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FAO: World Fisheries

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November 22, 2022

The FAO reported global production of 178 million tons of aquatic animals and 36 million tons of algae in 2020. Fish and seafood were worth $200 billion in 2020, an average of $1.10 a pound, while algae was worth $0.50 a pound.

Fish, seafood, and algae can be consumed fresh or frozen, canned, or dried; some is used for a non-human food purposes, such as fish meal. About 90 percent of the aquatic animals caught or raised were consumed by humans. The largest share, 44 percent, was consumed fresh, followed by 35 percent that was frozen. The share of fish that are salted and dried is highest in developing countries.

90% of fish and seafood are consumed by humans, most often fresh or frozen

Average global fish and seafood consumption was 20 kilograms or 44 pounds per person in 2020, double average per capita consumption in the 1960s. Fish and seafood provided a sixth of human animal protein. Asians have the highest per capita consumption of fish and seafood of 25 pounds per person per year. Africans and Latin Americans have lower per capita consumption of 10 pounds per year.

Average per capita fish and seafood consumption is 20 kg or 44 lbs a year

Total and Per Capita Apparent Consumption of Aquatic Foods by Region and Economic Class, 2019
Region/economic class Total aquatic food consumption (million tonnes, live weight equivalent) Per capita aquatic food consumption (kg/capita/year)
World 157.7 20.5
  World, excluding China 100.3 16.0
Africa 13.1 10.0
Americas 14.8 14.6
  North America 8.3 22.7
  Latin America and the Caribbean 6.4 9.9
Asia 113.1 24.6
Europe 15.8 21.1
Oceania 1.0 23.2
High-income countries 32.0 26.5
Upper-middle-income countries 72.2 28.1
Lower-middle-income countries 50.0 15.2
Low-income countries 3.5 5.4

There are two major ways to produce fish and seafood: catch or farm. The major story of the 21st century is the stable catch of wild fish and seafood, about 90 million tons a year, and the rising share of farmed fish and seafood, about 90 million tons a year.

Aquaculture accounts for half of the world’s fish and seafood tonnage

China accounts a third of the global fish and seafood volume, both caught and farmed, followed by Norway and Vietnam. A third of the world’s fish and seafood are exported, some 60 million tons worth $150 billion in 2020, making the 60 million tons traded worth $2,500 a ton or $1.25 a pound. Most of the fish and seafood that is traded is frozen.

The EU accounted for a third of global fish and seafood imports, followed by the US with 15 percent and China and Japan, 10 percent each. The top exporters of fish and seafood were China, 12 percent of global exports by value, followed by Norway, eight percent, and Vietnam, Chile, India, and Thailand, about five percent each.

Wild. Some 90 million tons of wild fish were caught in 2020, including 80 million tons from marine waters and 10 million tons from inland waters, by 4.1 million fishing boats, including 2.5 million that are motorized. Finfish are the most caught wild fish led by anchovies. The four high-value groups were tuna, cephalopods or mollusks such as squid and octopus, shrimp, and lobster.

The top 10 countries capturing the most fish were led by China, which accounted for 15 percent of the global catch, and followed by Indonesia and Peru, seven percent each. The top 10 capture-fish countries accounted for 57 percent of the global catch; only Bangladesh caught more wild fish inland than in the sea.

The top 10 countries accounted for 57% of wild fish caught

Top Ten Global Capture Producers, 2020
Country Share of global captures (cumulative %)
China 15%
Indonesia 22%
Peru 29%
India 35%
Russian Federation 40%
United States of America 45%
Viet Nam 49%
Japan 52%
Norway 55%
Bangladesh 57%

In 1974, the FAO estimated that 90 percent of the world’s fish stocks were being fished within biologically sustainable levels. The share of fish stocks that are being fished sustainably has been declining, and was two-thirds in 2020.

⅓ of the world’s fish stocks were overfished in 2020

The most overfished fish stocks include those off of the western coast of South America and in the Mediterranean, where two-thirds of fish stocks are overfished. The most sustainable fish stocks are in the mid- and north-Pacific Ocean, where over 80 percent of fish stocks are sustainable.

A third of fish stocks off Peru and in the Mediterranean are sustainable

People. Some 60 million people worldwide are employed full or part time in fishing and seafood, including a third who were employed in aquaculture. Women are about 20 percent of those employed full- or part-time in fishing and seafood, and their share of the workforce is highest in aquaculture.

