October 7, 2003



New Study Foresees Huge Growth of Fish Intake in Developing Countries


Developing countries will dominate the fish industry in the next two decades, sharply increasing their consumption of fish and relying heavily on fish farms with potential environmental consequences, a new study says.

By 2020, developing countries will increase their fish consumption by 57% over the 1997 level, compared to just a 4% increase by developed countries, according to the report by the International Food Policy Research Institute and the WorldFish Center, nonprofit research groups.

In the developing world, fish consumption will rise from 62.7 million metric tons in 1997 to 98.6 million tons in 2020, the report said.

The "Blue Revolution" in diet, as some are calling it, however will demand costs. Previous studies have shown that pervasive over-fishing of wild fish has led to depletion of valuable species such as cod, haddock and snapper and the pursuit of less desirable species.

While growth in total consumption of fish has levelled off in richer countries, rapid population growth, increasing affluence and urbanization in the developing world has continued to spur demand.

"Developing countries went from consuming 45 percent of the world's fish 30 years ago to 70 percent now," said economist Christopher Delgado of the food policy institute and lead author of the new study. "They really are the market makers."

Aquaculture is expected to increasingly drive the market. Using state-of-the-art computer modelling, the researchers found that, in the most likely scenario, the share of aquaculture in worldwide fish production is projected to increase from 31% to 41% in 2020.

Fish farming brings its own problems, the study said. These include pollution, increased risk of disease spread among the captive fish, and potentially harmful interbreeding of escaped farm fish with wild fish.

Aquaculture also relies heavily on fish meal and fish oil from wild-caught fish as feed. "Fully one-third of all fish that are pulled up out of the ocean are ground up and turned into fish meal and fed to animals" and farmed fish, said Nikolas Wada, an author of the study.

As aquaculture booms, the report said, there is increasing demand for fish meal and fish oil, with more pressure to harvest some of the wild fish stocks, such as anchovies and menhaden, that provide such products. Wada said fish farmers will need to develop alternate feed sources.

Much of the growth in aquaculture could come at small-scale facilities, he said, rather than industrial-scale facilities such as the coastal salmon farms in Canada and elsewhere.

"Less than 10%, by weight, of farmed fish in the world are high-value commodities like salmon and shrimp," Wada said. Rather, most of them are "low-value fish such as carp in China, produced using much less intensive techniques - in some cases just a backyard pond." He called for public-sector investment in affordable pollution controls and other technologies targeted at small, low-income farms. In the developing world, Wada said, "Fishing is traditionally an activity of the poor." With the market for farm-raised fish growing, he said, "it is an opportunity for the poor to benefit."