Fishing industry

The fishing industry includes any industry or activity concerned with taking, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, marketing or selling fish or fish products. It is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization as including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing, and the related harvesting, processing, and marketing sectors.[1] The commercial activity is aimed at the delivery of fish and other seafood products for human consumption or as input factors in other industrial processes. The livelihood of over 500 million people in developing countries depends directly or indirectly on fisheries and aquaculture.[2]

Double-rigged shrimp trawler hauling in the nets

The fishing industry is struggling with environmental and welfare issues, including overfishing and occupational safety.[3] Additionally, the combined pressures of climate change, biodiversity loss and overfishing endanger the livelihoods and food security of a substantial portion of the global population.



















Commercially important finfish fisheries
Modern Spanish tuna purse seiner in the Seychelles Islands
Using a special tuna knife at Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo
Fresh seafood laid out on one of several floating barge vendors at the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington D.C.

There are three principal industry sectors according to the Food and Agriculture Organization as including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing.[1]

Other slightly different definitions exist, for example the Australian government uses:[4]

  • The commercial sector: comprises enterprises and individuals associated with wild-catch or aquaculture resources and the various transformations of those resources into products for sale. It is also referred to as the "seafood industry", although non-food items such as pearls are included among its products.
  • The traditional sector: comprises enterprises and individuals associated with fisheries resources from which aboriginal people derive products in accordance with their traditions.
  • The recreational sector: comprises enterprises and individuals associated for the purpose of recreation, sport or sustenance with fisheries resources from which products are derived that are not for sale.


Recreational fishing at sunset

Recreational fishing, also called sport fishing or game fishing, is fishing for leisure, exercise or competition. It can be contrasted with commercial fishing, which is professional fishing for profit; or subsistence fishing, which is fishing for survival and livelihood.

The most common form of recreational fishing is angling, which is done with a rig of rod, reel, line, hooks and any one of a wide range of baits, as well as other complementary devices such as weights, floats, swivels and method feeders, collectively referred to as terminal tackles. Lures are frequently used in place of fresh bait when fishing for predatory fishes. Some hobbyists hand-make custom tackles themselves, including plastic lures and artificial flies.

Other forms of recreational fishing include spearfishing, which is done with a speargun or harpoon usually while diving; and bowfishing, with is done from above the water with archery equipments such as a compound bow or crossbow. Noodling and trout tickling are recreational fishing activities that uses hands to catch fish. There are also fishing techniques that uses nets, traps and other unconventional tools such as snag hook, sledgehammer and even boomerang, although inhumane or destructive fishing practices are generally discouraged and some are outright banned in most countries.

Popular fish species pursued by recreational fishermen are collectively known as game fishes. Big-game fishing, which targets large open-water fishes such as tuna, billfishes (marlins and swordfish), grouper and shark, is typically conducted from yachts, although some are also done from the shore by casting far into the waves. Although the caught fish can be consumed as food, catch and release is often encouraged for conservation purposes.

Commercial sector

Commercial crab fishing at the Elbe River in June 2007.

Commercial fishing is the activity of catching fish and other seafood for commercial profit, mostly from wild fisheries. It provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the world, but those who practice it as an industry must often pursue fish far into the ocean under adverse conditions. Large-scale commercial fishing is also known as industrial fishing.

The major fishing industries are not only owned by major corporations but by small families as well.[5] In order to adapt to declining fish populations and increased demand, many commercial fishing operations have reduced the sustainability of their harvest by fishing further down the food chain. This raises concern for fishery managers and researchers, who highlight how further they say that for those reasons, the sustainability of the marine ecosystems could be in danger of collapsing.[5]

Commercial fishermen harvest a wide variety of animals. However, a very small number of species support the majority of the world's fisheries of these species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops. All except these last four provided a worldwide catch of well over a million tonnes in 1999, with herring and sardines together providing a catch of over 22 million metric tons in 1999. Many other species are fished in smaller numbers.