Almost 85 percent of the world’s fishing workforce is in Asia

World Employment for Fishers and Fish Farmers by Region for Selected Years, 1995–2020 (thousands)
  1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020
Fisheries and aquaculture
Africa 2,812 3,589 4,159 5,032 5,562 5,641
Americas 2,072 1,905 1,978 2,321 2,501 2,621
Asia 31,632 41,265 45,693 50,401 52,079 49,425
Europe 476 514 463 426 375 388
Oceania 466 475 478 482 481 474
Total 37,456 47,748 52,770 58,662 60,999 58,549
Fisheries
Africa 2,743 3,395 3,906 4,671 5,057 5,007
Americas 1,793 1,605 1,679 1,981 2,156 2,015
Asia 24,205 28,335 30,476 31,994 31,833 30,102
Europe 378 418 380 333 286 294
Oceania 460 465 469 473 471 464
Total 29,579 34,219 36,909 39,452 39,803 37,882
Aquaculture
Africa 69 194 252 361 505 634
Americas 279 301 299 340 345 606
Asia 7,426 12,930 15,217 18,407 20,246 19,323
Europe 98 96 83 93 89 94
Oceania 6 9 9 9 10 10
Total 7,878 13,529 15,861 19,211 21,195 20,667

Persons employed in aquaculture tend to be employed full time

Most fishing vessels are small; under 12 meters and with only one deck. The 45,000 fishing vessels that were more than 24 meters or 80 feet were only five percent of the motorized fishing fleet, but they caught most of the world’s caught fish.

Asia has 2.7 million fishing vessels or two-thirds of the total, including 560,000 Chinese vessels, down from over a million in 2013. Both the EU and China have reduced their fishing fleets.

There were 2.5 million motorized and 1.5 million non-motorized fishing boats in 2020

The FAO reported that two-thirds of the 10 most landed fishes are being fished within biologically sustainable levels: anchoveta, Alaska pollock, skipjack tuna, Atlantic herring, yellowfin, blue whiting, European pilchard, Pacific chub mackerel, Atlantic cod and large-head hairtail.

Aquaculture. Aquaculture produced 88 million tons of fish and seafood, half of 2020’s total, and all of the algae. The FAO projects that aquaculture will produce over half of the 200 million tons of aquatic animals expected in 2030.

The 60 million tons of farmed finfish, led by carp, catfish, salmon and tilapia, were worth $150 billion in 2020, the 18 million tons of farmed mollusks such as oysters and mussels were worth $30 billion, and the 11 million tons of farmed crustaceans including shrimp and crabs were worth $80 billion.

Aquaculture produces half of the world’s fish and seafood, and most of the inland fish

Fish can be farmed inland in fresh water or in coastal areas in marine or ocean salt water. The leading farmed fresh-water finfish by tonnage are various carp and tilapia, while the leading farmed finfish in salt water is salmon.

Carp are the leading farmed fresh water fish, and salmon the leading farmed saltwater fish

