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Parminder Bahra


There is no alternative to sustainability as world fish production reaches a new record, says major UN report. 

The volume of fish production worldwide has reached the record level of 179 million tonnes according to the latest figures from the United Nations’ SOFIA report.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s State of the World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020 report - based on data up to 2018 - also notes that per capita fish consumption has reached a record 20.5 kilograms per year and is poised to increase further in the decade ahead.

The report, first published in 1994 and updated every two years, finds that the proportion of fish stocks now being fished at unsustainable levels has continued to increase since the last report. The latest figure, 34.2 percent, extends a longer trend -- fishing of unsustainable stocks was at 10 percent in 1974.

However, the FAO says that sustainability trends for many major species are improving. For example, catches of all kinds of tuna reached their highest level -- about 7.9 million tonnes in 2018 -- and two thirds of these stocks are now fished at biologically sustainable levels, an increase of 10 percentage points since 2016.

Manuel Barange, director of the FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, said: “There is no alternative to sustainability. The report shows there is evident progress in the sector 25 years after the endorsement of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.

Rupert Howes, CEO of the Marine Stewardship Council, said: “The global seafood industry has already moved at speed to adapt to the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic; when we emerge from this crisis it is vital that we ‘build back better’ with sustainability at its heart.

“The call from the FAO to ensure that all fish stocks are managed within biological sustainable limits is welcome. This is essential to safeguard seafood supplies. The MSC provides a benchmark and tools to help fisheries all over the world achieve this.”

The FAO says the report shows that intensive fisheries management results in robust or rebuilding of fish stocks while failure to implement these measures threaten their contributions to food security and livelihoods.

Mr Barange added that the report highlights the importance of achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and pathways to sustainability: “Now, more than ever, fish and fish products are essential in the fight against hunger and poverty and should be included in global and national food and nutritional strategies.”

An estimated 59.51 million people were engaged (on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis) in the primary sector of capture fisheries (39.0 million people) and aquaculture (20.5 million people) in 2018, a slight increase from 2016.

The FAO also estimates that global fishing activity may have declined by around 6.5 percent as a result of restrictions and labour shortages due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It adds that retail sales have remained stable or increased for frozen, canned, marinated and smoked fish with a longer shelf life, while reduced tourism and restaurant closures have dramatically impacted distribution channels for many fish types.