The Global Fishing Industry

The Global Fishing Industry Accident Data Management System

How important is the Global Fishing Industry?

Food security has consistently been recognized in the global fora as one of the world’s main challenges. And a safe, sustainable supply of fish product – for a global population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050 – is a crucial component of this challenge.

More people than ever rely on fisheries and aquaculture for food and as a source of income. According to the latest edition of FAO’s The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, global fisheries and aquaculture production totaled 171 million tons (with capture fishing – fishing at sea – amounting to nearly 91 million tonnes) in 2016, making fish and seafood amongst the most traded food commodities. And 88 percent of the total fish production (151 million out of 171 million tonnes) was for direct human consumption. This share has increased significantly in recent decades, as it was 67 percent in the 1960s. In fact, annual growth rate of food fish consumption has surpassed that of meat consumption from all terrestrial animals, combined.

Fishing – both in capture fisheries (at sea) and in aquaculture (fish farming) – if sustainably managed, has an important role to play in providing jobs and feeding the world, according to FAO's report. The global fish export trade amounted to some $143 billion in 2016 – a figure that will continue to rise. Per capita fish consumption has soared – from 10 kg in the 1960s to more than 20 kg in 2016 and projected to reach 21.5 kg in 2030. And in some Pacific countries like Tuvalu for example, the per capita figure is 80 kg per year! The report also notes that fish now accounts for almost 17 percent of the global population’s intake of protein – in some coastal and island countries it can top 70 percent.

Fisheries contribute to livelihoods, employment and income with particular importance in coastal communities in developing countries. The FAO estimates that fisheries and aquaculture support the livelihoods of 10–12 percent of the world’s population, with some 60 million people directly engaged in capture fisheries and aquaculture (some 40.3 million people engaged in capture fisheries), and some 200 million along the value chain from harvesting to distribution, making the livelihoods of some 660 to 820 million people dependent on the sector. Employment in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors has grown faster than the world’s population and faster than employment in traditional agriculture.

The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2016 was estimated to be about 4.6 million. The fleet in Asia was the largest, consisting of 3.5 million vessels, accounting for 75 percent of the global fleet. Globally, the number of engine-powered vessels was estimated to be 2.8 million in 2016 [representing 61 percent of all fishing vessels in 2016]. In 2016, about 86 percent of the motorized fishing vessels in the world were in the length overall (LOA) class of less than 12m, the vast majority of which were undecked, and those small vessels dominated in all regions. On the contrary, the largest vessels, classified as those with LOA greater than 24m made up about 2 percent of the total fleet.

While there is a positive contribution of fishing to the world economy, and the vital need to secure a safe and sustainable food chain, is known and understood, what is less well known is the true human cost of fishing. The ILO and FAO estimate that between 24 000 and 32 000 deaths occur annually in the pursuit of fishing – making fishing the most hazardous occupation in the World. And when we further consider the disproportionally high negative health effects of fishing on industry participants – working in a constantly moving, vibrating workplace, with stress, poor dietary habits, fatigue, etc, there is much work to be done. Studies have shown that high blood pressure, high triglycerides, diabetes and obesity, as well as risk behaviours such as smoking and physical inactivity are highly prevalent in seafarers and fishermen – and also much more common than among respective general populations.

Other lifestyle-influenced poor health outcomes relate to diet, alcohol and drug abuse, stress, fatigue, work-life balance and sexual health. In addition, ergonomic problems leading to an increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders, deaths from mesothelioma among ships’ engineers and engine ratings (reported to be six times that of the general population), significantly greater risks of other forms of cancer, psychological and mental health problems, including high suicide rates are all further documented features of work at sea.

Using the current fatality estimates means that every hour 4 fishermen die doing their job. By way of comparison, in the commercial aviation industry, in the past five years, there was an average of 14 air accidents with 480 fatalities per year. Which equates to 1.5% of the fishing fatality total – or seen another way, each year 66x as many people die fishing than do flying in a commercial airliner.

These negative Occupational Health outcomes, coupled with the fatality and injury rates stated earlier, paint a very bleak picture. Sadly, while the physical risks of fishing may be well documented, we still don’t have an accurate or comprehensive understanding of the real number of negative safety events and occupational health issues taking place out there – and we know even less about the real causation factors leading to these events. To add to this unclear picture is the realisation that many “studies” currently available are simply a regurgitation of earlier, older studies, with nothing new to add to our body of knowledge. We need a new way of gathering REAL information.

Dangerous Fishing Ultimately then, the problem is a social one – especially in the developing countries of the world – and manifested in lives lost, families made destitute, and stagnant generational ill-health and poverty. But until such time that we get a clearer picture of the actual safety situation in the industry, our current efforts may well be misdirected and inefficient. We need data.

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