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Aquaculture is driving aquatic food yields to new highs – AFR

The amount of wild-caught and aquacultured fish, shellfish and seaweed hit a record 214 million tonnes in 2020, the Food and Agriculture Organization said on Wednesday.

Fueled by a continued surge in aquaculture, the new record is good news for a world facing price hikes and food shortages due to the war in Ukraine, disrupted supply chains and inflation.

“Growing fisheries and aquaculture is critical to our efforts to end global hunger and malnutrition,” said FAO Director Qu Dongyu.

But overexploited oceans, climate change and pollution — if left unaddressed — could threaten that potential, the UN agency warned in its 2022 State of the World Fisheries Report.

“The growth of aquaculture has often been at the expense of the environment,” it said.

“Sustainable aquaculture development remains crucial to meet the growing demand for aquatic food.”

Aquatic animal production in 2020 – a total of 178 million tons – was split evenly between fisheries and aquaculture.

Algae production accounted for the remaining 36 million tons.

Yields of fish, shrimp and other shellfish intended for human consumption are more than 60 percent higher than in the 1990s, far outpacing population growth, according to the report released during the UN Oceania Conference in Lisbon.

On average, people worldwide now consume over 20 kilos (44 pounds) of aquatic food per year, more than double what they did 50 years ago.

Globally, 17 percent of the protein consumed by humans comes from aquatic sources. In many Asian and African countries, that number rises to over 50 percent, according to the report.

Wild and farmed foods from seas and inland waters are also a crucial source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and micronutrients, recent research has shown.

“Aquatic foods are increasingly recognized for their key role in food safety and nutrition,” said Qu.

Nearly 90 percent of aquatic animal production is for human consumption, with the remainder for non-food uses such as fishmeal and fish oil.

In 2020, 70 percent of global aquatic fisheries and aquaculture came from Asian countries.

China remains by far the largest fisheries producer, followed by Indonesia, Peru, Russia, the United States and Vietnam.

So-called trap fishing in the wild, which has stagnated since the mid-1990s, is down four percent in 2020 compared to the average for the previous three years.

Some of the decline is due to disruption caused by the Covid pandemic, but the long-term decline is due to overfishing.

“The FAO estimates that 34 percent of the fish caught comes from overexploited stocks,” Rashid Sumaila, an economist and fisheries expert at the University of British Columbia, told AFP.

“But they are very conservative,” he added. “Independent studies speak of 50 percent.”

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