International Symposium on Fisheries Sustainability

Session 5

The economics of fisheries

FAO session lead: Audun Lem

Speakers and panelists

Webcast link

Key messages

The full contribution of the fisheries and aquaculture sector to the economy is often not adequately documented, especially in its wider and indirect impacts. Not only can such knowledge gaps lead to sub-optimal planning and decisions by policy-makers, thereby causing misallocation of resources, but the lack of sufficient economic and socio-economic data also prevents the sector from making the necessary transformational changes to allow it to reach its full potential as a generator of long-term economic and social benefits. This is particularly the case for inland capture fisheries, where data is frequently is missing or at least underestimated.

Understanding this contribution is fundamental for achieving inclusive economic growth and development. Fisheries and aquaculture value chains extend across all sectors of the economy, amounting to much more than the value of the product extracted from the water or processed subsequently. These value chains are often long, complex and difficult to measure empirically; yet they constitute the full contribution of the sector to national economies through physical capital, revenue and employment, amongst others.

Ensuring that the sector is accurately measured and evaluated is essential for informing policymakers and decision makers alike and requires examination of less-evident returns. It also includes consideration of the role of effective fisheries management and impacts from liberalization of trade. In particular, as part of blue growth strategies, the creation of value from capture fisheries is more likely to focus on the introduction of more effective management measures, reduction of over-capacity, harmful subsidies and IUU activities than on any increase in catches, especially in the short term.

When addressing the economic value of fisheries we should not disregard the sector's importance as a source of income and employment, particularly in coastal communities and in the developing world (see session 4). More than 56 million people are directly employed in the primary fisheries and aquaculture sectors with many more engaged in post-harvest processing, marketing and distribution. The structure of employment across subsectors varies widely, and requires a variety of approaches to achieve effective value and supply chain management that can equitably share the economic benefits within populations and stakeholder groups.

Equally, we must consider the importance of markets and trade for fish and fishery products. One third of fish caught or farmed already enters international trade and the value of the sector's exports is roughly equivalent of that of cattle, pork and poultry combined. The volume and value of trade is expected to grow in step with rising world demand for fish and fishery products, creating immense opportunities for producers, exporters, importers, processors and distributors alike. Without access to international markets, producing countries will not be able to reap the full economic benefits from their aquatic resources, nor would import-dependent countries be able to satisfy local demand. 

This session will focus on how the sector can reach its full potential as a long-term contributor of sustainable economic benefits. It will examine the sector's economic and social contribution to the national economy. Economic evaluation of fisheries cannot ignore the importance of good governance to ensure that current returns do not compromise future gains, and that overcapacity and overfishing put stocks under pressure. Equally, a stable and transparent trading environment is necessary to allow trade flows and provide positive externalities. Greater awareness of the role of fisheries in national economies can assist policymakers to enact effective and appropriate policies enabling it to reach its long-term potential as a generator of sustainable economic and social benefits.

Some of the issues to be addressed during the session include:

  • What tools do we have, or need, to integrate the economic contribution of capture fisheries with measures of fisheries sustainability?
  • How can we reach a better understanding of the sector's contribution to GDP?
  • How can society address the social costs of industry structuring and reduction of effort?
  • How can market access for fish and fishery products be maintained and improved?
  • How we guarantee access to sustainable economic and social benefits of fisheries to women and the most vulnerable communities?

The outcomes of this session will support:

SDG 1 – Reduce poverty
SDG 2 – Food security
SDG 5 – Gender equality
SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth
SDG 10 – Reduce inequalities
SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production
SDG targets 14.4, 14.6 & 14.7
SDG 16 – Effective institutions
SIDS Samoa Pathways
FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries