A UN report on global fisheries and aquaculture finds continuing depletion of stocks, along with increasing catch, consumption and trade, also indicating that the sector has overcome its crisis from the El Niño phenomenon and economic woes in Asia.

The biennial survey by the Rome-based UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2000 puts anticipated fish catch and fish farming in 1999 (the latest available figures) at 125 million tons, compared to 122 million tons in 1997 and 117 million tons in 1998.

But any future increase is bound to come from fish farming, since “most of the world’s fishing areas have apparently reached their maximum potential for capture fisheries production, with the majority of stocks being fully exploited,” according to FAO. In the reporting period, aquaculture accounted for 32.9 million tons vis-à-vis 92.3 million tons for captured fish.

The report notes a 4% increase in the value of trade in 1999, going up to US$53.4bn, reflecting recovery from the financial crisis of big fish-consuming Asia.

As for stocks, FAO classifies 25-27% of marine fish stocks as underexploited or moderately exploited, 47-50% fully exploited, 15-18% overexploited and 9-10% depleted or recovering from depletion.

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By GlobalData

As future hopes are pinned on fish farming, FAO cautions that further development will depend in improvements in new research and management, indicating problems such as access to technology, financial resources, environmental impact and diseases.

The survey also predicts increased fish consumption worldwide, as fish become a choice culinary product not only in industrialised societies but also in the developing world.

By Hilmi Toros, just-food.com correspondent