Consumption figures reveal Latin America could become prized seafood market

Published on
January 9, 2018

This is the first of a four-part series investigating the findings of "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016," a report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Part two, "Capture fishery production maxed out," appeared 19 February. Part three, "Aquaculture producing the most seafood for human consumption, report finds," was published on 20 February. Part four, "Seafood prices to remain steady even as global seafood trade increases," will appear on 21 February.

Often overlooked in the global marketplace, Latin America and the Caribbean may be worth a second glance after the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that the region will see the fastest increase in per capita fish consumption within the next 10 years.

According to “The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016,” consumption of fish is expected to grow in Latin America and the Caribbean by 22 percent between 2015 and 2025, moving from 10 kilograms per year per capita to 12 kilograms per year.

Asia and Oceania are also expected to see rapidly rising seafood consumption, with a projected growth of 12 percent. In contrast, fish consumption in North America is expected to grow by just three percent in that period, and Europe’s will grow by less than seven percent, the FAO predicted.

“In particular, major increases are projected in Brazil, Peru, Chile, China and Mexico. Apparent fish consumption will remain static or decrease in a few countries, including Japan, the Russian Federation, Argentina and Canada. A slight increase (two percent) is projected for Africa,” the biennial FAO report stated.

To satisfy this expected demand, the report projects that Latin America and the Caribbean fish imports will increase by about 35 percent of its seafood, compared to projected global growth in fish imports of 21 percent and growth in imports by developed countries of just under 18 percent. Meanwhile, developed countries' fish exports are expected to increase by around 20 percent, in comparison to Latin American and Caribbean exports, which are expected to grow by just 17 percent by 2025.

However, the report stressed, “The Latin America and the Caribbean region remains a solid net fishery exporter, as do Oceania and the developing countries of Asia...Europe and North America are characterized by a fishery trade deficit.”

The report disaggregates Latin America and the Caribbean's aquaculture figures, showing that between 2010 and 2014, Caribbean aquaculture declined from 37,000 metric tons (MT) to 33,000 and its share of global aquaculture production moved from 0.06 to 0.05 percent. On the other hand, aquaculture production in Latin America – excluding Chile – grew from 1.1 million MT in 2010 to 1.5 million in 2014. Latin America's share of world aquaculture production thus grew from 1.9 percent to around 2.1 percent during the period. In comparison, Asia's aquaculture production stood at 66 million MT in 2014, or 89 percent of global production.

In providing context for the data, the report observed that in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is “decreasing population growth, a decreasing economically active population in the agriculture sector in the last decade, moderately growing employment in the fisheries sector, decreasing capture production and rather high sustained aquaculture production.”

Aquaculture is set to grow in the Caribbean and Latin America, creating higher production but not as many jobs as might be supposed, the report said.

“However, the region’s vigorously growing aquaculture production may not result in an equally vigorously growing number of employed fish farmers as several of the important organisms cultivated in the region are aimed at satisfying highly competitive foreign markets, thus requiring a focus on efficiency, quality, lower costs, and greater reliance on technological developments rather than human labor,” the report said.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 356,000 people are currently involved in aquaculture. Four percent of the global population engaged in fisheries and aquaculture are found in that region, compared to 84 percent in Asia, and 10 percent in Africa, in 2014. For 2014, there were just under 2.5 million aquaculture workers in Latin America and the Caribbean, compared to slightly fewer than 2.2 million in 2010. 

In contrast, “Europe and North America have experienced the largest proportional decreases in the number of people engaged in capture fishing, and little increase or even a decrease in those engaged in fish farming,” the report said.

It also highlights that six percent of the global fishing fleet is in Latin America and the Caribbean, comprising 276,000 mainly artisanal fishing vessels of less than 12 metres in length. Asia has 75 percent of the world's fishing fleet, and Europe and North America two percent, respectively.

Data shows a world food fish supply of 147 million MT live weight for the period 2013-2015 with Latin America and the Caribbean taking six million MT.

Concerned about wastage, the FAO and the Global Environment Facility have launched a project known as the Sustainable Management of Bycatch in Latin America and Caribbean Trawl Fisheries (REBYC-II LAC) (2015–19), which “aims to reduce food loss and support sustainable livelihoods by improving bycatch management and minimizing discards and sea-bed damage, thereby turning bottom trawl fisheries into responsible fisheries.”

According to the report, “The project will investigate the role of bycatch in food security and livelihoods, and explore alternative income generation opportunities for those affected by the management action, including women (often involved in processing and selling products from bycatch). Capacity development for livelihoods diversification is critical to ensuring decent job opportunities and incomes.”

The report also reflects on the impact of climate change on fisheries. Under the heading “The human and economic costs of disaster,” the report noted, “In the Caribbean, it is estimated that climate change will contribute an additional USD 1.4 billion [EUR 1.2 billion] to expected annual losses from cyclone wind damage alone. This figure excludes additional losses from storm surges due to sea-level rise.”

Reporting from the Caribbean

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