Asian-Pacific fisheries, a vital source of food and crucial for the economies of the region, are threatened by overfishing and a resulting decline in the abundance of more valuable species, according to a new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
The region is the world’s largest producer of both farmed fish and captured fish – accounting for 91 per cent and 48 per cent of total world production respectively – and improved management is required in order to secure the sector’s future, says the report, presented to the Asia-Pacific Fishery Commission last week in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
FAO cites a study by the WorldFish Centre, an international resource organization belonging to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which suggests that over the last 25 years the amount of fish available in some Asian-Pacific areas has declined by between 6 and 33 percent. In a few instances, the drop has been as steep as 40 percent over five years.
Changes in the composition of fish resources have also occurred, FAO notes. The abundance of larger, more valuable species has declined, while the proportion of smaller fish lower down the food chain, sometimes referred to as “trash fish,” has notably increased – a phenomenon known as “fishing down the food chain.”
Recent studies estimate that the amount of trash fish being landed now exceeds 60 per cent of the total marine production from the South China Sea, about 60 per cent of the catch in the Gulf of Thailand, 30 per cent to 80 percent in Viet Nam, and 50 per cent in trawl catches from western Malaysia.
“Demand is fast outstripping supply and prices are expected to rise, resulting in greater incentives to target these fish and aggravate the over-fishing problem in the area,” FAO says.