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Statistically Speaking: A Catch-22 on Fish – Eat More to Be Healthy, but If You Do, the Fish Won’t Be

by Bill Chameides | April 8th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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Is eating fish to stay healthy good for fish supply?

We’ve been told eating more fish is healthful. Now a new study comes out, saying such claims are exaggerated. And so on. In the meantime growing demand may be conferring the fish on your plate a questionable pedigree.

Global Fisheries Under Pressure

Percentage of fish stocks fully exploited in 1997: 44 1

Percentage of fish stocks fully exploited in 2007: 52 2

Demand Going Up, Fish Catch Is Not

Global fish catch (in tons): 2

  • in 1992: 85 million
  • in 2004: 85 million

Annual growth rate in ocean fish catch in past decade, as a percent: 0 3
Annual growth rate in demand for food fish in past decade, as a percent: 3.6 3

Fish Catch Unable to Keep Up With Demand

Tons of fish served up to feed people around the world in 2006: 110 million 2

Tons of fish that went to non-food products, such as fishmeal and fish oil, in 2006: 33 million 2

Tons of fish caught globally in 2006: 92 million 2

Shortfall in tons between fish demand and catch: 52 million

Fish Farms Picking Up the Slack

Percentage of food fish from aquaculture in 1996: 30 2

Percentage of food fish from aquaculture in 2006: 47 2

Tons of fish produced by aquaculture:

  • in 1990: 13 million 1
  • in 2002: 40 million 2
  • in 2006: 51.7 million 2

Growth rate of global aquaculture production between 2004 and 2006, in percent: 12 2

Percentage of China’s contribution to world aquaculture production of fish in 2006: 67 2

Possible Environmental and Health Issues Related to Farmed Fish 4

  • Depletion of ocean fish stocks to provide food for farmed fish
  • Spread of disease
  • Water pollution
  • Unhealthful levels of heavy metals and PCBs in fish

So What’s the Solution?

Eat sustainably caught and raised fish. (Grab a Seafood Watch pocket guide.) The question is, is there enough to go around?

Sources

1. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 1998, Part 1: WORLD REVIEW OF FISHERIES AND AQUACULTURE [pdf]

2. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2008, Part 1: WORLD REVIEW OF FISHERIES
AND AQUACULTURE [pdf]

3. “Global and Regional Food Consumption Patterns and Trends,” World Health Organization.

4. Rosamond L. Naylor et al., “Effect of Aquaculture on World Fish Supplies,” Nature, 29 June 2000.

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