Over the last two decades, the fisheries and aquaculture sectors have been increasingly recognized for their essential contribution to global food security and nutrition. Expanding this role requires scaling up transformative changes in policy, management, innovation, and investment to achieve sustainable, inclusive and equitable global fisheries and aquaculture. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 20221 presents updated and verified statistics2 of the sector and analyses its international policy context and selected high-impact actions undertaken to accelerate international efforts in support of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The report looks at the impact and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on fisheries and aquaculture production,3 utilization, and trade and provides a future outlook for the sector.
1. WORLD REVIEW
Total fisheries and aquaculture production reached an all-time record of 214 million tonnes in 2020, comprising 178 million tonnes of aquatic animals and 36 million tonnes of algae,3 a slight increase (3 percent) from the previous 2018 record (213 million tonnes). The limited growth is mainly caused by a 4.4 percent decline in capture fisheries due to reduced catches of pelagic species, particularly anchoveta, a reduction in China’s catches, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. This decline was compensated for by a continued growth of aquaculture, albeit at a slower yearly rate in the last two years.
For aquatic animal production, this general trend masks significant variations between continents, regions, and countries. In 2020, Asian countries were the main producers accounting for 70 percent of the total, followed by the Americas, Europe, Africa and Oceania. China remained the first major producer with a share of 35 percent of the total. The expansion of aquaculture in recent decades has boosted the overall growth of aquatic animal production in inland waters, from 12 percent of total production in the late 1980s to 37 percent in 2020.
In 2020, global capture fisheries production (excluding algae) was 90.3 million tonnes, with an estimated value of USD 141 billion, including 78.8 million tonnes from marine waters and 11.5 million tonnes from inland waters – a fall of 4.0 percent compared with the average of the previous three years. Finfish represent about 85 percent of total marine capture production, with anchoveta once again the top species harvested. In 2020, catches of the four most high-value groups (tunas, cephalopods, shrimps and lobsters) remained at their highest levels or declined marginally from peak catches recorded previously.
Despite a decrease of 5.1 percent from 2019, global catches in inland waters, estimated at 11.5 million tonnes, remained at a historically high level and benefited from improved reporting by the producing countries. Asia produced almost two-thirds of total inland fisheries, followed by Africa – inland catches are important for food security in both these regions. For the first time since the mid-1980s, China was not the top inland fisheries producer, overtaken by India at 1.8 million tonnes.
Global aquaculture production in 2020 reached a record 122.6 million tonnes, including 87.5 million tonnes of aquatic animals worth USD 264.8 billion and 35.1 million tonnes of algae worth USD 16.5 billion. Around 54.4 million tonnes were farmed in inland waters and 68.1 million tonnes came from marine and coastal aquaculture.
All regions, except Africa, experienced continued aquaculture growth in 2020, driven by expansion in Chile, China and Norway – the top producers in their respective regions. Africa experienced a decrease in the two major producing countries, Egypt and Nigeria, while the rest of Africa enjoyed 14.5 percent growth from 2019. Asia continued to dominate world aquaculture, producing over 90 percent of the total.
The contribution of aquaculture to the global production of aquatic animals reached a record 49.2 percent in 2020. Aquaculture of fed aquatic animals continues to outpace that of non-fed aquatic animals. Despite the great diversity in farmed aquatic species, only a small number of “staple” species dominate aquaculture production, particularly grass carp for global inland aquaculture and Atlantic salmon for marine aquaculture.
FAO continues to report on the status of fishery resources. The Organization’s long-term monitoring of assessed marine fishery stocks confirms that marine fishery resources have continued to decline. The fraction of fishery stocks within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90 percent in 1974 to 64.6 percent in 2019, with maximally sustainably fished stocks at 57.3 percent and underfished stocks at 7.2 percent.
Nevertheless, despite worsening trends by number, in 2019, biologically sustainable stocks accounted for 82.5 percent of the landings of aquatic products,4 a 3.8 percent increase from 2017. For example, on average, 66.7 percent of the stocks of the ten species most landed in 2019 – anchoveta, Alaska pollock, skipjack tuna, Atlantic herring, yellowfin, blue whiting, European pilchard, Pacific chub mackerel, Atlantic cod and largehead hairtail – were fished within biologically sustainable levels in 2019, slightly higher than in 2017. This demonstrates that larger stocks are managed more effectively.
