Rising incomes, increased urbanization to underpin seafood consumption growth

Published on
May 3, 2019

The considerable growth in both fisheries and aquaculture production, matched by a rising public awareness of the important role that fish as a food group plays in healthy and diversified diets has driven seafood consumption upwards over the past five decades. Other factors contributing to the steady rise in people eating seafood include reduced wastage, better utilization, improved distribution channels and growing demand.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), in per capita terms, global food fish consumption grew from 9 kg in 1961 to 20.2 kg in 2015, representing an average expansion rate of 1.5 percent per annum. Its preliminary estimates for 2016 and 2017 point to further growth to about 20.3 kg and 20.5 kg respectively. Moreover, since 1961, the average annual increase in global food fish consumption of 3.2 percent has outpaced the population growth (1.6 percent) and exceeded the consumption of meat from all terrestrial animals combined (2.8 percent), and individually (bovine, ovine, pig and other), except poultry (4.9 percent).

In 2015, fish accounted for approximately 17 percent of animal protein, and 7 percent of all proteins, consumed by the global population. As such, it provided about 3.2 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein. 

Of course, consumption varies significantly across and within regions because of the influence of cultural, economic and geographic factors – ranging from less than 1 kg to more than 100 kg. In general terms, though, of the global total of 149 million metric tons (MT) consumed in 2015, Asia accounted for more than two-thirds (106 million MT and 24 kg per capita), while Oceania and Africa consumed the lowest share.

The FAO also highlights that while consumers in many advanced economies have a wide choice of value-added fish products and are not deterred by price increases, their per capita consumption levels have been approaching their “saturation point” in terms of quantity. It notes that the growth of per capita fish consumption in the EU and United States has slowed in the past few years, and also over the past two decades in Japan (albeit from a high level), while the per capita consumption of poultry and pig meat in these markets has increased. 

Fish consumption growth in Asian countries, particularly eastern (with the exception of Japan) and southeastern Asia, has been driven by a combination of a large, growing and increasingly urban population, dramatic expansion of fish production (in particular from aquaculture), rising incomes, and the expanding international fish trade. China, by far the world’s leading fish consuming country, accounted for 38 percent of the global total in 2015, with its per capita consumption reaching about 41 kg. 

With incomes and urbanization set to increase, it is expected that a growing share of fish production will be destined for human consumption. Consequently, as world fish consumption in 2030 is projected to be 20 percent or 30 million MT (live weight equivalent) higher than it was in 2016. However, it is also predicted that the average annual growth rate between 2017 and 2030 of 1.2 percent will be slower than the 3 percent seen in the period 2003-2030. The FAO believes this trend will stem from reduced production growth, higher fish prices and a deceleration in the population growth. 

In per capita terms, world fish consumption is projected to reach 21.5 kg in 2030, up from 20.3 kg in 2016. But the annual growth rate of per capita consumption will decline from 1.7 percent in 2003-2016 to 0.4 percent for 2017-2030. The per capita fish consumption will increase in all regions except Africa (-2 percent). Latin America is projected to experience the highest growth rate with 18 percent, followed by Asia and Oceania with 8 percent apiece.

Farmed species are expected to make a greater contribution to global food fish consumption, accounting for about 60 percent of the total in 2030.

Meanwhile, in Africa, the per capita fish consumption is expected to decrease at a rate of 0.2 percent per year up to 2030, declining from 9.8 kg in 2016 to 9.6 kg in 2030. This trend will be due to the population growth outpacing supply. The FAO anticipates that the decline will be more significant in in sub-Saharan Africa (from 8.6 kg to 8.3 kg over the aforementioned period). An increased domestic production of 20 percent and higher dependence on fish imports will not be sufficient to meet the region’s growing demand.

The projected decline in Africa’s per capita fish consumption raises food security concerns because of the region’s high prevalence of undernourishment and the importance of fish in total animal protein intake in many African countries, states the FAO. 

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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