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Fish are an important source of both food and income to many people in developing countries. While many capture ash stocks are already approaching their exploitation limits, there is considerable potential to expand aquaculture in order to improve food security.

Fish for Food and Income

FISH ARE a valuable and nutritious food. They contribute to people's well-being both because of the income they provide and because of the food they supply.

More than 120 million people are estimated to depend on fish for all or part of their incomes. Most are relatively poor. In Africa, as much as 5 percent of the population, some 35 million people, depend wholly or partly on the fisheries sector for their livelihood.

Fish sales also provide important foreign exchange. Net exports by the less developed countries were worth more than US$20 000 million in 1994 - more than for coffee, banana, rubber, tea, meat or rice.

In 1994, 76 million tonnes of fish were caught in marine and inland waters for direct human consumption (another 33 million tonnes were used for fishmeal and fish oil, and in other non-food uses). Fish currently comprise about 19 percent of the less developed countries' animal protein intake, or 5 percent of the total protein intake from both plant and animal protein.

In many countries, fisheries are important to the food security of populations living in coastal areas, along river banks and on small islands. Fish play an even more important role in the nutrition of people living in the Low-lncome Food-Deficit Countries than they do elsewhere.

Contribution of fish to human diet, 1987-89

Fish Supply and Demand

PROJECTIONS of demand for fish for food in the year 2010 are in the range of 110-120 million tonnes a year, a substantial increase from the 75-80 million tonnes that characterized the mid-1990s. Projections of supply for 2010 are less precise but the most optimistic projections fall within the range of the above demand. Fish prices appear set e to increase and in some areas, for exam; pie, in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and some Small Island Developing States, e supplies per caput may fall.

About 80 percent of the world's fish catch is currently produced from capture fisheries, the rest from aquaculture. But fishermen are having a difficult time competing for a limited resource where rates of capture have, in some areas, been driven down. This is leading to dispute and conflict, and threatens the resource base itself.

Disparities between supply and demand are worsened by wasteful methods of catching and processing fish. As much as 27 million tonnes of fish may be discarded each year. Some of the discarded fish have no commercial value while others are juveniles of commercial species.

The world fishing fleet includes over
two million undecked vessles.

The Importance of Marine Capture

Supplies from marine capture fisheries peaked at 85.2 million tonnes in 1994. Of this some 52 million tonnes was available for direct human consumption. Most of this fish is caught and processed by small-scale producers in a trade involving at least 100 million people.

The limit to fish catches was reached some years ago for most marine species, and yields of the highly-priced sea-bottom species (such as cod and sole) have been declining for some time.

Marine capture fisheries yield

FAO has found that 44 percent of stocks that have been assessed are being exploited at their maximum or close to it; 25 percent are depleted. Overfishing not only depletes resources, it also leads to conflict between states, regions and fishing groups. This is increasingly recognized by ale concerned and remedial action has been initiated. Aggregate data on the fishing vessels of the world show that the global fleet has started to decrease in size.

Expanding Through Aquaculture

SINCE fish is such a nutritious food, most solutions are aimed at increasing supply to meet demand, rather than reducing demand to meet supplies.

Supplies can be increased from capture fisheries and aquaculture - but because more and more fishermen who exploit wild stocks are reaching the upper limits of what can be taken sustainably, the major prospects for increasing supplies lie in aquaculture or using aquaculture technology to support fisheries, as in sea ranching. Aquaculture is already growing rapidly, particularly in developing countries and in Asia (see Fact Sheet Aquaculture Offers Cause for Hope). It is possible that total production from aquaculture could rise from 19 million tonnes in 1994 to as much as 39 million tonnes by the year 2010. In the short term - the next two decades - every effort must also be made to sustain yields from capture fisheries, even though this inevitably gives rise to social and cultural problems, as well as technical and economic ones, resulting from too many fishermen chasing an inadequate resource.

Aquaculture's growing importance compared with capture fisheries

Saving Marine Capture Fisheries

HIGH ON THE INTERNATIONAL AGENDA for achieving sustainable fishering will be a reduction in the world's fishing fleet, which currently stands at a about 3.5 million vessels, third of which are decked. Major savings will have to be made on the high proportion of fish that are simply discarded at sea because they are the wrong size or have a lower commercial value the species sought.

Ideas will have to change too. The old idea that everyone can have free and open access to fish resources anywhere in the world will have to go. Instead fish resource must be carefully managed and their exploitation strictly controlled by legislation the is forward-looking rather than simply reactive.

The true value of fish will also have to be recognized and sustainable fishing assured. Developed countries (importers) and developing countries (exporters) countries (exporters) need to agree required for effective management of capture fisheries. Some of these issues have already been set out in FAO's Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (1995). Translating them into real action will require a series of new policy measures, carried out within the framework of sustainable development.

Modern technology, such as sonar (shown here)
has enabled fishing fleets to find shoals of fish more easily

The Kyoto Conference

The International Conference on the sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Production (the Kyoto Conference) was heed by the Government of Japan in collaboration with FAO in Kyoto during 4-9 December 1995. Attended by 95 states, the conference produced a Declaration and Plan of Action which

The key point of the Declaration is that projected shortfalls for 2010 can be reduced by:

For further information, please contact:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy
Information Division, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3276/5225-4781/5225-4243
Fisher Department, Tel: (39-6) 5225-3156
Internet, or

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