity building in the data supply chain, i.e. data collection, data management and data analysis.

  • Develop international policy guidelines on how to develop and equitably utilize emerging technologies and ensure FAIR principles (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, Reusable).

  • By supporting strengthened governance and increased partnerships among data and technology providers, the public sector can help achieve comprehensive, neutral and sharable data feeds from local applications to global statistics and trends monitoring.

TOPIC 8. On the policy opportunities for fisheries and aquatic ecosystems in the twenty-first century:

  • Integrate fisheries into broader planning and governance frameworks – fisheries management cannot act in isolation, and should be working alongside other more visible and economically valuable sectors.

  • Continue and intensify efforts to eradicate IUU fishing. In particular, all flag, port, coastal and market States need to ratify and implement the PSMA.

  • Support small-scale fisheries actors by implementing the SSF Guidelines, and increase financial support in the context of the blue economy and ocean management.

  • Strengthen the political will and capacity to improve implementation of existing policy frameworks, and support policy innovation for emerging challenges.

  • Ensure fisheries policy and management decisions are inclusive, promoting respectful recognition of scientific evidence and of local and traditional knowledge.

  • Improve public and governmental perception of fisheries to justify investment and respond to criticism, thus increasing ownership of the fisheries agenda.

  • Increase accountability and build greater trust in the capacity and transparency of the fisheries sector to be part of the solution, and improve cohesion with conservation objectives.

  • Ensure livelihoods, well-being and decent work are fundamental goals in fisheries governance and management, involving stakeholders, and securing rights and access, while reconciling food security and supply objectives with conservation.

  • Ensure that efforts to develop the blue economy are based on sustainable development, and incorporate the rights of those whose livelihoods depend on the sea now and for future generations of fishers.

  • Improve gender equality, support to younger generations and capacity building in fisher communities.

The above recommendations should be considered by FAO and its partners in the development of their work plans for coming years. They should also provide the technical basis for a Declaration on Fisheries Sustainability to be tabled at the Thirty-fourth Session of COFI. This declaration will recognize successes and challenges on the path towards sustainable fisheries, and move the community forward with a new and positive vision for fisheries, 25 years after endorsement by countries of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

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1 JUNE 2020



The 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture was completed as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic spread around the world. Therefore, the publication makes reference to, but does not address the impacts of, the pandemic on the sector. This addendum is intended to capture these rapidly evolving impacts, and provide a baseline for interventions and policy advice.

Although COVID-19 does not infect aquatic species (Bondad-Reantaso et al., 2020), it has affected the fisheries and aquaculture food systems like no other shock before. The protection measures taken by governments to contain the spread of the disease, while necessary, have impacted each step of the seafood supply chain, from fishing and aquaculture production, to processing, transport, and wholesale and retail marketing. Yet, in this period of global pandemic, fish1 remains an essential source of animal proteins, micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, which are vital in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where diets are heavily reliant on fish.2 It is therefore important that these countries continue to have access to fish products.

Protecting each stage of the fisheries and aquaculture supply chain

In addition to being important for the livelihoods of many fish-dependent communities, fish and fish products are among the most highly traded food products in the world, with 38 percent of total fish production entering international trade. The measures necessary to contain the spread of COVID-19 have caused disruption in all segments of both domestic and international supply chains. Protecting each stage of the supply chain is fundamental to avoid global and local food crises, and protect fish-dependent economies.3

Fishing activity reduced

Fishing activities have decreased in both artisanal and industrial sectors during the pandemic. According to Global Fishing Watch, global industrial fishing activity had fallen globally by about 6.5 percent as at the end of April 2020, compared with previous years, as a result of restrictions and closures related to COVID-19 (Clavelle, 2020). Limited supplies (e.g. ice, fuel, gear and bait), due to suppliers being closed or unable to provide inputs on credit, have also constrained fishing activities. Labour shortages have also had a severe impact on fishing activities, particularly where crews are made up of migrant workers. As a consequence, their families in home countries are having to cope with the reduction or halting of remittance flows (World Bank, 2020). Recently, in some regions, signs of improvement have been evident in some fisheries (e.g. changes in target species and in marketing strategies in line with changes in demand), with some small-scale fisheries potentially adjusting more quickly to market demand.

Varied impacts in aquaculture production

Effects on aquaculture have varied with regions, species, markets and financial capacity of farms. Following disruptions, many farmers who have been unable to sell their harvest have had to maintain large quantities of live fish. Others have not been able to complete all necessary seasonal tasks such as fish breeding. This has increased costs and risks, in particular when the supply of inputs has also been disrupted, and it is also likely to delay restocking and subsequent harvests. Species grown for export have been severely affected by the disruption of international transport. Although some government or financial institutions have provided financial support, the risk of bankruptcy remains. However, preliminary projections by a few companies indicate that they may have the capacity to recover once the crisis eases.

Aquaculture farms supplying the live-fish market or high-end food services (i.e. restaurants, tourism and hotels) have also been dramatically impacted. Their capacity to recover will depend largely on their ability to re-direct their sales to other markets, especially supermarkets and retail, including their use of digitization tools, which have emerged as a major innovation during the crisis.

Small and medium-sized enterprises and farms are struggling with cash-flow issues, as the crisis has not only slashed their incomes but also created new expenses associated with the cost of maintaining live stocks in production facilities.

The availability of labour and aquaculture inputs needed for production (e.g. medicines, fingerlings and feed) have also been impacted by restrictions on cargo movements, precautionary measures and borders closures. Input suppliers could feel the main impact in the coming months as businesses may close their operations or delay restocking.