Rebuilding overfished stocks could increase marine capture fisheries production by 16.5 million tonnes and thus contribute to the food security, nutrition, economies and well-being of coastal communities. Scientifically assessed and intensively managed stocks have, on average, seen increased abundance at proposed target levels; in contrast, regions with less developed fisheries management have much greater harvest rates and lower abundance. This highlights the urgent need to replicate and re-adapt successful policies and regulations in fisheries that are not managed sustainably, and implement innovative, ecosystem-based mechanisms that promote sustainable use and conservation around the world.
Many of the important inland fisheries lie within least developed and developing countries, where limited human and financial resources to monitor and manage such fisheries represent a major obstacle. Even in some developed countries, the low profile of inland fisheries means that stock assessment and monitoring may be a relatively low priority in relation to other competing needs. In 2016, FAO began developing a global threat map for inland fisheries to provide a baseline metric to track changes in major basins and improve inland fisheries. Preliminary results indicate that across all major basins 55 percent of inland fisheries are under moderate pressure and 17 percent under high pressure.
With regard to the fishing fleet, the total number of fishing vessels in 2020 was estimated at 4.1 million, a reduction of 10 percent since 2015, reflecting efforts by many countries, in particular China and European countries, to reduce the global fleet size. Asia still has the largest fishing fleet, at about two-thirds of the global total. The global total of motorized vessels has remained steady at 2.5 million vessels, with Asia having almost 75 percent; about 97 percent of the world’s non-motorized vessels are spread between Asia and Africa.
Regarding employment in fisheries and aquaculture, in 2020, an estimated 58.5 million people were engaged in the primary production sector as full-time or part-time workers. Some 35 percent were employed in aquaculture, a figure which has flattened in recent years, while the global number of fishers has contracted. In 2020, 84 percent of all fishers and fish farmers were in Asia. Overall, women accounted for 21 percent of those engaged in the primary sector (28 percent in aquaculture and 18 percent in fisheries), but they tend to have more unstable employment in aquaculture and fisheries, representing only 15 percent of full-time workers in 2020. However, when considering the available data for the processing sector only, women accounted for just over 50 percent of full-time employment and 71 percent of part-time engagement.
Utilization and processing of fisheries and aquaculture production have changed considerably in past decades. In 2020, 89 percent (157 million tonnes) of world production (excluding algae) was used for direct human consumption, compared with 67 percent in the 1960s. The remainder (over 20 million tonnes) was used for non-food purposes – the vast majority for fishmeal and fish oil, with the rest for ornamental fish, bait, pharmaceutical applications, pet food, and direct feeding in aquaculture and raising of livestock and fur animals. Live, fresh or chilled forms still represented the largest share of aquatic food5 (excluding algae) for direct human consumption, followed by frozen, prepared, and preserved and cured. In Asia and Africa, the share of aquatic food production preserved by salting, smoking, fermentation or drying is higher than the world average. A growing share of by-products is used for food and non-food purposes. For example, over 27 percent of the global production of fishmeal and 48 percent of the total production of fish oil were obtained from by-products.
Global consumption of aquatic foods (excluding algae) increased at an average annual rate of 3.0 percent from 1961 to 2019, a rate almost twice that of annual world population growth (1.6 percent) for the same period, with annual per capita consumption reaching a record high of 20.5 kg in 2019. Preliminary estimates point to a lower consumption in 2020 due to a COVID-19-driven contraction of demand, followed by a slight increase in 2021. Despite a few exceptions, the most notable being Japan, most countries saw a rise in their per capita aquatic food consumption between 1961 and 2019, with upper-middle-income countries experiencing the strongest annual growth. Globally in 2019, aquatic foods provided about 17 percent of animal proteins and 7 percent of all proteins. For 3.3 billion people, aquatic foods provide at least 20 percent of the average per capita intake of animal protein. In Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Ghana, Mozambique and some small island developing States, aquatic foods contribute half or more of total animal protein intake.
International trade of fisheries and aquaculture products has grown significantly in recent decades, expanding over continents and regions. In 2020, world exports of aquatic products, excluding algae, were worth USD 151 billion – a 7 percent decline from the 2018 record high of USD 165 billion. The value of traded aquatic products accounted for 11 percent of total agricultural trade (excluding forestry) and about 1 percent of total merchandise trade in 2020. These shares are much higher in many countries, exceeding 40 percent of the total value of merchandise trade in Cabo Verde, Iceland, Kiribati and Maldives, for example. Nearly 90 percent of the quantity of traded aquatic products, excluding algae, consisted of preserved products, the majority of which were frozen. Other exports included USD 1.9 billion from algae, inedible aquatic by-products, and sponges and corals.
