Aquaculture production has overtaken fishing, says UN report

Fish farmer in Asia (photo: FAO/Saikat Mojumder)

Global aquaculture has overtaken traditional catch fishing for the first time, says a new report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

The FAO State of World Aquaculture and Fisheries Report 2024 (also known as SOFIA) said fish and marine plant farming in all its forms hit 139.9 million tonnes of which 94.4 million tonnes were aquatic animals (i.e. fish) – the equivalent of 51% of the total aquatic animal production.

The remainder – more than 37 million tonnes – was largely made up of seaweed and algae.

FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu said: “FAO welcomes the significant achievements thus far, but further transformative and adaptive actions are needed to strengthen the efficiency, inclusiveness, resilience and sustainability of aquatic food systems and consolidate their role in addressing food insecurity, poverty alleviation and sustainable governance.”

FAO Assistant Director-General, Manuel Barange added: “These numbers demonstrate the potential for aquaculture to feed the growing world population,

“It’s been the fastest growing food production system (in the world) for the last five decades.”

Unsurprisingly, most of the countries recording the biggest output, apart from three, were in Asia. The top 10 producers were: China, Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, the Philippines, South Korea, Norway, Egypt and Chile. They accounted for almost 90% of all aquaculture production, and FAO said it was important to develop the industry elsewhere, especially in Africa, which is currently a net importer of fish.

The second largest region was Latin America and the Caribbean, but it was some way behind Asia.

The report states that supporting further consumption from sustainable sources in the region is crucial to foster healthy diets and improve nutrition worldwide.

It stresses that aquatic animal foods provide high-quality proteins – 15% of animal proteins and 6% of total proteins worldwide – and key nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins.

In 2021, they contributed at least 20% of the per capita protein supply from all animal sources to 3.2 billion people worldwide.

The UN report also says that in addition to nutrition and food security, fisheries and aquaculture are an important source of livelihoods.

According to the latest data, an estimated 61.8 million people were employed in the primary sector of fisheries and aquaculture in 2022, down from 62.8 million in 2020.

Aquaculture grows, but fears over African shortfall

Aquatic animal production is expected to increase by 10% by 2032 to reach 205 million tonnes. Aquaculture expansion and capture fisheries recovery will account for this rise.

SOFIA projects that apparent consumption will increase by 12% to supply on average 21.3 kg per capita in 2032. Rising incomes and urbanisation, improvements in post-harvest practices and distribution and dietary trends are expected to drive most of this increase.

However, the report warns, per capita apparent consumption in Africa will continue to decrease, as production projections may not keep up with population growth. This is especially alarming for sub-Saharan Africa where many countries are dependent on aquatic foods to meet their nutritional needs, particularly animal proteins and micronutrients.

The report also presents a scenario showing the potential implications of population dynamics on the supply of aquatic animal food up to 2050. Due to the rising global population, to maintain through to 2050 apparent consumption of aquatic animal foods at the 2022 estimated level of 20.7 kg per capita would require an increase in the total aquatic animal food supply of 36 million tonnes, a rise of 22%.

This, the FAO said, highlights the need to accelerate “Blue Transformation” priority actions in a world where aquatic foods play a more significant role in ending hunger, malnutrition and poverty.

Tilapia, a staple fish for many African nations



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