Processors, markets and traders adjusting to demand

The main adverse effects are for producers supplying the food services sector, e.g. hotels, restaurants and catering. Some have started direct sales and delivery service to households in an effort to compensate for lost hotel and restaurant demand. Exports have been severely affected owing to transport disruptions. However, food retail sales have remained stable or increased for frozen, canned, marinated and smoked fish with a longer shelf-life.

Processing has been affected by worker health issues and labour shortages due to COVID-19 illness and quarantining of staff. Changes in demand are also affecting storage, resulting in increased food loss and waste. Many wholesale and retail fish markets are often congested and crowded, presenting risks to traders, most of whom are women, as well as to consumers, who take significant risks to maintain their livelihoods and to buy fresh fish to eat.

It is important to highlight the fact that informal supply chains are facing greater impacts due to the lack of formal contractual relationships (no established cold chain or insurance, among others). Another consequence of the virus outbreak, linked to global trade, is the cancellation of key seafood trade events across the world.

Problems in working conditions, especially for women and other vulnerable workers, along the supply chain

While some small-scale fisheries have been able to adapt (e.g. providing direct sales to consumers), in general small-scale fishers and fishworkers have been hit hardest because they lack capital to weather the storm, depend on fishing for their daily income/food, and do not have access to health services, among other reasons. In some parts of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, more than 90 percent of small-scale fishers have been forced to stop fishing during lockdowns, despite being a primary food production sector, as they have been unable to sell their catches and/or as the prices of fish have dropped below a profitable level (Euronews, 2020). Women, who represent 50 percent of the labour force in fisheries and aquaculture,4 have been particularly affected by reduced landings and the closure or reduction of processing and marketing activities (CFFA, 2020). In addition, fishers, and fish processors and vendors (many of whom are women), are exposed to a greater risk of infection, as they have close contact with others at all stages of the value chain (CFFA, 2020). Moreover, the widespread informal activities in the sector constitute an added barrier for fishers, women fishworkers and fish farmers in accessing protection offered under labour market policies and contributory social protection mechanisms.

Working conditions and the safety of fishers in both small and industrial sectors have been affected owing to having to work longer periods, which increases fatigue and stress. However, this health crisis does present an opportunity to address and improve the working and sanitary conditions of these most vulnerable groups, with a particular focus on young people and women, who experience an increased burden of work and higher incidence of gender-based violence.

Management and policies

The impacts of COVID-19 have affected fisheries management processes. Some fish assessment surveys have been reduced or postponed, obligatory fisheries observer programmes have been temporarily suspended, and the postponement of science and management meetings will delay implementation of some necessary measures, and the monitoring and enforcement of these measures.

A lack of monitoring and enforcement may encourage a less responsible level of management, monitoring and control of fishing operations and there is a risk that levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing will increase. Crew safety is an additional concern. However, the crisis has triggered unprecedented responses by governments across the world. Policies and actions taken include measures to protect public health, to safeguard fishers’ and fishworkers’ safety,5 and to strengthen social protection to support the most vulnerable and avoid a socio-economic crisis. Social protection measures relate to social assistance (e.g. cash transfers), social insurance (e.g. health insurance) and labour market programmes (e.g. unemployment benefits), and steps to ensure the continuity of food supply.

What FAO is doing

FAO’s first objective is to ensure food security and nutrition for all. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Organization has led an unprecedented response that includes: dedicated COVID-19 pages on the FAO website, with targeted analysis and solutions across food value chains, sectoral and cross-sectoral policy briefs, advice on planting and harvesting plans.

FAO also hosts weekly COVID-19 planning meetings with regional and subregional offices, and holds regular meetings with Members to update them on the state of and responses to the pandemic.

In addition, the FAO Director-General continues to brief national leaders and decision-makers as well as the broader community through interventions within international fora such as the G20, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), and by participating in various international exchanges and through bilateral meetings with Members.

In the context of fisheries and aquaculture, the response from FAO has been primarily focused on supporting, restarting and strengthening the sector’s supply chains and livelihoods, while focusing on the most vulnerable groups and regions. To facilitate this work, the Fisheries and Aquaculture Department established a dedicated COVID-19 Task Force to coordinate departmental initiatives in response to the pandemic and provide coordinated support to measures and interventions addressing the impact of COVID-19 on fisheries and aquaculture. To this end, FAO’s recent and ongoing actions include:

  • Developing policy briefs on the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector and policy response (FAO, 2020a), as well as a Q&A to address the most urgent information needs (FAO, 2020b).

  • Working with Members, industry and civil society representatives, and other stakeholders to monitor the situation and provide policy, management and technical advice, as well as technical support to innovate and adapt practices along the supply chain.

  • Coordinating information and responses with international and regional partners, such as regional fishery bodies (FAO, 2020c), intergovernmental economic organizations, research centres and civil society organizations.

  • Continuing to improve its understanding of the virus, to assess any potential risks to global, regional and national food systems – as new information and knowledge become increasingly soundly based (on, for example, international standards, expert opinion, peer-reviewed studies) – and to mobilize resources for coordinated COVID-19 mitigation measures.

  • Working with financial institutions and donors to develop comprehensive and coordinated intervention packages to address the most urgent priorities to reactivate supply chains.


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Some rights reserved. This work is available under a CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO licence

Recommended citation: FAO. 2020. Summary of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the fisheries and aquaculture sector: Addendum to the State of World Fisheries and Acquaculture 2020. Rome.