World’s wild fish stocks continue to decline, whilst aquaculture expands

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) has published its State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2018, presenting FAO’s official world fishery and aquaculture statistics.

Global fish production peaked at about 171 million tonnes in 2016, with aquaculture representing 47 percent of the total.

In 2016, 88 percent of the total fish production (151 million out of 171 million tonnes) was for direct human consumption. This share has increased significantly in recent decades, as it was 67 percent in the 1960s. In fact annual growth rate of food fish consumption has surpassed that of meat consumption from all terrestrial animals, combined.  

The status of fishery resources
The fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels has exhibited a decreasing trend, from 90.0 percent in 1974 to 66.9 percent in 2015.

The percentage of stocks fished at biologically unsustainable levels increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 33.1 percent in 2015, with the largest increases in the late 1970s and 1980s.

In 2015, maximally sustainably fished stocks (formerly termed fully fished stocks) accounted for 59.9 percent and underfished stocks for 7.0 percent of the total assessed stocks.

While the proportion of underfished stocks decreased continuously from 1974 to 2015, the maximally sustainably fished stocks decreased from 1974 to 1989, and then increased to 59.9 percent in 2015.

In 2015, among the 16 major statistical areas, the Mediterranean and Black Sea (Area 37) had the highest percentage (62.2 percent) of unsustainable stocks, closely followed by the South-east Pacific 61.5 percent (Area 87) and South-west Atlantic 58.8 percent (Area 41).

In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific (Area 77), North-east Pacific (Area 67), Northwest Pacific (Area 61), Western Central Pacific (Area 71) and South-west Pacific (Area 81) had the lowest proportion (13 to 17 percent) of fish stocks at biologically unsustainable levels.  

Combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: global developments
The promotion, regulation and monitoring of responsible fishing practices, through robust fisheries management and governance frameworks, are essential for the sustainability of fisheries resources in both coastal areas and high seas. The principles of responsible fisheries management have been prescribed in a number of international ocean and fisheries instruments.

However, states do not always satisfactorily fulfil their duties in line with such instruments and IUU fishing often occurs, undermining national, regional and global efforts to manage fisheries sustainably.

It is not enough for states to detect IUU fishing; they must strengthen fisheries laws and regulations and be able to take effective action against perpetrators to deter non-compliance.

Although states need to improve performance and implement port state measures, there have been important achievements in the fight against IUU fishing. these include the development and adoption of international guidelines to promote the use of catch documentation schemes (CDSS) for better traceability of fish and fish products in the value chain; the Global Record of fishing vessels, refrigerated transport vessels (Global Record); and the adoption of the FAO agreement on port state measures to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (PSMA). The PSMA, the CDS guidelines and the Global Record represent a synergistic framework for combating IUU fishing.

The contribution of aquaculture to the global production of capture fisheries and aquaculture combined has risen continuously, reaching 46.8 percent in 2016, up from 25.7 percent in 2000.

With 5.8 percent annual growth rate during the period 2001–2016, aquaculture continues to grow faster than other major food production sectors, but it no longer enjoys the high annual growth rates experienced in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, the disparity in the level of sectoral development and uneven production distribution remain great among the countries within the regions and across the world.

Fishers and fish farmers
The most recent official statistics indicate that 59.6 million people were engaged in the primary sector of capture fisheries and aquaculture in 2016, with 19.3 million people engaged in aquaculture and 40.3 million people engaged in fisheries.

The proportion of those employed in capture fisheries decreased from 83 percent in 1990 to 68 percent in 2016, while the proportion of those employed in aquaculture correspondingly increased from 17 to 32 percent.

In 2016, 85 percent of the global population engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors was in Asia, followed by Africa (10 percent) and Latin America and the Caribbean (4 percent). The trends in the number of people engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture primary sectors vary by region.

Europe and North America have experienced the largest proportional decreases in the number of people engaged in both sectors, with particular decreases in capture fishing.

In contrast, Africa and Asia, with higher population growth and increasing economically active populations in the agriculture sector, have shown a generally positive trend for the number of people engaged in capture fishing and even higher rates of increase in those engaged in aquaculture.

The fishing fleet
The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2016 was estimated to be about 4.6 million, unchanged from 2014.

The fleet in Asia was the largest, consisting of 3.5 million vessels, accounting for 75 percent of the global fleet.

In Africa and North America the estimated number of vessels declined from 2014 by just over 30 000 and by nearly 5 000, respectively.

For Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Oceania the numbers all increased, largely as a result of improvements in estimation procedures.

Globally, the number of engine-powered vessels was estimated to be 2.8 million in 2016, remaining steady from 2014. Motorised vessels represented 61 percent of all fishing vessels in 2016, down from 64 percent in 2014, as the number of non-motorized vessels increased, probably because of improved estimations.

In 2016, about 86 percent of the motorised fishing vessels in the world were in the length overall (LOA) class of less than 12 m, the vast majority of which were undecked, and those small vessels dominated in all regions. On the contrary, the largest vessels, classified as those with LOA greater than 24 m made up about 2 percent of the total fleet.

Fish utilization and processing
In 2016, of the 171 million tonnes of total fish production, about 88 percent or over 151 million tonnes were utilized for direct human consumption. This share has increased significantly in recent decades, as it was 67 percent in the 1960s.

In 2016, the greatest part of the 12 percent used for non-food purposes (about 20 million tonnes) was reduced to fishmeal and fish oil (74 percent or 15 million tonnes), while the rest (5 million tonnes) was largely utilized as material for direct feeding in aquaculture and raising of livestock and fur animals, in culture (e.g. fry, fingerlings or small adults for on-growing), as bait, in pharmaceutical uses and for ornamental purposes.

Live, fresh or chilled is often the most preferred and highly priced form of fish and represents the largest share of fish for direct human consumption, 45 percent in 2016, followed by frozen (31 percent), prepared and preserved (12 percent) and cured (dried, salted, in brine, fermented smoked) (12 percent).

Freezing represents the main method of processing fish for human consumption; it accounted for 56 percent of total processed fish for human consumption and 27 percent of total fish production in 2016.

Major improvements in processing as well as in refrigeration, ice-making and transportation have allowed increasing commercialization and distribution of fish in a greater variety of product forms in the past few decades.

However, developing countries still mainly use fish in live or fresh form (53 percent of the fish destined for human consumption in 2016), soon after landing or harvesting from aquaculture. Loss or wastage between landing and consumption decreased, but still accounts for an estimated 27 percent of landed fish.


Source: UN FAO :The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture. For further details, see


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