Sustainable Fisheries: The Importance of the Bigger Picture
Kevern L. Cochrane, William Emerson, and Rolf Willmann
For many, particularly in the western world, the overriding perception of fisheries for the past decade or so has been an image of a sector in crisis and responsible above all for ongoing and potentially catastrophic environmental damage. At the same time, the reality for hundreds of millions of people around the world, concentrated in developing countries, is that fisheries and aquaculture provide life-sustaining livelihoods and food security (FAO 2005a, 2009a).
In 2007, the most recent global figure available at the time of writing this paper, capture fisheries and aquaculture provided about 114 million metric tons of food fish. Aquaculture accounted for 44% of this total. Overall, global capture fisheries production in that year was about 90 million metric tons of which about 80 million metric tons came from marine fisheries. A record 10 million metric tons was recorded from inland waters, but this is undoubtedly an underestimate. Approximately 27 million metric tons of fish were used for purposes other than direct human consumption, mainly in the manufacture of fish meal and fish oil (FAO 2009a).
The livelihoods of millions of people around the world depend heavily on fisheries and aquaculture. There were an estimated 2.1 million engine-powered vessels in 2006, but most fishers and fish farmers are small-scale, artisanal fishers, operating on coastal and inland fishery resources. In total, an estimated 43.5 million people were directly involved in primary production of fish either in capture fisheries or in aquaculture on a part-time or full-time basis with an additional 4 million engaged on an occasional basis. If dependants are included, about 520 million people could be reliant on the sector, or nearly 8% of the world population (FAO 2009a).
Fish is also a principal source of high quality animal protein and of essential fatty oils and micronutrients (FAO 2009a). The total production of food fish in 2006 was equivalent to an average of 16.7 kg (live weight equivalent) per person for that year. This figure is among the highest annual rate on record. Looked at from a different perspective, fish provided more than 2.9 billion people with at least 15% of their average per capita animal protein intake. In low-income food-deficit countries, fish contributed an estimated 18.5% of total animal protein intake of the human population. This is probably an underestimate though because of the underreporting of landings from small-scale and subsistence fisheries.