FAO , 30 May 2006

Fish exports by developing countries help combat hunger, but better management needed

Santiago de Compostela, Spain/Rome – Booming fish exports are having a positive effect on food security in the developing world, but good management of fisheries by developing nations is essential if they are going to continue to benefit over the longer term, FAO said today.

An FAO report presented at a major meeting on the international trade in fish products, worth around $71 billion annually, said that the fish trade was so far having no detrimental effect on the amount of fish available for consumption as food in poor countries.

The UN agency told delegates from the 60 governments participating in the tenth meeting of its Sub-Committee on Fish Trade (Santiago de Compostela, 30 May - 2 June) that growing export earnings had increased employment, raised incomes and improved government services.

The value of the international fish trade increased from $15.5 billion in 1980 to over $71 billion in 2004, according to FAO.

Developing countries have particularly benefited from this boom, with their net earnings (exports minus imports) increasing from $3.4 billion to over $20 billion over the same period. This income exceeds the net foreign exchange revenue they earn from any other food commodity, including coffee and tea.

Future exports depend on better management

But FAO also cautioned that good management of fisheries by developing nations is essential if they are going to continue to benefit over the longer term.

"The fish trade helps poor countries shore up their food security situation," said Grimur Valdimarsson, Director of FAO's Fisheries Industry Division. "But increasing international demand can at times result in excessive fishing pressure, leading to the over-fishing and wasteful use of stocks."

"Meeting demand must be balanced with sustainable management if developing countries want to continue to benefit this way," he added.

Demand in rich countries fuels trade

Currently, around 77 percent of fish consumed worldwide as food is supplied by developing countries.

Wealthy developed countries account for 81% of all imports of fish-based products, in value terms. Japan is the world's largest importer of fish and fish products, accounting for some 18 percent of all imports (valued at US$14.6 billion), followed by the United States (US$12bn). Spain (US$5.2bn) is the world’s third largest importer, followed by France (US$4.2bn), Italy (US$3.9bn), Germany (US$2.8bn) and the United Kingdom (US$2.8bn).

FAO guidelines on responsible trade

At this week's meeting FAO will be presenting draft guidelines aimed at giving authorities in both developed and developing countries guidance on making the international trade in fisheries products more sustainable.

A number of other issues will also be discussed, including the use of "eco-labels" to promote trade in responsibly harvested fish and the creation of traceability systems, which track fish "from net to table" as they move through the global trade network. Eco-labelling recently made the news when Wal-Mart, the world's largest retail store operator, announced plans to sell only fish bearing such labels within the next five years.

Comprised of 77 FAO members, the Sub-Committee on Fish Trade meets every two years to share information, discuss policy issues related to fish trade, and make recommendations to FAO regarding the agency's work on fisheries. It is the only international forum dedicated to ongoing debate regarding the global fish trade.