Fish stocks declining

Posted: 26 March 2001

Wild fish populations around the world are in a continuing decline, prompted by rising fish catches, consumption and trade, finds a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). "Most of the world's fishing areas have apparently reached their maximum potential for capture fisheries production, with the majority of stocks being fully exploited," the report warns.

The world's total harvest of wild and farmed fish was 125 million tons in 1999,up from 122 million tons in 1997 and 117 million tons in 1998, according to the latest,year 2000, FAO survey. But, the report notes, future increases in fish consumption will have to be met by fish farming, as most wild fish stocks cannot support additional fishing.

"The production increase of 20 million tonnes over the last decade was mainly due to aquaculture, as capture fisheries production remained relatively stable," the report says. Over the period recorded in the report, 1998 through 1999, aquaculture accounted for 32.9 million tons, compared to 92.3 million tons for captured fish.

At least nine to 10 per cent of the world's marine fish populations are depleted, or recovering from depletion, the report finds. Another 15 to 18 per cent are overexploited, and 47 to 50 per cent are fully exploited, the FAO says.

Just 25 to 27 per cent of marine fish populations are listed as underexploited or moderately exploited in the report. "There is an increasing likelihood that catches from these stocks will decrease if remedial action is not taken to reduce or revert overfishing conditions," the report cautions. "Only then will sustained higher catches be possible."

To help protect and restore threatened fisheries, the FAO recommends increased use of management tools such as catch limits and selective gear that avoids catching unwanted or undersized fish.

Worldwide, about one billion people rely on fish and other marine species as their main source of animal proteins, the FAO reports. About 20 per cent of the world's population derives at least 20 per cent of its animal protein intake from fish, and some small island states depend on fish almost exclusively.

Since 1961, demand for fish has been growing at twice the rate of human population growth. If that growth rate continues, it can only be met by boosting the yield from fish farms, the FAO finds.

Currently, two-thirds of the fish brought to the table come from wild caught marine and freshwater populations. The remaining one-third comes from aquaculture, or fish farming. Fish farming, combined with more efficient use of wild caught fish, could be a crucial tactic in meeting the food needs of a growing human population.