Tag Archives: FAO

Damaged Fish For Sale

fishing

The global fish-price index of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) hit a record high in May 2013.  High oil prices, which increase the cost of fishing and transportation, also add to the price of putting fish on the table.  Not all fish are created equal, however. There are two types of fish production: “capture” (or wild) and “aquaculture” (or farmed). And they seem to be on different trajectories. Fish such as tuna, the majority of which is caught wild, saw much bigger price increases than salmon, which are easier to farm. Overall, the FAO’s price index for wild fish nearly doubled between 1990 and 2012, whereas the one for farmed fish rose by only a fifth. What explains this big difference?

The amount of wild fish captured globally has barely changed in the past two decades. The ceiling, of about 90m tonnes a year, seems to have been reached at the end of the 1980s. Overfishing is one reason, as is the limited room for productivity growth, particularly if consumers want high quality.

Patrice Guillotreau of the University of Nantes tells the story of a fleet in France that decided to trawl, rather than line-catch, its tuna. It brought more back to shore, but the fish were damaged. It could not be sold as high-value fillets and was only good for canning. The old ways of catching fish are still best if you want the highest profits, says Mr Guillotreau.

In contrast, the farmed-fish industry continues to make productivity improvements. Fish farms have found crafty ways to use lower quantities of fishmeal as feed. In the early days of aquaculture, it could take up to ten pounds of wild fish to produce one pound of salmon. Now the number is down to five. That may still be an inefficient use of protein, but the ratio is set to improve further. Fish farms have also become more energy-efficient, meaning that they are less affected by higher energy prices. And they have learned how to handle diseases better, reducing the quantity of fish that ends up being unsellable.  As a result of all these improvements, the global production of farmed fish, measured in tonnes, now exceeds the production of beef. Output is likely to continue growing: the FAO estimates that by 2020 it will reach six times its 1990 level.

This growth will further shake up the markets for fish. The farmed kind is expected to dominate the market for medium-value produce. Suppliers of wild fish, for their part, must slither into niche markets. At the low-value end wild sardine is a crucial input for farmed fish and is in abundant supply. More than a third of the total marine catch in 2010 was used for the production of fishmeal and fish oil.  But more money may be made serving the captains of industry rather than industry itself. Sapmer, a French fishing company, recently discontinued its canned-tuna production, instead concentrating on catching tuna for sushi and sashimi for the top end of the market.

Frank Asche of the University of Stavanger, who helped to devise the FAO fish-price index, sees parallels with the divergence between farmed meat and wild game. As the supply of wild fish declines relative to farmed fish, it will become a luxury commodity, he explains. “In 20 years’ time people will think of wild fish like we now think of venison.”

The price of fish: Different scales, Economist, Aug. 10, 2013, at 64

Rights-Based Fisheries as an Answer to Unregulated Fishing

New research from Chris Costello and Steve Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barbara (under peer review for the journal Science) reckons that those unassessed fisheries are gravely depleted, with on average about half the fishy biomass they need to maintain their maximum annual yield (the usual definition of sustainability). Another analysis, using the same method, of around 1,500 fisheries last year reached similar results. Both suggest the least-known fisheries are the most damaged.  This conflicts with the sunnier analysis of industrial fishing fleets, based largely on expensive studies of a few hundred fisheries, mostly in European and American waters. These are depleted but generally recovering, thanks to recent reforms.

That these turn out to be exceptional cases is unsurprising. The rapacious habits of fishermen and perverse effects of the subsidies some extract from governments are well known. Sometimes overfishing stems from ignorance and sometimes from short-termism, exacerbated by the belief that whatever they don’t take, others will. The cost is enormous. Besides harbouring millions of species, fisheries provide the primary source of protein for a billion people and livelihoods for hundreds of millions, most of them poor. The World Bank reckons that benefits (such as income and food) lost by overfishing between 1974 and 2008 amount to $2.2 trillion.

More happily, the new assessment reckons that only 2% of fisheries have so far collapsed—defined as a fall to less than a tenth of the historical biomass. Previous estimates were higher, at up to 30%. Yet incidences of collapse are rising, the researchers stress; and once collapsed, fisheries do not necessarily recover. Shoals of northern cod have not yet returned to the Grand Banks fishery off Newfoundland, which collapsed in 1992……

Above all, fishermen need better incentives to manage stocks properly. This has been tried in several ways. In Iceland and elsewhere they have a tradable share of a scientifically determined quota. Or they can be given long-term rights—akin to property rights—over an expanse of sea….

According to a 2008 study by Messrs Costello, Gaines and others, this approach works: fisheries where such rights are in force are only half as likely to collapse as the average fishery. Yet the spread of such schemes has been woefully slow; only a few hundred mainly rich-world fisheries have adopted them so far. Though sensible in theory, rights-based schemes are hard to get right in practice. Getting locals on board can be difficult and is a slow process at best. If the target species is especially valuable or slow-growing, overfishing (at least in narrow economic terms) is rational. That may make monitoring and enforcement impractically costly.

Rights-based fisheries are not the only answer to overfishing. In particular, a lot more of the sea needs protecting from any fishing at all. Yet there are few better ways to make fishermen control themselves.

Fisheries: Lost property, Economist, Feb. 25, 2012, at 71

Genetic Resources, Gene Banks and the World’s Food

Representatives from more than 60 countries gathered in Rome on December 8 2010 for a United Nations-backed meeting to promote the international treaty considered essential for the conservation and use of the world’s threatened plant genetic resources.  The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources was adopted by the Conference of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2001 to facilitate international cooperation and the fair exchange of genetic resources.  The treaty’s Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF) was created to support poor farmers in developing countries to conserve and adapt to climate change the most important food crops.

Opening the meeting, Giancarlo Galan, Italy’s Agriculture Minister, urged other governments to use the treaty “to overcome the ancient and harmful clash between peasant agriculture and modernity.”  He said that since the agreement took effect in 2004, there have been more than 800 daily transfers of seeds and other plant material from a pool of more than 1.3 million samples.  “This high-level forum has made more evident that the Treaty is able to address simultaneously several challenges, including biodiversity loss, global food crises, climate change adaptation and poverty alleviation, and agricultural development,” said Shakeel Bhatti, the Secretary of the Treaty.

The Benefit-sharing Fund has been accepted as a key international instrument for adaptation to climate change by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), while the treaty has been recognized one of the four pillars of the new international regime on access and benefit-sharing for genetic resources.  The Fund is so far supporting 11 high-impact projects for small-scale farmers in four regions of the world. In Peru, six indigenous communities have responded to climate change by re-introducing old native varieties of potatoes, and adapting them to higher altitude mountain terrains.  In the next three months, $10 million will be devoted to helping ensure sustainable food security by assisting farmers to adapt to climate change. Delegates at the meeting stressed the need to work towards raising $116 million for the fund by 2014.

FAO estimates that 75 per cent of crop diversity was lost between 1900 and 2000. A recent study predicted that as much as 22 per cent of the wild relatives of important food crops such as peanut, potato and beans could disappear by 2055 because of a changing climate.  Awareness of the problem has, however, been growing rapidly. There are now some 1,750 gene banks worldwide, which together hold more than seven million samples.

UN News Center, Dec. 8, 2010