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Wild fisheries in deep water as aquaculture surges

Booming volumes and higher prices are buoying the prospects for farmed seafood, fresh research argues.

The future of fish production seems headed in one direction as data for wild capture and aquaculture show highly contrasting fortunes, according to the OECD.

In a report released today, the organization of mainly rich countries finds that wild fish volumes caught by its members are 40 percent below their late 1980s peak and continue to dwindle, while aquaculture production has been growing at an annual rate of 2.1 percent since 2011. Globally, the increase is even more pronounced, the OECD said, at 6 percent a year.

What’s more, fish farming is benefitting from an additional boost: prices of aquaculture products have been rising 4 percent annually since 2006, the research found.

By contrast, the OECD attributes the decline in wild fishing to the depletion of some stocks, as well as stronger measures to control overfishing. “Overcapacity of fishing fleets is not as serious a problem as it has been in the past, though governments are still investing significantly to reduce the number of fishing vessels in operation,” the report said.It cautioned, however, that some 40 percent of fish stocks with production caps set by governments still overshoot their target, with many more stocks probably also breaking rules as they continue to be unassessed.

The OECD said that 88 percent of state support going towards individual fishers recorded in its database originated from China.

“For most other countries and economies in the database, support to general services to the sector, rather than transfers to individual fishers, dominate,” the report noted. “On average, these expenditures by governments equal 16 percent of the value of landings – that is, $1 in every $6 earned by the sector.”