Fish are an important element of the human food supply, and fishing is an important factor in global employment. Current harvest trends and fishery conditions put both of these at risk. Fish account for roughly one fifth of all animal protein in the human diet, and around 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary protein source. Indeed, production of fish products is far greater than global production of poultry, beef, or pork. However, new projections suggest that the contribution of fish to the global food supply is likely to decrease in the next two decades as demand for fish increases and production flags .
Currently, some 80 million metric tons of fish are available each year for direct human consumption. FAO expects demand to increase to 110 to 120 million metric tons in 2010 as world population grows. By FAO’s estimate, such demand could be satisfied only under the most optimistic scenario, with aquaculture production doubling and overfishing brought under control so that ocean fish stocks can recover. However, it is more likely that aquaculture growth will be moderate and that the ocean catch will plateau at current levels or decline, leaving a substantial gap between supply and demand and also raising fish prices  .
Any shortfall in fish supplies is likely to affect developing nations more than developed nations. As demand and fish prices rise, exports of fish products from developing nations will tend to rise as well, leaving fewer fish for local consumption and putting fish protein increasingly out of reach for low-income families 
|Some fish stocks have collapsed from overfishing|
|Commercial harvests in the Northwest Atlantic of some important fish stocks, 1950-95|
|Source: United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Fishstat-PC (FAO, Rome, 1997).|
Employment within the fisheries sector is also likely to change profoundly, especially for small-scale fishers who fish for the local market or for subsistence. Already, these fishers, who number some 10 million worldwide, have been losing ground over the past two decades as competition from commercial vessels has grown . Off the west coast of Africa, for instance, surveys show that fish resources in the shallow inshore waters where these artisanal fishers ply their trade dropped more than half from 1985 to 1990 due to increased fishing by commercial trawlers .
Substantial potential exists for increasing the ocean fish harvest with better management of fish stocks, although sound management is neither easy nor obvious. FAO estimates that marine catches could rise some 9 million metric tons if fishing pressure were reduced overall and juvenile fish were allowed to live longer before being caught. Experience in Cyprus and the Philippines shows that substantial increases in catch from better management can sometimes appear in as little as 18 months in tropical waters. Such quick improvements are unlikely in colder waters, however. For instance, cod stocks in the cold waters off the Canadian Atlantic coast have not rebounded quickly since their collapse in the early 1990s, even though the cod fishery has been closed to fishing until very recently    .
The urgency of the current fisheries decline has begun to galvanize both governments and the private sector, at least in the developed world. Such nations as the United States, Canada, and the members of the European Union have recently adopted tougher fishing controls and have started to shrink the size of their fishing fleets. Unilever, a major fish processor and marketer in Europe and North America, has pledged to purchase fish only from sustainably managed fish stocks by 2005. To develop criteria for what “sustainably managed” means, Unilever has joined with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to form the Marine Stewardship Council, which will establish industry-wide principles for sustainable fishing and also set standards for individual fish stocks. Fish harvested according to the Council’s standards will be eligible for certification, or eco-labeling, which may increase its consumer appeal and provide a market incentive for producers to adopt the Council’s recommended fishing practices    .
References and notes
6. Meryl Williams, The Transition in the Contribution of Living Aquatic Resources to Food Security, Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Discussion Paper 13 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 1996), pp. 3, 24.
7. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 1996 (FAO, Rome, 1997), pp. 24-27.
8. Meryl Williams, The Transition in the Contribution of Living Aquatic Resources to Food Security, Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Discussion Paper 13 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 1996), pp. 25-26.
9. Meryl Williams, The Transition in the Contribution of Living Aquatic Resources to Food Security, Food, Agriculture, and the Environment Discussion Paper 13 (International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, D.C., 1996), pp. 27-28.
10. S. Garcia and R. Grainger, “Fisheries Management and Sustainability: A New Perspective of an Old Problem,” paper prepared for the Second World Fisheries Congress, Brisbane, Australia, July 1996 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1996), p. 13.
11. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “Review of the State of World Fishery Resources: Marine Fisheries,” FAO Fisheries Circular No. 884 (FAO, Rome, 1995), p.22.
12. R. Grainger and S. Garcia, Chronicles of Marine Fishery Landings (1950-1994): Trend Analysis and Fisheries Potential, FAO Fisheries Technical Paper 359 (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 1996), p. 48.
13. Edward Trippel, “Age at Maturity as a Stress Indicator in Fisheries,” Bioscience, Vol. 45, No. 11 (1995), pp. 768-69.
14. David Spurgeon, “Canada’s Cod Leaves Science in Hot Water,” Nature, Vol. 386 (1997), p. 107.
15. Anthony DePalma, “Newfoundland to Ease Ban on Fishing; Some Say It’s Too Soon,” New York Times (April 18, 1997), p. A-7.
16. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 1996 (FAO, Rome, 1997), p. 15.
17. “EU: Ministers Agree on Fishing Limits,” Greenwire, Vol. 6, No. 234 (April 16, 1997), Item number 16.
18. Alison Maitland, “Unilever in Fight to Save Global Fisheries,” Financial Times (February 22, 1996, London).
19. Michael Sutton and Caroline Whitfield, “The Marine Stewardship Council: New Hope for Marine Fisheries,” background paper (World Wide Fund for Nature and Unilever, London, October 1996), p. 2.