Total fisheries and aquaculture production (excluding algae4) has significantly expanded in the past seven decades going from 19 million tonnes (live weight equivalent) in 1950 to an all-time record of about 179 million tonnes in 2018, with an annual growth rate of 3.3 percent. Production then declined marginally in 2019 (a fall of 1 percent compared with 2018), before increasing by a mere 0.2 percent to reach 178 million tonnes in 2020. The total first sale value of fisheries and aquaculture production of aquatic animals in 2020 was estimated at USD 406 billion, of which USD 265 billion came from aquaculture production.

The stagnation experienced in the last two years is mainly linked to a slight decline in capture fisheries, which decreased by 4.5 percent in 2019 compared with the 2018 peak of 96 million tonnes, and then by a further 2.1 percent in 2020. This decline was due to various factors, including fluctuating catches of pelagic species, particularly anchoveta, the recent reduction in China’s catches and the impacts of COVID-19 on the sector in 2020 (see the sections Capture fisheries production, and COVID-19, a crisis like no other, and Box 2). Furthermore, aquaculture production (the main driver of the growth of total production since the late 1980s) continued to expand, albeit at a slower rate in the last two years (3.3 percent in 2018–2019 and 2.6 percent in 2019–2020 versus an average of 4.6 percent per year during the period 2010–2018) (see the section Aquaculture production). These lower growth rates are due to a range of factors, including the impact of policy changes in China focused on environmental protection and various issues linked to COVID-19 in 2020 that not only impacted production for export markets, but also reduced availability of workers, supplies and inputs (including feed, fingerlings and ice), while disruption to transportation and marketing, plus sanitary measures, also left their mark. As aquaculture has grown faster than capture fisheries during the last two years, its share of total fisheries and aquaculture production has further increased. Of the 178 million tonnes produced in 2020, 51 percent (90 million tonnes) was from capture fisheries and 49 percent (88 million tonnes) from aquaculture (Figure 3). This represents a major change from the 4 percent share of aquaculture in the 1950s, 5 percent in the 1970s, 20 percent in the 1990s and 44 percent in the 2010s.


The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on fisheries and aquaculture globally (see the section COVID-19, a crisis like no other), driven by changes in consumer demand, market disruption and the logistical difficulties of ensuring stringent containment measures that prevented or hampered fishing and aquaculture activities, including lockdowns, curfews, physical distancing in operations and onboard vessels, and port restrictions.

In some countries, lockdowns caused drops in demand with a consequent decline in the prices of fisheries and aquaculture products. Many fishing fleets or aquaculture operations stopped running or reduced their activities, as their work became unprofitable, in particular during the 2020 pandemic waves. In some cases, fisheries quotas were not filled due to low demand, market closures and/or lack of cold storage capacity. Movement restrictions impacted professional seafarers, including at-sea fisheries observers and marine personnel in ports, thereby preventing crew changes and repatriation of seafarers. In aquaculture, unsold produce resulted in higher costs for feeding and increased mortality rate among aquatic animals. Fisheries and aquaculture production relying on export markets was more impacted than that serving domestic markets due to market closures, increased freight costs, flight cancellations and border restrictions. However, domestic fresh fish and shellfish supply was also severely impacted by the closure of food service sectors (e.g. hotels, restaurants and catering facilities, including school and work canteens).1

Globally, the impact varied with many countries reporting sharp drops in capture and aquaculture production during the first weeks and months of the crisis followed by improvements as the sector adapted. For example, at the height of the COVID-19 crisis in the United States of America, it is estimated that catches dropped by up to 40 percent across the country.2 Similarly, reductions in fishing effort were noted in Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania, particularly in the case of fleets relying extensively on export markets of higher-value species such as lobster or tunas.

In some countries, the effective impact of the pandemic on the fisheries and aquaculture sector could not always be well monitored as the routine collection and processing of fisheries and aquaculture statistics was severely disrupted, also opening doors for illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities. Likewise, in many cases, surveys at sea stopped entirely, jeopardizing the collection of crucial data for stocks assessment across space and time. In other cases, scientific observers could not be deployed at sea due to difficulties ensuring sanitary measures (e.g. physical distancing between crew members at sea) or lack of necessary supplies (e.g. face masks and gloves). Collection of data from aquaculture facilities was also seriously affected.

Traditional collection of fisheries and aquaculture data at landing sites was routinely suspended in many countries. This was also the case for household surveys and censuses that are important sources of information to assess the socio-economic dimension of the sector and its trends. Overall, COVID-19 brought a new set of challenges to national statistics systems and operations. These challenges were not homogeneous among countries or even within the same country, as some had better institutional, financial, technological and digital capacities to develop solutions. In some cases, alternative data collection approaches and methods were implemented, while in other countries data were not collected for several months or only partially collected. For some countries, there is a risk that the different approaches adopted or the partial coverage may have affected the quality and comparability of their data for 2020. In terms of the data reported to FAO, COVID-19 exacerbated ongoing issues of late or non-reporting of fisheries and aquaculture statistics in 2020 and 2021. In addition, data reported by a few countries included anomalous trends that necessitated direct follow-up with the countries concerned, as well as cross-checking with other sources to ensure the quality and consistency of the data disseminated by FAO.


NOTES: Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans. Data expressed in live weight equivalent.

