Where will the fish be in 15 years?

Posted on May, 07 2015

The 2014 World Bank report, “Fish to 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture,” presents some projections for the future of this critically important resource. Two WWF Coral Triangle Programme experts weigh in on some of the report’s scenarios.
Aquaculture production will continue to expand over the next 15 years to meet rising demand from an increasing population and fill the growing supply and demand gap. New policies are required to secure more efficiency in global supply chains from increasingly scarce resources and demand. Meanwhile, capture fisheries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific will most significantly feel the impact of climate change.
These are just some of the conclusions in “Fish to 2030: Prospects for Fisheries and Aquaculture,” released by the Agricultural and Environmental Services of the World Bank (WB) in 2014, with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).
The report offers a global perspective on fish supply and demand, the current state of fisheries and aquaculture production and presents several scenarios, with data evaluated and projections made using what the report describes as “a rigorous analytical tool,” IFPRI’s International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT).
The main issues addressed are the health of global capture fisheries; how aquaculture can fill the global supply-demand gap, potentially reducing pressure on capture fisheries; and changes in fish consumption in global fish markets.
“Fish to 2030” projects that by 2030, aquaculture will produce half of the world’s supply of fish, including fish for food and other products such as fishmeal, and will supply over 60% of the fish for human consumption. Most will come from fish farms, mainly in Asia, where an estimated 70% of all that fish will also be consumed.

The biggest consumer: China, which will produce 37%—and consume 38%—of the world’s fish. Other fisheries should help fill the deficiency. The challenge, then, is providing enough fish without causing irreversible harm to the environment.

Food security

“Definitely, aquaculture production from the CT countries will continue to grow, not necessarily just to supply China's seafood demand, but also for the food security of the individual CT countries,” notes Dr. Jose Ingles, WWF’s Coral Triangle Programme (CTP) Coordinator for Fishery Improvement Projects and Policy. “How can aquaculture responsibly meet growing demand for fish? Through better practices, supported by stronger regulation and legislation.”
“Asia is often described as the food bowl of the world’s fish production,” says Dr. Geoffrey Muldoon, Business and Industry Strategy Leader of the Coral Triangle Programme, “and increasingly for cultured species like pangasius and tilapia, with production of the latter expected to double by 2030.

In order to balance increased production with minimal environmental impacts, there will need to be increased investment in technological innovation and transfer, such as breeding and genetics, diseases, feeds, and nutrition, and incentives to reward improvements in productivity and environmental performance, such as standards and certification, market-based tools, and positive subsidies. Notably, we see the need for a fundamental shift in fish consumption toward low-trophic farmed species.”
In one scenario, the report presents a future where expanded use of fish processing waste in making fishmeal and fish oil could increase the aquaculture industry’s efficiency significantly. “While the proportion of fishmeal has gone down because of the use of plant substitutes, we still cannot be completely weaned from it because high value and highly carnivorous species such as salmon, sea bass, and grouper need fish protein,” says Dr. Ingles.
Both Dr. Ingles and Dr. Muldoon underscore the importance of low-trophic species. “This is where low-footprint aquaculture and fisheries come in,” says Dr. Muldoon, “which means that these seafood products have low requirements for aquatic primary productivity, or fish for feed.If consumers in China and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific shifted away from their traditional low-footprint seafood towards high-footprint seafood like farmed salmon or trout, the demands for consuming ocean productivity would increase dramatically and ultimately threaten ocean ecosystems.”

“The culture of herbivorous fishes is a better way to go,” adds Dr. Ingles. “Carp is the main farmed species in China, and it is fed with grass. Similarly, there are species that simply need green water or plankton.”
Another point raised is the imbalance between countries in terms of seafood supply and demand. While most seafood produced domestically is actually consumed domestically, trade in seafood is often portrayed as good for developing countries, notes Dr Muldoon.

“However, the results are less clear. Developing countries as a whole export higher value products to generate income, but often these products come from rural areas and require complex supply chains or ‘webs’ to get the product to market. Unfortunately, the domestic part of supply chains is often corrupted in terms of who holds market power and thus benefits. So, in terms of the distribution value, particularly from high-value export fisheries, it’s not clear how much of this value gets back to farmers and small-scale fishers.” 


Most of the fish you see in a landing area is exported outside a local area for better prices, notes Dr. Ingles. “The result is that some places with lots of fish have no fish to buy. Policy needs to be in place that ensures availability of seafood in the area of origin.”
The report also brings up climate change, and how the IMPACT tool has determined that capture fisheries in Southeast Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific would be most significantly affected by this phenomenon. “These regions along the equator regularly experience seasonal oscillations that bring pronounced dry or wet seasons,” says Dr. Ingles. “With climate change and extreme weather events, for the fishing sector, that means fewer fishing days due to inclement weather, bigger waves, the need for a change in fishing boat design, and migration of fish outside their normal geographic range, making catching fish more difficult.”
Dr. Muldoon doesn’t believe that people will someday be eating only farmed fish, however. “There will always be a demand for wild-caught fish, and not all wild-caught fish can ever be farmed because the technology is not available, it can be logistically challenging for many larger pelagic species, or it will not be economically viable to farm certain species.”
Still, Dr. Ingles notes that farmed fish may soon be what is most accessible. “Look at the Philippines: 80% of fish sold in supermarkets are cultured or farmed—tilapia, milkfish, salmon heads, shrimp. While wild-caught is still available, it has become so scarce, and prices so high, that low-income consumers can no longer afford it.”
The world’s population is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, and “Fish to 2030” is making a pitch that policies and systems must  be put in place today for the sustainable care of available resources into the future, especially among the world’s more vulnerable communities.

As Juergen Voegele, Director of Agriculture and Environmental Services at the World Bank, states in the report’s introduction, “Matching growing market demand with private sector interest in reliable and sustainable sourcing presents a major opportunity for developing countries prepared to invest in improved fisheries management and environmentally sustainable aquaculture. By taking up this opportunity, countries can create jobs, help meet global demand, and achieve their own food security aspirations.”
A bundle of juvenile parrot fish for sale at a fish market, Suv, Fiji
© Brent Stirton / Getty Images