Capture fishery production maxed out, FAO report says

This is the second 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 one, "Consumption figures reveal Latin America could become prized seafood market," appeared 9 January.  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.

Capture fishery production is projected to increase by just one percent through the year 2025, due to the fact that most of the world’s marine capture fisheries are fully fished and therefore have no potential for increasing production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The total volume of production from wild-catch fisheries is expected to reach 94 million tons in 2025, up from approximately 93 million tons averaged between 2013 and 2015, according to the FAO report, "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2016." The primary reason for the stagnation in production is that fact that most stocks are fully exploited.

“The 10 most productive species accounted for about 27 percent of the world’s marine capture fisheries production in 2013. Most of their stocks are fully fished and, therefore, have no potential for increases in production, while some stocks are overfished and increases in their production may be possible only after their successful restoration,” the report said.

The key factor toward maintaining the current production levels of the world’s oceans will be reducing overfishing and achieving a greater share of fish stocks harvested within biologically sustainable levels, according to the FAO. While 68.5 percent of the world’s wild fish stocks caught in 2013 were fished within biologically sustainable levels, the FAO estimated that 31.5 percent of fish stocks were overfished in 2013. That total includes 41 percent of tuna stocks – one of the most important fish species globally.

Other major contributors to the continuing steady production of seafood include declining oil prices, the recovery of fish stocks currently under management plans, the reduction of discards and waste (the FAO estimates between 27 and 35 percent of landed fish are lost, discarded, or wasted between landing and consumption), and the increasing efficiency of fishmeal production.

The last two factors will increasingly become more intertwined through 2025, as fishmeal and fish oil producers up the share of residual “leftovers” from fish processing – such as heads, tails, bones, and offal – that they in their products. The amount of fishmeal produced from fish waste is predicted to grow from 29 percent – the average of the years 2013 through 2015 – to 38 percent in 2025. The total amount of fishmeal and fish oil production will be 5.1 million tons and one million tons, respectively – representing a 15 percent jump from the 2013-2015 average. The FAO estimates that 96 percent of that growth will come from the increased use of fish waste.

Despite the inherent limitations on their yields, wild-capture fisheries will continue to be a vital part of the seafood industry and of feeding the world’s population. Continuing the work of improving the sustainability of the world’s catch is vital not just to maintaining current levels of seafood production, but also in achieving the humanitarian goal of alleviating poverty, the report said. 

“Progress in ensuring the sustainability of capture fisheries and aquaculture and their contribution to the fight against hunger and poverty and to economic and social development is critical,” the FAO said. 

Success stories, such as the rebuilding of the hake fishery in Namibia, the abalone stock in Mexico, and laws curbing overfishing in Australia, the European Union, and the United States, are evidence that progress is being made.

“Such success stories prove that overfished stocks can be rebuilt, and rebuilding will lead to higher yields and substantive social and economic benefits,” the report concluded.


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