The Food and Agriculture of the United Nations (FAO) began publishing their annual report titled “The State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture” in an effort to provide an objective look at where we are today with global fish production and the associated challenges and opportunities. With over 200 pages, we realize you may not have the time to pick through the details, so we wanted to boil it down to key takeaways; some food for thought.

A high-level look at fish production and consumption by the numbers:

  • In 2014, aquaculture sector’s contribution to the supply of fish for human consumption overtook that of wild-caught fish for the first time.
  • World per capita fish supply reached a new record high of 20 kg in 2014. This, compared to 9.9 kg in the 1960s has showed steady growth and is only expected to increase.
  • Fisheries and aquaculture supply 17% of global animal protein in people’s diets and supports the livelihoods of an estimated 12% of the world’s population.
  • The Northwest Pacific remained the most productive area for capture fisheries (27% of total marine catch), followed by the Western Central Pacific (15% of total marine catch), the Northeast Atlantic and the Eastern Indian Ocean. With the exception of the Northeast Atlantic, these areas have shown increases in catches compared with the average for the decade 2003-2013. The Mediterranean and Black Sea catches have dropped by one-third since 2007.
  • Based on FAO’s analysis of assessed commercial fish stocks, the share of fish stocks within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90% in 1974 to 68.6% in 2013. 31.4% of fish stocks were estimated as fished at a biologically unsustainable level and therefore overfished.
  • Fish and fishery products represent one of the most-traded segments of the world food sector, with about 78% of seafood products estimated to be exposed to international trade competition.
  • Indonesia ranked second behind China in total volume of wild-capture fish produced.

The report also offers a definition of sustainability, identifying key fishery components and commenting on the market levers available today.

The FAO cites a definition for sustainable development from the World Commission on Environment and Development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their own needs.” In an effort to work toward sustainable fish production, there is general agreement that responsible practices must be adopted to manage fishing pressure more effectively. The FAO provides further detail in their code of conduct for responsible fisheries. As the report puts it, “in short, responsible fishing leads to sustainability.”

The section goes on to identify the UN’s “three pillars” of sustainability: social, economic and environmental. Central to sustainability are the benefits to society. For fisheries, that means access to nutritious food, employment, equity in income and gender and basic human rights. Central to our community based fisheries management project is the maintenance of fisher communities. We’re focused on how to drive responsible practices by capturing value in the supply chain and reinvesting at the source.

While sustainable development is the goal, the report acknowledges what is sustainable in wild capture fisheries can be difficult to define due to a mix of factors, many of which are out of our control. What we can control though is the management system:

“Sustainable benefits to society arise from the interaction of the management system and the natural system. However, as only the management system can be controlled, the sustainability of a fishery should be judged by whether the management system can provide the benefits the natural system can potentially provide. Key elements in a sustainable fisheries management system are the ability to monitor changes in the state of the resource, and the ability to take effective action to respond to those changes.”

We’ve identified the opportunity to build out more effective catch data systems in Indonesia in both the small boat and large boat fleets. Large boat fleets may be the most productive, but small boats make up the overwhelming majority of fishing fleets across developing countries. A concerted effort to implement traceability technology that efficiently maps fishing effort will put us closer to actionable management plans in some of the most productive fisheries in the world.

Managing global fish production is an ongoing conversation. The report effectively captures a worldwide view of both wild capture and aquaculture. This aggregate view is important as we continue to understand how our actions in the global fish trade affect the resource and populations who depend on it.

We certainly don’t have the whole story captured in this post so we encourage you to flip through the pages of the report for yourself.