World Production of Major Aquaculture Species, Including Species Groups (thousands)
  2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 Percentage of total, 2020
Finfish in inland aquaculture
Grass carp, Ctenopharyngodon idellus 2,976.5 3,396.6 4,213.1 5,315.0 5,791.5 11.8
Silver carp, Hypophthalmichthys molitrix 3,034.7 3,690.0 3,972.0 4,713.6 4,896.6 10
Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus 1,001.5 1,721.3 2,637.4 4,000.9 4,407.2 9
Common carp, Cyprinus carpio 2,410.4 2,666.3 3,331.0 4,025.8 4,236.3 8.6
Catla, Catla catla 602.3 1,317.5 2,526.4 2,313.4 3,540.3 7.2
Bighead carp, Hypophthalmichthys nobilis 1,438.9 1,929.5 2,513.6 3,109.1 3,187.2 6.5
Carassius spp. 1,198.5 1,798.2 2,137.8 2,644.1 2,748.6 5.6
Striped catfish, Pangasianodon hypophthalmus 113.2 411.2 1,749.4 2,083.2 2,520.4 5.1
Roho labeo, Labeo rohita 733.9 1,435.9 1,133.2 1,785.3 2,484.8 5.1
Clarias catfishes, Clarias spp. 48.8 149.5 343.3 923.7 1,249.0 2.5
Tilapias nei, Oreochromis spp. 123.9 199.3 449.6 929.9 1,069.9 2.2
Wuchang bream, Megalobrama amblycephala 445.9 477.2 629.2 723.2 781.7 1.6
Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss 340.4 360.0 464.7 546.5 739.5 1.5
Black carp, Mylopharyngodon piceus 149.0 280.7 409.5 541.2 695.5 1.4
Largemouth black bass, Micropterus salmoides 0.2 140.3 179.5 321.5 621.3 1.3
Subtotal of 15 major species 14,618.2 19,973.5 26,689.7 33,976.3 38,970.1 79.3
Subtotal other species 3,546.6 4,260.1 6,337.7 8,535.7 10,150.4 20.7
Total 18,164.7 24,233.6 33,027.4 42,512.0 49,120.5 100
Finfish in marine and coastal aquaculture
Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar 895.7 1,266.6 1,433.8 2,380.2 2,719.6 32.6
Milkfish, Chanos chanos 429.7 542.9 750.5 1,012.3 1,167.8 14
Mullets nei, Mugilidae 92.4 173.7 102.7 129.2 291.2 3.5
Gilthead seabream, Sparus aurata 87.3 110.8 142.3 168.8 282.1 3.4
Large yellow croaker, Larimichthys croceus 0.0 60.9 83.3 142.4 254.1 3
European seabass, Dicentrarchus labrax 60.7 90.9 118.0 149.1 243.9 2.9
Groupers nei, Epinephelus spp. 7.6 57.1 77.2 149.2 226.2 2.7
Coho(=Silver) salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch 108.6 115.1 124.8 140.7 221.8 2.7
Rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss 155.3 202.0 287.7 204.1 220.1 2.6
Japanese seabass, Lateolabrax japonicus 0.6 79.6 104.8 120.6 196.9 2.4
Pompano, Trachinotus ovatus 0.0 0.0 80.0 110.0 160.0 1.9
Japanese amberjack, Seriola quinqueradiata 136.8 159.7 138.9 140.3 137.1 1.6
Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus 1.6 5.3 20.3 49.8 107.4 1.3
Barramundi(=Giant seaperch), Lates calcarifer 18.1 27.0 52.7 68.7 105.8 1.3
Red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus 2.1 42.4 53.0 71.3 84.3 1
Subtotal of 15 major species 1,996.6 2,933.9 3,569.9 5,036.7 6,418.2 77

A group of 11 NGOs organized into the Financial Transparency Coalition released a report in October 2022 that concluded illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing costs $25 billion a year, as IUU vessels account for up to 20 percent of the global fisheries catch. One hotbed for IUU fishing with foreign distant water fishing (DWF) fleets from China and other countries is the West Coast of Africa; eight of the top 10 IUU fishing fleets are Chinese.

FAO. 2022. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture

https://financialtransparency.org/half-illegal-fishing-vessels-operate-africa-majority-chinese-european-new-report/

Appendix Table 1. World fisheries yielded 180 million tons in 2020, half from aquaculture

World Fisheries and Aquaculture Production, Utilization and Trade (Million tonnes, live weight equivalent)
  1990s 2000s 2010s 2018 2019 2020
Average per year
Production
Capture:  
  Inland 7.1 9.3 11.3 12.0 12.1 11.5
  Marine 81.9 81.6 79.8 84.5 80.1 78.8
Total capture 88.9 90.9 91.0 96.5 92.2 90.3
Aquaculture:  
  Inland 12.6 25.6 44.7 51.6 53.3 54.4
  Marine 9.2 17.9 26.8 30.9 31.9 33.1
Total aquaculture 21.8 43.4 71.5 82.5 85.2 87.5
Total world fisheries and aquaculture 110.7 134.3 162.6 178.9 177.4 177.8
Utilization
Human consumption 81.6 109.3 143.2 156.8 158.1 157.4
Non-food uses 29.1 25.0 19.3 22.2 19.3 20.4
Population (billions) 5.7 6.5 7.3 7.6 7.7 7.8
Per capita apparent consumption (kg) 14.3 16.8 19.5 20.5 20.5 20.2
Trade
Exports – in quantity 39.6 51.6 61.4 66.8 66.6 59.8
Share of exports in total production 35.8% 38.5% 37.7% 37.3% 37.5% 33.7%
Exports – in value (USD 1 billion) 46.6 76.4 141.8 165.3 161.8 150.5

The FAO aims for sustainable fishing


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