GUYANA. Fishers on small vessels moored in an estuarine landing site – FISH4ACP improving value chains.
©FAO/Nieuw Image Media

Global fisheries and aquaculture at a glance

The fisheries and aquaculture sectors have been increasingly recognized for their essential contribution to global food security and nutrition in the twenty-first century. Further expansion of this contribution requires the acceleration of transformative changes in policy, management, innovation and investment to achieve sustainable and equitable global fisheries and aquaculture. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 20221 presents updated and verified statistics2 of the sector (Box 1) and analyses its international policy context and selected high-impact initiatives and actions undertaken to accelerate international efforts to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. It looks at the impact and implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on fisheries and aquaculture production,3 utilization and trade.


Statistics are a core function of FAO. Since its foundation, FAO has been mandated to collect, compile, analyse and disseminate information relating to nutrition, food and agriculture through Article 1 of the FAO Constitution.1 The FAO statistical system plays an essential role in the fields of agriculture and food, supporting countries’ policies to eradicate hunger and promote the sustainable use of natural resources by making informed decisions through access to high-quality and comprehensive data. In particular, FAO provides the only source of global fisheries and aquaculture statistics, FishStat, which represents a unique global public good for sector analysis and monitoring. These statistics are structured within different data collections (production of capture fisheries and aquaculture, processing, trade, fleet, employment and consumption) freely accessible to users in different formats in a range of tools and products by country or country groups, species or species groups, harvest environment, etc. The year 2022 is a major milestone for FAO, as it marks the coverage of its fisheries and aquaculture statistics for the years 1950–2020 for the majority of its datasets – the longest time series of any statistical dataset published by FAO. A series of initiatives, including workshops and dedicated publications, will celebrate this major event, with the aim of improving interaction and engagement with Members and users in order to meet their needs.

FAO fisheries and aquaculture statistics are based primarily on data collected annually from national sources through questionnaires specific to each dataset and country data. Every year countries are requested to provide data for the latest year, as well as validate and revise data for the most recent years. The quality of the FAO statistics is highly dependent upon the accuracy and reliability of the data collected and provided by countries. FAO strives to validate and ensure the quality of official data received. These statistics are carefully analysed and cross-checked with different datasets and other available information. When anomalies or gaps in the data are identified, FAO interacts with countries to explore these issues and find ways to resolve them in collaboration with the countries concerned in order to ensure consistency in the dissemination of official data.

However, the process of resolving inconsistencies in the data is often slow and time-consuming. When necessary, FAO estimates are applied (marked with a flag “E”) in the databases and disseminated data. This often encourages corrective action by the country and many countries have collaborated with FAO to address issues concerning the reliability of their fisheries and aquaculture statistics.

National statistics provided by the countries are the main, but not the only, source of data used by FAO to maintain its fisheries and aquaculture statistics databases. Statistics provided by national authorities are complemented, and in some cases replaced, by alternative and more reliable data. This is the case of catches disseminated by the regional fishery bodies (RFBs). The Coordinating Working Party on Fishery Statistics (CWP), at its eighteenth session in 1999,2 recommended “its members should in general regard as the most reliable source of data those held by the regional body which has assessment responsibility for the stock” and which are considered to represent the “best scientific estimate”. Based on this recommendation, FAO regularly compares the catch data received from national offices, in particular for tuna and tuna-like species, with those validated by RFBs.

When data are not reported or only partially reported, FAO implements estimates based on the best information available from alternative sources, including those from RFBs in the case of capture fisheries. As the leading agency/organization for collecting and disseminating global fisheries and aquaculture statistics, FAO is obliged to estimate data for all non-reporting countries as well as for countries reporting partial information, to enable meaningful aggregates at the global, regional and national levels. This is particularly important given FAO’s key role in calculating Food Balance Sheets to assess the pattern of a country’s food supply and monitor trends in food availability and food security.

