Aquaculture - the farming and stocking of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs, crustaceans and aquatic plants - is growing more rapidly than all other animal food producing sectors, according to a report compiled by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The agency's State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2002 report (SOFIA) states that worldwide, aquaculture has increased at an average compounded rate of 9.2 per cent per year since 1970, compared with only 1.4 per cent for capture fisheries and 2.8 per cent for terrestrial farmed meat production systems. China remains the largest producer, with 71 per cent of the total volume and nearly half of the total value.
The report will be presented next Monday when the 25th session of the agency's Committee on Fisheries (COFI) - the only global technical forum for debating international fisheries issues - opens its weeklong meeting in Rome. It notes that global fish production remains pushed by aquaculture, with a contribution to global supplies of fish, crustaceans and molluscs that increased from 3.9 per cent of total production by weight in 1970 to 27.3 per cent in 2000.
Amid facts and figures about aquaculture's soaring worldwide production rates and, environmental fluctuations affecting capture fisheries, other, more sobering statistics reveal that global main marine fish stocks are in jeopardy, increasingly pressured by overfishing and environmental degradation, FAO says.
The report warns that nearly half of the world's marine stocks offer no reasonable expectations for further expansion. "About 47 per cent of the main stocks or species groups are fully exploited and are therefore producing catches that have reached, or are very close to, their maximum sustainable limits," the report says.
The report also warns against overfishing on the high seas. Although it is difficult to fully assess the situation because reports to FAO of marine catches make no distinction between those taken within the exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and those taken on the high seas, the report reveals that catches of oceanic species - particularly the oceanic tunas - nearly tripled, from 3 million tons in 1976 to 8.5 million tons in 2000.