Highlights from the FAO biennial seafood report – SOFIA 2020

Recently FAO published the most recent version of the SOFIA (Status of Fisheries and Aquaculture) report. This important report, published every two years, outlines the global seafood production levels and the current trends in international seafood food trading patterns.

The full report can be found at: http://www.fao.org/publications/sofia/2020/en/

Below are some highlights from the report:-


  • Global fish production is estimated to have reached about 179 million tonnes in 2018 with a total first sale value estimated at USD 401 billion, of which 82 million tonnes, valued at USD 250 billion, came from aquaculture production.
  • The contribution of world aquaculture to global fish production reached 46% in 2018, up from 26% in 2000.
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  • Fish farming is dominated by Asia, which has produced 89 % of the global total in volume terms in the last 20 years.
  • In terms of wild seafood landings, it is estimated that 78.7 % of current marine fish landings come from biologically sustainable stocks.
  • In 2018, about 88 % (156 million tonnes) of world fish production was utilized for direct human consumption. The proportion of fish used for direct human consumption has increased significantly from 67 %in the 1960s.
  • An estimated 59.5 million people were engaged (on a full-time, part-time or occasional basis) in the primary sector of capture fisheries (39.0 million people) and aquaculture (20.5 million people) in 2018, a slight increase from 2016.



  • Fish and fishery products remain some of the most traded food commodities in the world. In 2018, 67 million tonnes, or 38 % of total fisheries and aquaculture production, were traded internationally.
  • Overall, from 1976 to 2018, the value of global fish exports increased from USD 7.8 billion to peak at USD 164 billion, at an annual growth rate of 8 % in nominal terms and 4 % in real terms (adjusted for inflation).
  • China has been the main exporter since 2002. Norway has been the second major exporter since 2004, followed by Viet Nam (since 2014), India (since 2017), Chile and Thailand.
  • Developing countries have increased their share of international fish trade – up from 38 % to 54 % of global export value and from 34% to 60 % of total volumes between 1976 and 2018.
  • Over 90 % of the quantity (live weight equivalent) of trade in fish and fish products consisted of processed products (i.e. excluding live and fresh whole fish) in 2018, with frozen products representing the highest share.
  • Trade in fish and fishery products is characterized by great diversification among species and product forms. This reflects differences in consumers’ tastes and preferences, with markets ranging from live aquatic animals to a wide range of processed products.
  • Salmonids have been the most important commodity traded in value terms since 2013 and accounted for about 19 % of the total value of internationally traded fish products in 2018. In the same year, the other main groups of exported species were shrimps and prawns with at 15 %, followed by groundfish (i.e. hake, cod, haddock, Alaska Pollock, etc.) at 10 % and tuna at 9%.
  • At the global level, since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish available for human consumption. In 2018, this share was 52%, a figure that can be expected to continue to increase in the long term.



In per capita terms, food fish consumption rose from 9.0 kg (live weight equivalent) in 1961 to 20.3 kg in 2017.

The expansion in consumption has been driven not only by increases in production, but also by a combination of many other factors. These include: technological developments in processing, cold chain, shipping and distribution; rising incomes worldwide, which strongly correlate with increased demand for fish and fish products; reductions in loss and waste; and increased awareness of the health benefits of fish among consumers.

The broad trends that have driven growth in global fish consumption in recent decades have been paralleled by many fundamental changes in the ways consumers choose, purchase, prepare and consume fish products. The globalization of fish and fish products, propelled by increased trade liberalization and facilitated by advances in food processing and transportation technologies, has expanded supply chains to the point where a given fish may be harvested in one country, processed in another and consumed in yet another.

International trade has helped to reduce the impact of geographical location and limited domestic production, broadening the markets for many species and offering wider choices to consumers.

The dominance of aquaculture in global fish markets has significant implications for fish distribution and consumption. Fish farming allows greater control over production processes than do capture fisheries, and it is more conducive to vertical and horizontal integration in production and supply chains. As a result, aquaculture has expanded fish availability to regions and countries with otherwise limited or no access to the cultured species, often at cheaper prices, leading to improved nutrition and food security.

Increasing consumer awareness of sustainability, legality, safety and quality issues is driving demand for traceability systems and certification schemes of a growing range of fish and fish products.


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