In 2016, of the 171 million tonnes of fish caught, about 88 percent or over 151 million tonnes were utilized for direct human consumption. This share has increased significantly in recent decades, as it was 67 percent in the 1960s.[6] In 2016, the greatest part of the 12 percent used for non-food purposes (about 20 million tonnes) was reduced to fishmeal and fish oil (74 percent or 15 million tonnes), while the rest (5 million tonnes) was largely utilized as material for direct feeding in aquaculture and raising of livestock and fur animals, in culture (e.g. fry, fingerlings or small adults for ongrowing), as bait, in pharmaceutical uses and for ornamental purposes.[6]

World production

World capture fisheries and aquaculture production, from FAO's Statistical Yearbook 2021 [7]
↑ By species group
↑ By production mode

Fish are harvested by commercial fishing and aquaculture.

The world harvest increased over the 20th century and, by 1986, had stabilized around 85–95 million metric tons (94×10^6–105×10^6 short tons) per year.[8] According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world harvest in 2005 consisted of 93.3 million metric tons (102.8×10^6 short tons) captured by commercial fishing in wild fisheries, plus 48.1 million metric tons (53.0×10^6 short tons) produced by fish farms. In addition, 1.3 million metric tons (1.4×10^6 short tons) of aquatic plants (seaweed etc.) were captured in wild fisheries and 14.8 million metric tons (16.3×10^6 short tons) were produced by aquaculture.[9] The number of individual fish caught in the wild has been estimated at 0.97–2.7 trillion per year (not counting fish farms or marine invertebrates).[10]

Following is a table of the 2011 world fishing industry harvest in tonnes (metric tons) by capture and by aquaculture.[9]

Capture (ton) Aquaculture (ton) Total (ton)
Total 94,574,113 83,729,313 178,303,426
Aquatic plant 1,085,143 20,975,361 22,060,504
Aquatic animal 93,488,970 62,753,952 156,202,922

Once fish is caught, especially in commercial sectors, bringing the fish to consumers require a complex series of related industries.

Fish farming

Aquaculture is the cultivation of aquatic organisms. Unlike fishing, aquaculture, also known as aquafarming, is the cultivation of aquatic populations under controlled conditions.[11] Mariculture refers to aquaculture practiced in marine environments. Particular kinds of aquaculture include algaculture (the production of kelp/seaweed and other algae); fish farming; shrimp farming, shellfish farming, and the growing of cultured pearls.

Fish farming involves raising fish commercially in tanks or enclosed pools, usually for food. Fish species raised by fish farms include carp, salmon, tilapia, catfish and cod. Increasing demands on wild fisheries by commercial fishing operations have caused widespread overfishing. Fish farming offers an alternative solution to the increasing market demand for fish and fish protein.

Fish processing

Fish processing is the processing of fish delivered by commercial fisheries and fish farms. The larger fish processing companies have their own fishing fleets and independent fisheries. The products of the industry are usually sold wholesale to grocery chains or to intermediaries.

Fish processing can be subdivided into two categories: fish handling (the initial processing of raw fish) and fish products manufacturing. Aspects of fish processing occur on fishing vessels, fish processing vessels, and at fish processing plants.

Another natural subdivision is into primary processing involved in the filleting and freezing of fresh fish for onward distribution to fresh fish retail and catering outlets, and the secondary processing that produces chilled, frozen and canned products for the retail and catering trades.[12]

Fish products

Fisheries are estimated to currently provide 16% of the world population's protein. The flesh of many fish are primarily valued as a source of food; there are many edible species of fish. Other marine life taken as food includes shellfish, crustaceans, sea cucumber, jellyfish and roe.

Fish and other marine life can also be used for many other uses: pearls and mother-of-pearl, sharkskin and rayskin. Sea horses, star fish, sea urchins and sea cucumber are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Tyrian purple is a pigment made from marine snails, and sepia is a pigment made from the inky secretions of cuttlefish. Fish glue has long been valued for its use in all manner of products. Isinglass is used for the clarification of wine and beer. Fish emulsion is a fertilizer emulsion that is produced from the fluid remains of fish processed for fish oil and fish meal.

