The days when humans hunted wild animals to survive
are not yet over - we still catch and consume billions of fish
and marine animals each year. Since the beginning of human history,
people have equated fish with food. Today, fish is still the primary
source of protein for over a billion people in the Majority World.1
Table for two
- average per-capita consumption of fish per year
Western countries consume three times as much fish as do people in Majority World countries.1
There are now more fishers than ever - the number of people fishing and practising aquaculture worldwide has doubled since 1970. More than 21 million are full-time fishers and 200 million depend on fishing for their livelihood. Asia, which became the base for the fish industry in the 1980s, contains the vast majority of the world's fishers.2
24,000 people engaged in fishing, fish farming and processing are killed at work every year.3
In the US the fatality rate for the fishing industry is 16 times higher than for fire-fighting or police work and 40 times the national average.3
In Guinea, which has around 7,000 artisanal fishers, 1 in every 200 dies in a canoe accident.3
Governments are key players in the fish trade. They prop up an unprofitable and unsustainable business by subsidizing large-scale fishing fleets.
Bloated boats - funding of fishing fleets
The world's fishing industry spends $124 billion every year to produce $70 billion worth of fish - the difference ($54 billion) is paid for in subsidies.4
For every dollar earned from fishing in the late 1980s, governments, taxpayers and fishers spent $1.77.1
Of the 3.5 million fishing vessels in service, 35,000 are government- subsidized boats accounting for half the world's fishing capacity.1
Some of the most profitable international companies are actually ordinary fishmongers. Although all of these corporations produce a wide range of goods, the millions they have made from their sales of seafood to the world's biggest consumers - Japan and the US - are an important part of their success.
Giant Fishmongers - corporate producers and traders in fish products6
In the early 1950s, industrial countries took 80 per cent of the world's fish catch. Since then, Majority World countries have rushed to nationalize their seas and make money from exporting fish. Today, they take 64 per cent of the catch.1
Fish out of water - the world's top ten exporters of fish5
When the US National Academy of Sciences recently brought together many of world's leading marine biologists, they concluded that fishing - not global warming or pollution - was the greatest single threat to the diversity of life in the world's oceans.7
Many people still have the impression that fish are a renewable or inexhaustible resource. But fish stocks are under more pressure than ever before: between 1950 to 90 there was a five-fold increase in the world's annual fish catch. Demand remains high - merely to maintain existing rates of fish consumption would require an extra 15.5 million tonnes of fish by 2010.2
Outsmarted by machines
- how fish are caught worldwide
The technology used to catch fish and the number of fish caught per fisher varies enormously but modern fleets are the most environmentally destructive.
High-tech fishing fleets use props such as airplanes, radios, seafloor maps and video sonar to track down fish schools. Once they have tracked down the fish, fleets use large nets to drag up coral, the sea floor and around 27 million tons of fish that are killed and thrown overboard each year.7
In 1995, 301,000 Japanese fishers produced 6.7 million tons of fish while it took nearly six million small-scale Indian fishers to produce about five million tons.1
Fished out - status of the world's major fisheries2
Seventy per cent of the planet's marine stocks
are fully exploited or overexploited.
Farms of famine - fish farmed and fish caught
To compensate for falling wild fish stocks, more and more fish are being farmed. Nearly a third of all fish for food is produced by aquaculture. For every five kilos of beef produced globally there are now two kilos of farm-raised fish.1
Fish farming causes environmental destruction comparable to replacing rainforest with cattle ranches:1
Five kilos of wild ocean fish need to be caught to feed and produce each kilo of farmed species.
Thailand, one of the biggest aquaculture producers, has lost half its mangrove forests due to shrimp farming.
Densely stocked salmon farms in British Colombia, Canada, produced waste (including fertilizer, effluent and fishmeal) equivalent to that generated by half a million people.
1 Worldwatch Institute.
2 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
3 International Labour Organization.
4 Michael Harris, Lament for an Ocean (McClelland and Stewart Inc, 1999).
5 Encyclopedia Brittanica online: www.brittanica.com
6 Fortune online: www.fortune.com
7 Carl Safina, Song for a Blue Ocean (Harry Holt, 1999).