From 1976 to 2020, the value of trade in aquatic products increased at an average annual rate of 6.9 percent in nominal terms and 3.9 percent in real terms (adjusted for inflation). The faster rate of growth in value relative to quantity reflects the increasing proportion of trade in high-value species and products undergoing processing or other forms of value addition.
China remains the world’s largest exporter of aquatic animal products, followed by Norway and Viet Nam, with the European Union the largest single importing market. The largest importing countries are the United States of America, followed by China and Japan. In terms of volume (live weight), China is the top importing country of large quantities of species not only for domestic consumption but also as raw material to be processed in China and then re-exported.
2. TOWARDS BLUE TRANSFORMATION6
The current Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals7 must accelerate actions to address food security while preserving our natural resources. Aquatic foods, forecast to increase by a further 15 percent by 2030, can provide a larger proportion of humanity’s nutritious food requirements. Blue Transformation is a vision for sustainably transforming aquatic food systems, a recognized solution for food and nutrition security and environmental and social well-being, by preserving aquatic ecosystem health, reducing pollution, protecting biodiversity and promoting social equality.
Blue Transformation focuses on sustainable aquaculture expansion and intensification, effective management of all fisheries, and upgraded value chains. This requires holistic and adaptive approaches that consider the complex interaction in agrifood systems and support multi-stakeholder interventions using existing and emerging knowledge, tools and practices to secure and maximize the contribution of aquatic food systems to global food security and nutrition.
By 2030, aquatic food production is forecast to increase by a further 15 percent, mainly by intensifying and expanding sustainable aquaculture production. Such growth must preserve aquatic ecosystem health, prevent pollution, and protect biodiversity and social equality. Blue Transformation aims to: (i) increase the development and adoption of sustainable aquaculture practices; (ii) integrate aquaculture into national, regional and global development strategies and food policies; (iii) expand and intensify aquaculture production to meet the growing demand for aquatic food and enhance inclusive livelihoods; and (iv) improve capacities at all levels to develop and adopt innovative technology and management practices for a more efficient and resilient aquaculture industry.
Fundamental barriers facing aquaculture production systems, governance, investment, innovations and capacity building must be addressed. Improved aquaculture systems require further technical innovations – with a focus on genetic improvements in breeding programmes, feeds, biosecurity and disease control – coupled with coherent policies and appropriate incentives along the entire value chain. Focus priority areas for innovative aquaculture practices are aquafeeds and feeding, digitalization, and the promotion of efficient and pro-environment practices. Implementing these solutions requires adequate capacity and skills, training, research and partnerships, and can benefit from developments in information and communications technology and the wider access to mobile applications and platforms.
Good governance, based on sound and enforceable legal and institutional frameworks, is fundamental to create an enabling environment to attract investment in aquaculture expansion. A balanced mix of finance and insurance services is needed at all scales to improve infrastructure and support technological innovations and mechanisms, such as carbon or nitrogen credits and blue bonds to reward blue investment for environmental benefits and ecosystem services.
Effective management of all fisheries is a core objective of Blue Transformation. Improving fisheries management is essential to rebuild fishery stocks, increase catches and restore ecosystems to a healthy and productive state while managing exploited resources within ecosystem boundaries. This requires transformative changes to promote governance and policy reforms, effective management frameworks, innovative technologies and adequate social protection.
International instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and related implementation tools, including the Port State Measures Agreement, should guide governance and policy reform worldwide to enforce management actions at the country and regional levels. Intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector should intensify cross-sectoral collaboration and cooperation arrangements to further strengthen their complementary roles in addressing local, national and regional fisheries management issues.
Effective management should adopt the ecosystem approach to fisheries with due consideration of tenure, rights and co-management, taking into account the benefits and trade-offs of environmental, social and economic objectives of fishery resources and aquatic ecosystems. Through co-management mechanisms, relevant stakeholders should be involved in decision-making, supported by effective monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS), increased information exchange, enforcement and strengthened coordination.
Technological advances are instrumental for effective implementation of conservation and management measures, by improving data collection, analysis and dissemination, MCS, efficiency, environmental protection and safety at sea. Social protection programmes that account for decent work and human rights positively impact resource conservation and the protection of livelihoods.
Developing – especially least developed – countries have limited technical and institutional capacities to ensure effective fisheries management. They require tailored capacity development initiatives with approaches adapted to their financial and human capacity constraints.
Aquaculture expansion and effective fisheries management depend on innovating fisheries and aquaculture value chains, which in turn need public and private partnerships to support new technologies, increase availability of aquatic foods, enhance consumer awareness of their benefits, reduce food loss and waste (FLW), and improve access to lucrative markets. Reducing FLW entails the implementation of multidimensional actions integrating governance, technology, skills and knowledge, services and infrastructure, and market linkages. Access to lucrative markets requires the capacity to respond to market requirements, in particular the non-tariff measures addressing consumer, environmental and social protection and using transparent and reliable traceability systems.