Fish derived protein hydrolysates have been identified to exhibit a wide range of bioactivities making them important to food and health care industries.[13] Hydrolysates derived from fish processing by-products like swim bladder, skin, scale, bones and fins display blood pressure regulatory,[14] anti-inflammatory,[15] neuroprotective,[16] immunomodulatory and anti-cancer activity.[17] Fish hydrolysates are also on the rise for commercial purposes in food industries due to their lipid peroxidation inhibition, high emulsification activity and large water retention capacity making them effective food matrix stabilization and shelf life enhancement agents.[18][19][20]

In the industry, the term seafood products is often used instead of fish products.

Fish marketing

Fish markets are marketplace used for the trade in and sale of fish and other seafood. They can be dedicated to wholesale trade between fishermen and fish merchants, or to the sale of seafood to individual consumers, or to both. Retail fish markets, a type of wet market, often sell street food as well.

Most shrimp are sold frozen and are marketed in different categories.[21] The live food fish trade is a global system that links fishing communities with markets.

Environmental impact

Greenhouse gas emissions (kg / kg edible weight) of wild-caught and farmed seafood products

The environmental impact of fishing includes issues such as the availability of fish, overfishing, fisheries, and fisheries management; as well as the impact of industrial fishing on other elements of the environment, such as bycatch.[22] These issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. According to a 2019 FAO report, global production of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals has continued to grow and reached 172.6 million tonnes in 2017, with an increase of 4.1 percent compared with 2016.[23] There is a growing gap between the supply of fish and demand, due in part to world population growth.[24]

Fishing and pollution from fishing are the largest contributors to the decline in ocean health and water quality. Ghost nets, or nets abandoned in the ocean, are made of plastic and nylon and do not decompose, wreaking extreme havoc on the wildlife and ecosystems they interrupt. The ocean takes up 70% of the earth, so overfishing and hurting the marine environment affects everyone and everything on this planet. On top of the overfishing, there is a seafood shortage resulting from the mass amounts of seafood waste, as well as the microplastics that are polluting the seafood consumed by the public. The latter is largely caused by plastic-made fishing gear like drift nets and longlining equipment, that are wearing down by use, lost or thrown away.[25][26]

The journal Science published a four-year study in November 2006, which predicted that, at prevailing trends, the world would run out of wild-caught seafood in 2048. The scientists stated that the decline was a result of overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors that were reducing the population of fisheries at the same time as their ecosystems were being annihilated. Many countries, such as Tonga, the United States, Australia and Bahamas, and international management bodies have taken steps to appropriately manage marine resources.[27][28]

Reefs are also being destroyed by overfishing because of the huge nets that are dragged along the ocean floor while trawling. Many corals are being destroyed and, as a consequence, the ecological niche of many species is at stake.
Stilts fishermen, Sri Lanka

Artisanal fishing (or traditional/subsistence fishing) consists of various small-scale, low-technology, low-capital, fishing practices undertaken by individual fishing households (as opposed to commercial fishing).[29] Many of these households are of coastal or island ethnic groups. These households make short (rarely overnight) fishing trips close to the shore. Their produce is usually not processed and is mainly for local consumption. Artisan fishing uses traditional fishing techniques such as rod and tackle, fishing arrows and harpoons, cast nets, and small (if any) traditional fishing boats. For that reason, socio-economic status of artisanal fishing community has become an interest of the authorities in recent years.

Artisan fishing may be undertaken for both commercial and subsistence reasons. It contrasts with large-scale modern commercial fishing practices in that it is often less wasteful and less stressful on fish populations than modern industrial fishing. Target 14.b of Sustainable Development Goal 14 works to provide access rights to artisanal fishers on marine resources and markets.[30]

Sustainable fishery

A conventional idea of a sustainable fishery is that it is one that is harvested at a sustainable rate, where the fish population does not decline over time because of fishing practices. Sustainability in fisheries combines theoretical disciplines, such as the population dynamics of fisheries, with practical strategies, such as avoiding overfishing through techniques such as individual fishing quotas, curtailing destructive and illegal fishing practices by lobbying for appropriate law and policy, setting up protected areas, restoring collapsed fisheries, incorporating all externalities involved in harvesting marine ecosystems into fishery economics, educating stakeholders and the wider public, and developing independent certification programs.

