Rome – Fish is becoming a larger part of people’s diets thanks to the booming fish farm industry, but ocean stocks continue to dwindle despite increasing international efforts to regulate catches and stop overfishing.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said in a report released on Monday that there had been no improvement in the level of global fish stocks and that the overall percentage of overfished, depleted or recovering stocks is expected to be slightly higher than in 2006.
While expressing concern at the trend, FAO suggested that the financial and nutritional plusses of increasing fish production and consumption should not be brushed off.
Overall, fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of some 540 million people – 8% of the world’s population, FAO said in its State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report. In addition, in 2007 fish accounted for 15.7% of the world’s intake of animal protein.
Much of that is due to fish farms, or aquaculture, which is set to overtake capture fisheries as the main source of fish as food, FAO said. In the early 1950s, aquaculture production was less than one million tons per year; in 2008 it was 52.5 million tons worth $98.4bn.
But in the open seas, fish stocks are dwindling due to overfishing and unregulated, illegal hauls which bring in an estimated $10bn to $23.5bn annually, FAO said.
About 32% of world fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited, depleted or recovering and need to be urgently rebuilt, the report said.
“That there has been no improvement in the status of stocks is a matter of great concern,” said senior FAO fisheries expert Richard Grainger. “The percentage of overexploitation needs to go down although at least we seem to be reaching a plateau.”
That said, another 15% of the stocks FAO watches are considered to be under fished or moderately fished, meaning they could produce more.
International efforts have been growing to enforce tighter controls on the fishing industry, but the sector is notoriously not transparent, environmental groups charge.
The report said aquaculture policies in Southeast Asia, where fish is a fundamental part of people’s diets, were a good example of balanced management.