Knowledge of the status and trends across the entire value chain is key for sound policymaking and to assess and track the performance of fisheries and aquaculture management. FAO is committed in its efforts to make major improvements in terms of coverage of detail by species and country. At the same time, the demand for more detailed and timely statistics by sector and at national and subnational level has increased significantly.

Limited availability of information often constrains policymaking and planning. Nevertheless, the last two decades have seen little significant improvement in the general availability of data in many countries because of human and financial resource constraints. This is particularly the case for statistics from small-scale and subsistence fisheries. Also, many key statistics are missing at the global level, such as economic and social data, discards and fishing capacity.

In addition to providing data for global monitoring, FAO is recognized for its fundamental role in providing technical assistance services and capacity development in fisheries statistics to many countries, as well as developing methods and standards for fisheries and aquaculture statistics and facilitating global cooperation through the inter-agency CWP established in 1960 of which FAO is Secretariat. FAO strongly believes that working with countries is the only effective way to improve fisheries and aquaculture statistics, primarily to support policies that address national needs for food security and fisheries and aquaculture management, but also to meet the needs of RFBs and FAO. Still, FAO recognizes that improvements in major national data collection schemes require financial, human and technological resources for countries to build appropriate capacities to implement and maintain often complex and resource-intensive data collection, processing and reporting systems.

Global production of aquatic animals was estimated at 178 million tonnes in 2020, a slight decrease from the all-time record of 179 million tonnes in 2018 (Table 1 and Figure 1). Capture fisheries contributed 90 million tonnes (51 percent) and aquaculture 88 million tonnes (49 percent). 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). The total first sale value of the global production was estimated at USD 406 billion, comprising USD 141 billion for capture fisheries and USD 265 billion for aquaculture. In addition to aquatic animals, 36 million tonnes (wet weight) of algae3 were produced in 2020, of which 97 percent originated from aquaculture, mostly marine aquaculture.


1 Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators and caimans and algae. Totals may not match due to rounding.
2 Utilization data for 2018–2020 are provisional estimates.
3 Source of population figures: United Nations. 2019. 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects. In: UN. New York. Cited 22 April 2022.


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

Of the overall production of aquatic animals, over 157 million tonnes (89 percent) were used for human consumption. The remaining 20 million tonnes were destined for non-food uses, to produce mainly fishmeal and fish oil (16 million tonnes or 81 percent) (Figure 2).


NOTES: Excluding aquatic mammals, crocodiles, alligators, caimans and algae. Data expressed in live weight equivalent. For algae and apparent consumption, see Glossary, including Context of SOFIA 2022. Source of population figures: United Nations. 2019. 2019 Revision of World Population Prospects. In: UN. New York. Cited 22 April 2022.

Global apparent consumption3 of aquatic foods3 increased at an average annual rate of 3.0 percent from 1961 to 2019, a rate almost twice that of annual world population growth (1.6 percent) for the same period. Per capita consumption of aquatic animal foods grew by about 1.4 percent per year, from 9.0 kg (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.5 kg in 2019. Preliminary data for 2020 point to a slight decline to 20.2 kg. In the same year, aquaculture accounted for 56 percent of the amount of aquatic animal food production available for human consumption. During recent decades, per capita consumption of aquatic foods has been influenced most strongly by increased supplies, changing consumer preferences, advancements in technology and income growth.

Aquatic foods remain some of the most traded food commodities in the world, with 225 states and territories reporting some trading activity of fisheries and aquaculture products4 in 2020. World exports of aquatic products4 in 2020, excluding algae, totalled about 60 million tonnes live weight, worth USD 151 billion (Table 1). This represents a major decline (8.4 percent in value and 10.5 percent in volume) from the record high of 67 million tonnes, worth USD 165 billion, reached in 2018. Overall, from 1976 to 2020, the value of global exports of fisheries and aquaculture products (excluding algae) increased at an average annual growth rate of 6.9 percent in nominal terms and 3.9 percent in real terms (adjusted for inflation), corresponding to an annual growth rate of 2.9 percent in terms of quantity over the same period.

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