The International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture 2022 was declared by the United Nations General Assembly to enhance global awareness and understanding of small-scale artisanal fisheries and aquaculture; foster action to support its contribution to sustainable development; and promote dialogue and collaboration between and among actors and partners, engaging key public and private stakeholders to address challenges and opportunities for small-scale fisheries and aquaculture to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
3. BLUE TRANSFORMATION TO ACHIEVE THE 2030 AGENDA FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
With less than eight years to 2030, the world is not on track to end hunger and malnutrition and achieve the SDGs. The COVID-19 pandemic reversed previously favourable trends. In line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Decade of Action to deliver the Global Goals intends to strengthen the strategies of countries, IGOs, NGOs and civil society organizations to promote a fair, prosperous and sustainable world.
Fisheries and aquaculture contribute to most SDGs, in particular, SDG 14 (Life below water), which is dedicated to the ocean and its marine resources. FAO, as custodian of four SDG indicators that concern the sustainable use of marine living resources, is leveraging and adapting existing global monitoring and reporting mechanisms to integrate national data. SDG Indicators 14.6.1 and 14.b.1 now reveal encouraging trends regarding levels of policy implementation. Recent and upcoming methodology enhancements are designed to address limited national capacities in many developing countries to measure the sustainability of marine fishery stocks (SDG Indicator 14.4.1), and to allow countries to better understand the importance of sustainable fisheries for their national economies (SDG Indicator 14.7.1). With regard to ocean environmental status (SDG Targets 14.1, 14.3 and 14.5), while some indicators reveal worsening trends and accelerating rates of pollution, there is clear progress and a strong political will to enact national legislation on protection of marine environments.
Most importantly, reporting the true contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to the 2030 Agenda is still hampered because the SDG 14 indicators cover mostly marine capture fisheries; the contribution of aquaculture has not always been clearly identified or communicated, and the contribution of inland fisheries and aquaculture to food and nutrition is absent from current SDG texts.
The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) (UNDOSSD) recognizes that a strong science-policy interface is crucial to design sustainable solutions and ultimately enshrine decisions, agreements and actions in the best available evidence. The UNDOSSD Implementation Plan, a highly participatory and inclusive process, builds on existing achievements to deliver across geographies, sectors, disciplines and generations, address ten priority challenges and unite the Decade partners in collective action. To address the challenges relevant to fisheries and aquaculture, they seek to generate knowledge, support innovation, address inequalities in ocean science capacity and develop solutions to optimize the role of the ocean in food security under changing environmental, social and climate conditions.
The United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, co-led by FAO and the United Nations Environment Programme, calls for the global revival of ecosystems and their services by restoring habitats and species to ensure productive and resilient social-environmental systems in the face of ongoing and future challenges.
Restoring inland, coastal and marine ecosystems requires adequate governance and support to incorporate conservation and sustainable production actions by multiple actors, sectors and jurisdictions. The Decade represents an opportunity to build and link networks and partnerships across the globe, strengthening the restoration–science–policy nexus.
Restoring fisheries productivity requires the rehabilitation of mangrove forests, seagrass meadows and reefs, watersheds and wetlands, and effective management to rebuild fishery stocks and reduce adverse impacts of fishing on ecosystems. Actions in aquaculture aim to restore ecosystem structure and function to support food provisioning, while minimizing pollution, invasive alien species, waste and the emergence of diseases.
The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework faces three important challenges: (i) to broaden its adoption and delivery outside the conservation community, widening ownership of challenges and solutions for biodiversity; (ii) to match resources for implementation of change to the ambition of its tasks; and (iii) to engage in a dynamic process that can be well measured and communicated.
To integrate these challenges into their plans of action, stakeholders must support strengthening the nexus between biodiversity restoration, economic benefit and livelihoods. Initiatives and actions – including those implemented by FAO – provide the required support for the recovery of vulnerable species and habitats, including characterizing of threatened species, National Plans of Action on sharks and seabirds, area-based fisheries management, and basin-based management of inland fisheries. Other actions aim at optimizing sustainable biodiversity use by addressing risks and mitigation associated with farmed aquatic diversity, reducing bycatch and the pollution caused by abandoned, lost and discarded fishing gear, and using selective fishing technology.
