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Fisheries and Aquaculture – Enabling a Vital Sector to Contribute More

09 July 2012

Sustainable fisheries and aquaculture play a crucial role in food and nutrition security and in providing for the livelihoods of millions of people. FAO's latest flagship publication on the state of fisheries and aquaculture, launched at the opening of the 30th session of the FAO Committee on Fisheries, highlights the sector's vital contribution to the world's well-being and prosperity, a point reflected in the recent Rio+20 Outcome Document.

The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012 reveals that the sector produced a record 128 million tonnes of fish for human food - an average of 18.4 kg per person - providing more than 4.3 billion people with about 15 percent of their animal protein intake. Fisheries and aquaculture are also a source of income for 55 million people.

"Fisheries and aquaculture play a vital role in the global, national and rural economy," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. "The livelihoods of 12 percent of the world's population depend directly or indirectly on them. Fisheries and aquaculture give an important contribution to food security and nutrition. They are the primary source of protein for 17 percent of the world's population and nearly a quarter in low-income food-deficit countries."

Árni M. Mathiesen, head of FAO's Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, said: "Fisheries and aquaculture are making a vital contribution to global food security and economic growth. However, the sector faces an array of problems, including poor governance, weak fisheries management regimes, conflicts over the use of natural resources, the persistent use of poor fishery and aquaculture practices. And it is further undermined by a failure to incorporate the priorities and rights of small-scale fishing communities and the injustices relating to gender discrimination and child labour."

Boosting governance

FAO is urging governments to make every effort to ensure sustainable fisheries around the world. The report notes that many of the marine fish stocks monitored by FAO remain under great pressure.

According to the latest statistics available, almost 30 percent of these fish stocks are overexploited - a slight decrease from the previous two years, about 57 percent are fully exploited (i.e. at or very close to their maximum sustainable production), and only about 13 percent are non-fully exploited.

"Overexploitation not only causes negative ecological consequences, but it also reduces fish production, which leads to negative social and economic consequences," the report says. "To increase the contribution of marine fisheries to the food security, economies and the well-being of coastal communities, effective management plans must be put in place to rebuild overexploited stocks".

Strengthened governance and effective fisheries management are required. The report argues that promoting sustainable fishing and fish farming can provide incentives for wider ecosystem stewardship and advocates enabling mechanisms such as the adoption of an ecosystem approach to fisheries and aquaculture with fair and responsible tenure systems.

Global fish production

Capture fisheries and aquaculture supplied the world with about 148 million tonnes of fish in 2010 valued at US$217.5 billion.

Production growth from aquaculture keeps outpacing population growth, and it is one of the fastest-growing animal food-producing sectors - trends that are set to continue.

Fish and fishery products are among the most-traded food commodities worldwide. Following a drop in 2009, world trade in fish and fishery products has resumed its upward trend driven by sustained demand, trade liberalization policies, globalization of food systems and technological innovations. Global trade reached a record US$109 billion in 2010 and 2011 points to another high estimated at US$125 billion.

Increase resilience, strengthen the sector

The report notes that the coming decades are likely to see major changes in economies, markets, resources and social conduct, where climate change impacts will increase uncertainty in many food sectors, including fisheries. It stresses the importance of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, and its associated international plans of action and technical guidelines, to achieving the goal of a global sustainable food production system.

Small-scale fisheries employ more than 90 percent of the world's capture fishers and are vital to food and nutrition security, poverty alleviation and poverty prevention. The FAO Committee on Fisheries has recommended developing international voluntary guidelines to contribute to policy development, secure small-scale fisheries and create benefits.

Although women make up at least 50 percent of the workforce in inland fisheries and market as much as 60 percent of seafood in Asia and West Africa, their role is often undervalued and neglected. Here again, and as reaffirmed at Rio+20, the report shows that, in addition to working towards the UN Millennium Development Goal of gender equality and empowering women, mainstreaming gender is an essential component of alleviating poverty, achieving greater food and nutrition security, and enabling sustainable development of fisheries and aquaculture resources.

As fishers, fish farmers and their communities tend to be particularly vulnerable to disasters, the report examines approaches to improved preparedness for and effective response to disasters in fisheries and aquaculture. Emergency responses should strengthen food and nutrition security through the sustainable rehabilitation and long-term recovery of the fisheries and aquaculture sector and the livelihoods that depend on it, especially targeting women and other marginalized groups.

"Enabling fisheries and aquaculture to flourish responsibly and sustainably requires the full involvement of civil society and the private sector," says Mathiesen, adding: "Business and industry can help develop technologies and solutions, provide investment and engender positive transformation. Civil society and international and local non-governmental organizations can hold governments accountable on agreed commitments and ensure that the voices of all stakeholders are heard."

Looking ahead

The primary threats undermining the food and nutrition security potential of fisheries and aquaculture result principally from ineffective management coupled with poor conservation of habitats. A transition towards people-centred approaches is required to enhance the sector's contribution to food and livelihoods security. As underlined at the recent UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, such a shift could spur the global community to achieve the real sustainable and responsible use of aquatic resources to meet today's needs while ensuring benefits for future generations.

July 2012

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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