Aquaculture Key to Meeting Demand for Fish
NEW DELHI, India, September 5, 2006 (ENS) - Aquaculture is critical to feeding the world's growing appetite for fish, but it is unclear if the industry will be able to overcome its economic and environmental challenges and meet that demand, cautions a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
An additional 40 million tons of fish will be required 2030 just to maintain current levels of consumption, according to the report, and there is no way wild stocks can meet the demand.
"Aquaculture could cover the gap between supply and demand, but there are also many forces which could pull production in the opposite direction, making it difficult for the industry to grow substantially enough to meet demand in the decades to come," the report said.
The 145-page report was presented Monday to delegates from more than 50 countries attending the biennial meeting of the FAO Sub-Committee on Aquaculture.
It finds that the aquaculture industry now accounts for 43 percent of fish consumed by people - in 1980, that figure was only 9 percent.
Levels of fish caught in the wild have remained roughly stable since the mid-1980s.
There is little chance of any significant increases in wild catches beyond these levels, the report said.
Although it is difficult to determine the exact condition of all marine fish stocks, the FAO says there is ample cause for concern.
Modern fishing techniques, population growth and economic pressures have brought a rapid expansion of commercial fishing and greatly increased the capacity to exploit fish stocks.
FAO's most recent global assessment of wild fish stocks found that of the 52 percent of the 600 species it monitors are fully exploited. Some 17 percent are overexploited, 7 percent are depleted and 1 percent are recovering from depletion.
"Catches in the wild are still high, but they have leveled off, probably for good," said Rohana Subasinghe of FAO's Fisheries Department and Secretary of the Sub-Committee on Aquaculture.
But the depletion of natural fish stocks comes as consumer demand for fish continues to increase, in particular in the developed world. Wealthy nations imported 33 million tons of fish - valued at some $61 billion - in 2004.
Aquaculture is the only answer to meeting growing demand, the report said, but the rapidly growing industries faces a slew of economic and environmental challenges.
The report finds that aquaculture has been growing about 8 percent annually since the mid-1980s and it continues to expand in almost all world regions, with the notable exception of sub-Saharan Africa.
But the FAO is concerned that momentum could taper off if governments and development agencies don't adjust their policies to respond to emerging challenges that threaten to damper the sector's future growth.
The report highlights the lack of investment capital for producers in the developing world as a serious challenge, as well as the shortage of land and freshwater for use in aquaculture.
The aquaculture challenges could prove in particular difficult within the developing world, where many nations are ill-equipped to regulate fish farms.
Rising energy costs also pose a problem, as do environmental impacts and questions of product safety.
The agency's report also points to doubts regarding future supplies of fishmeal and oil, used to feed carnivorous cultured species, such as salmon, grouper and sea bream.
The vast bulk of fishmeal is used for livestock feed, in particular for the poultry sector, but aquaculture now accounts for 35 percent of the world's fishmeal supply.
As the aquaculture's need for fishmeal increases, competition with terrestrial livestock for a limited resource will intensify, with ramifications for both price and availability, the report said.
Resolving the dilemma will require continued progress in improving the efficiency of feed formulations - reducing the amount of fishmeal they contain - and coming up with adequate vegetable-based additives, FAO said.
"We need to start planning now for handling these challenges, because aquaculture is crucial to the fight against global hunger," said Ichiro Nomura, FAO assistant director-general for Fisheries. "It offers a source of food that is rich in protein, essential fatty acids and vitamins and minerals. And it offers a way to boost development by providing jobs, improving people's incomes, and increasing returns on natural resource use. We must ensure that the sector continues to expand, sustainably, to provide more people with food and income, especially in areas like sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where hunger and poverty prevail."