Of the total production, 63 percent (112 million tonnes) was harvested in marine waters (70 percent from capture fisheries and 30 percent from aquaculture) and 37 percent (66 million tonnes) in inland waters (83 percent from aquaculture and 17 percent from capture fisheries) (Figure 4). The expansion of aquaculture in the last few decades has boosted the overall growth of production in inland waters. In 1950, production in inland waters represented only 12 percent of the total fisheries and aquaculture production and, with some fluctuations, this share remained relatively stable until the late 1980s. Then, with the growth of aquaculture production, it gradually increased to 18 percent in the 1990s, 28 percent in the 2000s and 34 percent in the 2010s. Despite this growth, capture fisheries in marine waters still represent the main source of production (44 percent of total aquatic animal production in 2020, compared with about 87 percent in the 1950–1980 period) and the dominant method of production for several species. Following several decades of sustained growth, marine capture fisheries have remained fairly stable since the late 1980s at around 80 million tonnes, with some interannual fluctuations (up and down) in the range of 3–4 million tonnes.


NOTE: Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans and algae.

This general trend masks considerable variations between continents, regions and countries. In 2020, Asian countries were the main producers, accounting for 70 percent of the total fisheries and aquaculture production of aquatic animals, followed by countries in the Americas (12 percent), Europe (10 percent), Africa (7 percent) and Oceania (1 percent). Overall, total fisheries and aquaculture production has seen important increases in all the continents in the last few decades (Figure 5). The exceptions are Europe (with a gradual decrease from the late 1980s, but recovering slightly in the last few years to 2018, to then decline again) and the Americas (with several ups and downs since the peak of the mid-1990s, mainly due to fluctuations in catches of anchoveta), whereas it has almost doubled during the last 20 years in Africa and Asia. Yet, compared with 2019, total production of aquatic animals in 2020 declined by 3 percent for African countries and 5 percent for countries in Oceania, most probably as a result of COVID-19. In 2020, China continued to be the major producer with a share of 35 percent of the total, followed by India (8 percent), Indonesia (7 percent), Viet Nam (5 percent) and Peru (3 percent). These five countries were responsible for about 58 percent of the world fisheries and aquaculture production of aquatic animals in 2020. Differences exist also in terms of the sector’s contribution to economic development. In recent decades, a growing share of total fisheries and aquaculture production has been harvested by low- and middle-income countries (from about 33 percent in the 1950s to 87 percent in 2020). In 2020, upper-middle-income countries, including China, were the main producers, responsible for 49 percent of the total production of aquatic animals, followed by lower-middle-income countries (32 percent), high-income countries (17 percent) and, finally, low-income countries (2 percent).


NOTES: Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans and algae. Data expressed in live weight equivalent.

Major differences can be noticed when analysing the data by FAO Major Fishing Area. In 2020, about 33 percent of the total production of aquatic animals was produced in inland waters in Asia, followed by 22 percent in the Pacific Northwest and 10 percent in the Western Central Pacific. Overall, in the 1950s, more than 40 percent of production was harvested in the Atlantic Ocean; in contrast, in 2020, the largest share of total production originated in the Pacific Ocean (40 percent) and just 13 percent in the Atlantic Ocean. Production differs from area to area depending on several factors, including the level of development of the countries surrounding those areas, the fisheries and aquaculture management measures implemented, the amount of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the status of fishery stocks, the availability and quality of the inland waters, and the composition of the species harvested. For example, for some fishing areas, capture fisheries can fluctuate more when catches comprise a high proportion of small pelagic fish, which are more prone to large fluctuations – linked, in some areas, to climatic variability, as is the case for catches of anchoveta in the Pacific Southeast in South America.

A large number of species are harvested every year, with the number and species varying from region to region. In 2020, finfish represented 76 percent of the total production of aquatic animals, with marine fishes representing 51 percent of the total finfish and 39 percent of the total aquatic animal production, followed by freshwater fishes, representing 43 percent of the total finfish and 33 percent of the total aquatic animal production5 (Figure 6). Carps, barbels and other cyprinids represented the main group of species produced in 2020, with a share of 18 percent of the production of aquatic animals, followed by miscellaneous freshwater species and Clupeiforms such as herrings, sardines and anchovies. At the level of species, with 5.8 million tonnes, whiteleg shrimp (Penaeus vannamei) was the top species produced in 2020, closely followed by grass carp(=white amur; Ctenopharyngodon idellus), cupped oysters nei (Crassostrea spp.), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and anchoveta(=Peruvian anchovy; Engraulis ringens).


NOTES: Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans. Data expressed in live weight equivalent. ISSCAAP = International Standard Statistical Classification of Aquatic Animals and Plants.

In addition to the 178 million tonnes of aquatic animals, 36 million tonnes (wet weight) of algae were produced in 2020, of which 97 percent originated from aquaculture. Production of algae has experienced an impressive growth in the past few decades as it was at 12 million tonnes in 2000 and 21 million tonnes in 2010. However, it increased by only 2 percent in 2020 compared with 2019. Asian countries confirmed their role as major producers with a share of 97 percent of the total production of algae. China alone as leading producer accounted for 58 percent of the overall total in 2020, followed by Indonesia (27 percent) and the Republic of Korea (5 percent).

If production of algae is added to that of aquatic animals, fisheries and aquaculture production reached an all-time record of 214 million tonnes in 2020, with an overall growth of only 0.4 percent compared with 2019 and of 0.3 percent compared with the previous record of 2018. Of this overall total, Asian countries produced 75 percent in 2020, followed by countries in the Americas (10 percent), Europe (8 percent), Africa (6 percent) and Oceania (1 percent). In the total fisheries and aquaculture production of aquatic animals and algae, aquaculture had already overtaken capture fisheries as the primary source of aquatic production in 2013, and its share in total production reached 57 percent in 2020 (Figure 3).

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