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Report Review – The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, FAO 2020

Blue Growth Policies Unit


Last year, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released the latest edition of the biannual “World Fisheries and Aquaculture” report, in the series of “State of the World”. The 2020 edition of the publication is devoted to “Sustainability in Action” as the organization continues to focus on meeting Sustainable Development Goals established back in 2015.

Divided into three parts, the report first provides a global overview of fishery and aquaculture production, the current status of the sector, and trends in consumption and trade. Part 2 of the report focuses on sustainability in action, providing an assessment of review of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, 25th anniversary of the blueprint that has guided fisheries and aquaculture policy development worldwide. The report expresses its relation to sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture through data and information systems, ocean pollution, product legality, tenure and user rights, and climate change adaptation. Part 3 of the report offers projections for the sector, addresses the advancements and challenges with new technologies and biosecurity, and recommends steps for a cross-sectoral approach to driving sustainability for fisheries and aquaculture.

Part 1 – World Review

The 2020 edition of The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture presents and gives proof for increasing role of food production, providing nutrition and employment as well as demonstrating the challenges although the progress achieved. The report gives evidence with examples such that when fisheries are properly managed, the credibility of fishery managers and governments which are willing to take action are increasing due to the consistent stocks above target levels.

The report gives vital statistics and numbers to understand the aquaculture sector and changing role of fishery in global economy, in human nutrition, for global food security and for food production. As provided, the aquaculture production is growing at a rate of 7.5% per year since 1970. This shows the crucial role of aquaculture in global food security although traditional, niche and mainstream productions such as capture fisheries remain relevant.

Although the aquaculture production faces environmental challenges, it is claimed to be open that fish and fishery products are healthiest foods and are less impactful on the natural environment in the report. So, these products are considered to contribute effectively to food safety.

Another statistical information is related to human consumption provided in the report. In 2018, global fish production reached approximately about 179 million tonnes (Figure 1) with 156 tones used for human consumption (Table 1). These numbers represent an estimated annual supply of 20.5 kg per capita.

Figure 1. World Capture Fisheries and Aquaculture Production (Retrieved from FAO, 2020)

Table 1. World Fisheries and Aquaculture Production, Utilization and Trade (Retrieved from FAO, 2020)

At the same time, while consumption is increasing, the fraction of fish stocks that are within biologically sustainable levels decreased from 90% in 1974 to 65.8% in 2017 (Figure 2). In 2018, about 88% of the 179 million tonnes of total fish production was allocated for human consumption, while the rest was used for non-food uses (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Global Trends in the State of the World’s Marine Fish Stocks, 1974-2017 (Retrieved from FAO, 2020)

The report gives coverage to historical change of fish consumption and its place in human diet. Between 1961 and 2017, the average annual growth rate of total food fish consumption outpaced annual population rate of which 1.6%, with a rate of 3.1%. In per capita terms, food fish consumption rose from 9 kg (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.3 kg in 2017 and is expected to be 20.5 kg in 2018. Globally, fish accounted for about 17% of total animal protein and 7% of all proteins consumed. Moreover, fish provided about 3.3 billion people with almost 20 percent of their average per capita intake of animal protein. Since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish consumption available for human of which share was 52% in 2018.

Continuing with trade statistics, the report provides that 67 million tonnes of fish which is equivalent to 38% of all fish caught and farmed, were traded internationally, 221 states and territories reported fish trading activity and the total export value of USD 164 billion (almost 11% of the export value of agricultural production) was recorded in 2018. Between 1976 and 2018, the increase in annual rate the value of global exports of fish and fish products is 4% in real terms. Although estimates for 2019 was limited to 2% increase when compared to previous year, the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) negatively impacted trade even further in 2020.

The report provides us that since 2002, China has been the main producer and exporter of fish and fish products. Regarding the dominancy, the new fisheries and aquaculture reforms and policies to be implemented by China are expected to have a noticeable impact at the world level. Following China, Norway is ranked as second, while Vietnam as third. In 2018, fish imports by developing countries represented 31% of the global total by value and 49% by quantity.

Part 2 – Sustainability in Action

Second part of the report focuses on sustainability issue of fisheries and aquaculture. The section details how the FAO’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries has shaped policy and sustainability principles worldwide by promoting environmental and conservation concerns. The year 2020 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries which is a foundational document that sets out globally agreed principles and standards for the use of fisheries and aquaculture resources.

The report highlights that the connection between sustainable resource use and secure tenure, user and access rights is widely recognized in marine and inland fisheries. Further concerns cover the intrinsic link between environmental sustainability and social and economic sustainability of coastal and inland fisheries communities in the long term. If user rights system is properly designed, it is helpful to secure activities of indigenous techniques, historical users, dependent communities and have potential to establish exclusive access to the resource as well as avoiding overfishing.

However, as rights are allocated and limited, they also become valuable for stakeholders inside and outside the sector. This may cause the sector to be under pressure of the investment forces which may bring about danger of resource grab of common and local aquatic resources for historical users and communities.  

Part 3 – Outlook and Emerging Issues

Part 3 offers projections for the sector, addresses the advancements and challenges with new technologies and biosecurity, and recommends steps for a cross-sectoral approach to driving sustainability for fisheries and aquaculture. The section outlines a new vision for capture fisheries among its other forward-looking content.

The report gives us a number of future estimations (Figure 3). Total fish production is expected to expand from 179 million tonnes in 2018 to 204 million tonnes in 2030. Aquaculture production is projected to reach 109 million tonnes in 2030, an increase of 32% over 2018. Yet, the average annual growth rate of aquaculture should slow from 4.6 percent in 2007–2018 to 2.3 percent in 2019–2030.

As an example, China case is expounded in the report. The country’s policies in the next decade are expected to advance the transition from extensive to intensive aquaculture according to their 13th Five-Year Plan. It is estimated that Asia will continue to dominate the aquaculture sector and will be responsible for more than 89% of the increase in production by 2030. Also, Africa is expected to take part in the sector with 48% of growth.

Another projection for the aquaculture production in 2030 is on freshwater species that they are expected to reach 62%.

Figure 3. Increasing Role of Aquaculture (Retrieved from FAO, 2020)

Prices areexpected to rise in the long term up to 2030. The reasons behind this are improved income, higher meat prices and population growth on the demand side, whereas, stable capture fisheries production, cost increase in inputs and slowing growth of aquaculture production on the supply side.

Apart from accessibility, the share of fish production for human consumption is estimated to grow, reaching 89% by 2030 in the report. The main factors behind this increase are represented with high demand due to rising urbanization and income, improvements in processing and distribution which strenghten the commercialization of fish. In per capita terms, world fish consumption is projected to reach 21.5 kg in 2030, up from 20.5 kg in 2018 according tothe report.

As the last issue transmitted in the report, trade projections show that world trade in fish for human consumption is expected to grow by 9% in quantity terms between 2018 and 2030. Besides, the average annual growth rate of exports is projected to decline due to the slow down in the expansion of production, increasing domestic demand at the exporter countries and higher prices.

To access the full report, you may click the below link;


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