Fish is one of the world’s most valuable foods, providing billions of people with nutrition and jobs. With wild fish populations under pressure, fish farming has grown rapidly to meet increasing demand. Looking at the main statistics around global fish production, trade, and consumption gives insights into the key role of fish for food security now and in the future.
Global Fish Production
According to the most recent data, global fish production reached a new all-time high of 185 million tonnes in 2023. This record level of fish production is largely driven by the continued rapid growth of aquaculture or fish farming, which now accounts for over half of all fish consumed by humans. If current trends continue, experts predict that aquaculture will overtake wild catch as the primary source of seafood globally within the next few years.
Total Production by Region
Asia dominates fish production, accounting for about 85% of the worldwide production. China alone produced over 35% of the world’s fish in 2018. Africa accounts for around 2.5% of production but is seen as having potential for growth in fish farming in coming years. The Americas produce about 10% of the global fish supply, with major producers like Chile, Peru and Brazil leading regional production. Recent statistics show Europe produces just under 3% of the total global fish production.
Wild Catch vs Fish Farming
The wild fish catch from oceans and inland waters was 96.4 million tonnes in 2018, which was 5.4% higher than the 2015-17 average catch. Fish farming hit a new record high of 114.5 million tonnes in 2018, with 82 million tonnes of farmed fish and 32 million tonnes of farmed aquatic plants. Fish farming has grown at an average rate of 5.8% per year since 2000, while growth in wild catch has stalled at just 1.2% annually over the same period.
Most Caught Wild Fish
The top wild caught fish globally are:
Anchoveta – Over 7 million tonnes of this fish were caught annually, mostly from Peru and Chile, the major producers.
Alaska Pollock – 3.4 million tonnes were caught in 2018, making it the second most caught wild fish.
Skipjack Tuna – 3.2 million tonnes of this fish were caught in 2018, accounting for over 40% of the global tuna catch.
Volume and Value of Fish Exports
Fish and fish products are among the most widely traded foods worldwide, with 38% of production exported. Sixty seven million tonnes of fish were traded internationally in 2018, a huge volume of globally exported seafood.
According to recent estimates, the total export value was $164 billion, but trade contracted slightly in 2019. Reduced demand due to COVID-19 in 2020 has severely impacted trade flows between major exporting and importing countries.
Leading Fish Exporting/Importing Countries
Fish exporting refers to countries that catch or farm fish and then sell those fish to other nations. Fish importing refers to countries that purchase fish caught or farmed in other nations to meet domestic demand. Exporting and importing fish and seafood is a global trade, with nations relying on one another to satisfy consumption and make the most of fishing resources. Developing countries are playing an increasing role, both as producers and consumers of traded fish and seafood.
The top fish exporting nations are:
The largest markets for imported fish are:
Fish Consumption Trends
Early estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization suggest that global per capita fish consumption will continue to grow. This forecasted further growth shows the long-term upward trend in per capita and region-wise fish consumption worldwide.
Per Capita Consumption
Global per capita fish consumption reached a record high in 2018; this has increased up to 122% since 1990. This indicates rapid growth in how much fish people are eating worldwide. Consumption in developing regions like Asia and Africa is rising quickly from low starting points as populations grow and incomes rise.
Consumption by Region
Asia consumes the most fish globally, accounting for about two-thirds of total consumption. On a per-person basis, Oceania, Europe and North America lead. Africa’s per capita fish consumption lags at just 9.9kg. This highlights a large gap versus other regions and points to it as an area to focus on for improving food security on the continent.
Projected Production and Consumption
According to FAO projections, fish production should reach 204 million tonnes in 2030, up 14% from 2018. Aquaculture production will expand by 32% over the next decade to reach 109 million tonnes by 2030. Per capita, fish consumption is forecast to rise by 18% by 2030 to 24.2kg.
Fish trade is projected to grow more slowly than the rapid growth seen over the past decade. Shifts toward sustainability and country-specific health regulations will likely impact future trade flows. Fish production and consumption forecast continue expanding over the next decade, despite slower growth toward 2030. However, sustainability is an increasing concern for the industry.
Role of Fish for Food Security
Fish provides great nutrition for around 3.3 billion people worldwide and is seen as vital for global food security efforts. Fish is a critical source of high quality protein and essential micronutrients for many people, especially in developing countries where malnutrition is a major concern. However, overfishing of wild stocks and the environmental impacts of aquaculture must be better managed to avoid the depletion of this valuable food source. Ensuring sustainable fisheries and expanding access to fish as food will be crucial for reducing malnutrition and promoting global food security.
Fish as a Source of Nutrition
Fish provides nearly 20% of the average person’s animal protein intake globally, making it a hugely important nutritional source. It comprises 17% of animal protein and 7% of people’s total protein intake worldwide, showing its nutritional value. Fish contains essential micronutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, iodine, vitamin D, calcium and zinc, which provide major health benefits.
Fish and seafood are among the planet’s most important foods and a critical part of the global food system. However, wild catch and farmed production must be carefully managed to avoid depleting fish stocks, harming the environment and losing biodiversity. With intelligent practices and policies, fishing and aquaculture can sustainably provide essential nutrition to billions and support livelihoods worldwide for generations.