4. EMERGING ISSUES AND OUTLOOK
Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has swept through continents and countries causing unprecedented health, social and economic damage, including to fisheries and aquaculture. Worldwide, COVID-19, a crisis like no other, entailed lockdowns and closures of markets, ports and borders resulted in significant slowdown of trade, causing disruption in aquatic food production and distribution and loss of employment and livelihoods.
Fishing was disrupted and aquaculture struggled to maintain its planned production cycles. Supply chains dominated by small and medium enterprises were particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 restrictions. Vulnerable and marginalized people were disproportionately affected, with women enduring greater employment declines and loss of household livelihoods. Recovery was gradual by diversifying household income with other agricultural activities, streamlining business costs, targeting local markets and embracing online marketing and direct delivery.
Governments adopted diverse and complex health, social, economic, education and environmental support measures, depending on national priorities, capacity and resources. Countries with functioning social protection systems responded more efficiently to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic. Unfortunately, informal workers, numerous in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors, were often excluded.
The pandemic exposed the interconnectivity of markets and supply chains and the need for inclusive and shock-responsive national social protection systems. On the positive side, the crisis accelerated digitalization, and encouraged e-monitoring and enforcement, the use of green energy and clean technologies and the development of local production and markets.
Increased warming has caused irreversible changes requiring urgent ocean-based action to strengthen and accelerate climate mitigation and adaptation measures, increasing the urgency of fisheries and aquaculture adaptations to climate change. This calls for the explicit consideration of climate stressors in fisheries and aquaculture management by connecting adaptation plans and management or development actions, including local and context-specific indicators associated with climate stressors of fisheries and aquaculture.
Transformative adaptation plans are required at national and local levels, with particular attention to the most vulnerable using an inclusive and participatory approach and considering the needs and benefits of small-scale fisheries and aquaculture. These plans would benefit from adopting climate-informed spatial management approaches, integrating equity and human rights considerations and investing in innovation.
At the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Glasgow (COP26), the key role of oceans was strengthened, opening opportunities for fisheries and aquaculture to expand its contribution to global efforts, sharing adaptation and mitigation solutions, and raising the profile of inland fisheries and aquaculture within the international climate discussions.
Advancing towards gender equality in fisheries and aquaculture is fundamental for sustainability and inclusiveness. Despite their significant role in the sector, women are mostly engaged in the informal, lowest paid, least stable and least skilled segments of the workforce. Because of social, cultural and economic contexts, they often face gender-based constraints that prevent them from fully realizing and benefiting from their roles in the sector. This is further complicated by limited access to information, services, infrastructure, markets, social protection and decent employment, decision-making and leadership positions.
The FAO Policy on Gender Equality guided the adoption of key FAO instruments and ways to promote gender transformative approaches that support the role of women as key agents of change to achieve Blue Transformation.
Based on economic, policy and environmental assumptions, FAO prepares an outlook for fisheries and aquaculture production, utilization, trade, prices and key issues that might influence future supply and demand. FAO fisheries and aquaculture projections to 2030 point to an increase in production, consumption and trade, albeit at slower growth rates. Total production of aquatic animals is expected to reach 202 million tonnes in 2030, with the main increase coming from aquaculture, contributing 106 million tonnes in 2030. World capture fisheries is projected to increase to reach 96 million tonnes, as a result of recovering stocks of certain species owing to improved resource management, growth in catches of underfished resources, and reduced discards, waste and losses.
In 2030, 90 percent of all aquatic animal production will be for human consumption, an overall increase of 15 percent compared with 2020. This means annual per capita consumption will increase from 20.2 kg in 2020 to 21.4 kg in 2030, a result of high demand due to rising incomes and urbanization, linked with the expansion of production, improvements in post-harvest operations and distribution and changes in dietary trends. Aquatic food supply will increase in all regions, while per capita consumption is expected to decline slightly in Africa, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, raising concerns in terms of food security.
Trade in aquatic products will continue to expand, but at a slower pace than in the previous decade, reflecting the slowdown in production growth, higher prices restraining overall demand and consumption, and stronger domestic demand in some of the major producing and exporting countries, such as China. A stable share (36 percent) of total production will be exported in 2030 with an increasing contribution from aquaculture. In quantity terms, China will continue to be the major exporter of aquatic food, followed by Viet Nam and Norway. The European Union, Japan and the United States of America will account for 39 percent of total imported volumes of aquatic food consumption in 2030.
Prices of internationally traded aquatic products are estimated to increase by 33 percent in nominal terms in 2030. This increase will be driven by improved incomes, population growth, strong demand, reduced supply and increased production cost pressure from inputs such as feed, energy and fish oil.