Fish consumption has reached an all-time high and more people than ever are employed in or depend on the fisheries sector, according to a new United Nations report, which also warns that global fish stocks have not improved.
“That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern,” said Richard Grainger, senior fisheries expert at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and one of the editors of the State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture, which was released today.
“The percentage of overexploitation needs to go down although at least we seem to be reaching a plateau,” he added.
According to the report, the contribution of fish to global diets has reached a record of almost 17 kilograms per person on average, supplying over three billion people with at least 15 per cent of their average animal protein intake.
Overall, fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of an estimated 540 million people, or eight per cent of the world population.
In addition, fish products continue to be the most-traded of food commodities, worth a record $102 billion in 2008, up nine per cent from 2007.
The report notes that the overall percentage of overexploited, depleted or recovering fish stocks in the world’s oceans has not dropped and is estimated to be slightly higher than in 2006. About 32 per cent of world fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited, depleted or recovering and need to be urgently rebuilt, it states.
At the same time, 15 per cent of the stock groups monitored by FAO were estimated to be underexploited (three per cent) or moderately exploited (12 per cent) and therefore able to produce more than their current catches.
The report examines the growing legal efforts to enforce tighter controls on the fisheries sector, for example, through trade measures and against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. A recent study estimates the cost of illegal and unreported fishing alone at $10-23.5 billion per year.
The report also notes increasing debate about a proposed global record of fishing vessels, which ideally would assign a unique vessel identifier to each vessel that would remain constant regardless of ownership or flag changes over time. Such transparency would make it easier to police vessels engaged in illegal fishing activities.
The increasing demand for fish highlights the need for the sustainable management of aquatic resources, states the report, which recommends an ecosystem approach to fisheries, which is an integrated approach for balancing societal objectives with the state of the fishery and its natural and human environment.