Aquaculture: Issues and Opportunities for Sustainable Production and Trade
by Frank Asche, Fahmida Khatun
Fisheries, Trade and Sustainable Development Series • Issue Paper 5
Fish and fish products provide important trade and livelihoods opportunities in many coastal developing countries. Nearly 40 percent of fish output is traded internationally with an export value of US$58.2 billion, making seafood one of the most extensively traded commodities in the world. Exports of fish products from developing countries today comprise 20 percent of agricultural and food-processing exports – more than tropical beverages, nuts, spices, cotton, sugar and confectionery combined. These exports are likely to increase as demand for fish products continues to increase. In addition to providing a significant source of export revenue for developing countries, the fishing sector also constitutes a vital component of domestic food intake and an important provider of local livelihoods.
Meanwhile, fish stocks around the world are under significant pressure with some disappearing or becoming economically unviable. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that as much as 75 percent of global marine fish stocks are now fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted, confirming a consistent decrease since 1974 in marine fish stocks with little or no potential for further exploitation. Poor fisheries management and inappropriately designed subsidies to fishing industries have been widely recognised as the key drivers of over-exploitation of fisheries resources by contributing to significant overcapacities of fishing fleets, particularly in developed countries.
Aquaculture might provide one avenue to mitigate the threats to the world’s fisheries by taking at least some of the pressure off wild fish stocks while supporting livelihoods and food production. Indeed, aquaculture production has increased tremendously over the past few decades and today accounts for almost a third of global production by weight while production from wild fisheries has largely slowed or stagnated. Over 80 percent of aquaculture is taking place in developing countries, highlighting the sector’s growing importance as a source of revenue and food security.
However, significant market access barriers continue to pose serious obstacles for developing countries to expand their effective and sustainable participation in international trade. Of particular concern in aquaculture trade are stringent food safety requirements in the export markets, which many developing country exporters find difficult to meet. Anti-dumping measures, such as import duties, have also been used extensively against aquaculture products, such as shrimp, catfish and salmon, by countries seeking to protect their domestic industries from cheaper fisheries imports.
At the same, serious environmental concerns have been raised related to aquaculture production, such as water pollution, increased salinity and destruction of mangrove forests. Critics have also pointed to the sector’s continued reliance on fish meal as feed produced from wild-caught fish, which is feared to further contribute to the depletion of fish stocks. Others have highlighted potential socio-economic implications, resulting for instance from increased market concentration at the expense of small-scale aquaculture producers and processors.
This issue paper – published in the context of the ICTSD project on Fisheries, International Trade and Sustainable Development – aims to contribute to these debates in an effort to develop fisheries and trade policies and rules that are supportive of both resource sustainability and livelihoods objectives. To this end, Frank Asche and Fahmida Khatun – fisheries experts from the University of Stavanger (Norway) and the Centre for Policy Dialogue (Bangladesh) respectively – assess current and future trends in global aquaculture production. Following an evaluation of trade in and market access constraints faced by aquaculture products, the authors explore the social and economic issues arising from the increased production and trade in aquaculture and how they could be addressed. They conclude by identifying a number of policy implications and options for sustainable aquaculture development.
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