Some primary concerns around sustainability are that heavy fishing pressures, such as overexploitation and growth or recruitment overfishing, will result in the loss of significant potential yield; that stock structure will erode to the point where it loses diversity and resilience to environmental fluctuations; that ecosystems and their economic infrastructures will cycle between collapse and recovery; with each cycle less productive than its predecessor; and that changes will occur in the trophic balance (fishing down marine food webs).[31]

International disputes

The ocean covers 71% of the earth's surface and 80% of the value of exploited marine resources are attributed to the fishing industry. The fishing industry has provoked various international disputes as wild fish capture rose to a peak about the end of the 20th century, and has since started a gradual decline.[32] Iceland, Japan, and Portugal are the greatest consumers of seafood per capita in the world.

Disputes in the Americas

Chile and Peru are countries with high fish consumption, and therefore had troubles regarding their fish industries. In 1947, Chile and Peru first adopted the 200 nautical mile standard as their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and in 1982, the UN formally adopted this term. In the 2000s, Chile and Peru suffered a serious fish crisis because of excessive fishing and lack of proper regulations, and now political power play in the area is rekindled.[33] From the late 1950s, offshore bottom trawlers began exploiting the deeper part, leading to a large catch increase and a strong decline in the underlying biomass. The stock collapsed to extremely low levels in the early 1990s and this is a well-known example of non-excludable, non-rivalrous public good in economics, causing free-rider problems.

Following the collapse of the Atlantic northwest cod fishery in 1992, a dispute arose between Canada and the European Union over the right to fish Greenland halibut (also known as turbot) just outside of Canada's exclusive economic zone in the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The dispute became known as the Turbot War.[34][35] On 9 March 1995, in response to observations of foreign vessels fishing illegally in Canadian waters and using illegal equipment outside of Canada's EEZ, Canadian officials boarded and seized the Spanish trawler Estai in international waters on the Grand Banks.[36] Throughout March, the Spanish Navy deployed patrol ships to protect fishing boats in the area,[37] and Canadian forces were authorized to open fire on any Spanish vessel showing its guns. Canada and the European Union reached a settlement on 15 April which led to significant reforms in international fishing agreements.[38]

Disputes in Europe

Iceland is one of the largest consumers in the world and in 1972, a dispute occurred between UK and Iceland because of Iceland's announcement of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to reduce overfishing. This dispute is called the Cod Wars, direct confrontations between Icelandic patrol vessels and British warships.

Nowadays in Europe in general, countries are searching for a way to recover their fishing industries. Overfishing of EU fisheries is costing 3.2 billion euros a year and 100,000 jobs according to a report. So Europe is constantly looking for some collective actions that could be taken to prevent overfishing.[39]

Disputes in Asia

Japan, China and Korea are some of the greatest consumers of fish, and have some disputes over Exclusive Economic Zone.[40] In 2011, due to a serious earthquake, the nuclear power facility in Fukushima was damaged. Ever since, huge amount of contaminated water leaked and is entering the oceans. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) admitted that around 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from a storage tank on the site. In the Kuroshio Current, the sea near Fukushima, about 11 countries catch fish. Not only the surrounding countries such as Japan, Korea and China, but also the countries like Ukraine, Spain and Russia have boats in the Kuroshio Current. In September 2013, South Korea banned all fish imports from eight Japanese prefectures, due to the radioactive water leaks from the Fukushima nuclear plant.[39]

The North_Pacific_Anadromous_Fish_Commission: NPFC was established in 2015 to manage fish stocks against increasing demand. Members are Canada, Japan, Russia, the United States, and South Korea. China, Taiwan, and Vanuatu also participated in the meeting. The NPFC imposes catch limits on member countries and countries participating in the conference. A crackdown on  Illegal,_unreported_and_unregulated_fishing(IUU) vendors was also requested.

Society and culture

Global goals

International policy to attempt to address these issues is captured in Sustainable Development Goal 14 ("Life below water") and its Target 14.4 on "Sustainable fishing":[41] "By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics".

Standards and labelling

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is an independent non-profit organization which sets a standard for sustainable fishing. Fisheries that wish to demonstrate they are well-managed and sustainable compared to the MSC's standards are assessed by a team of experts or Conformity Assessment Bodies (CABs) who are independent of both the fishery and the MSC.[42][43]

By country

See also


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