Not enough fish in the sea, study finds

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (Reuters) 10/31//02 --The world's growing population and overfishing will mean around one billion people in developing countries will face shortages of fish, their most important source of protein, within 20 years.

According to analysis released by the Malaysia-based WorldFish Center and the International Food Policy Research Institute, only strong growth in fish farms will save the world from an even more critical situation.

The study estimated that fish currently accounts for around seven percent of global food supplies and was the primary source of animal protein for one-sixth of the world's six billion people.

WorldFish said in a statement released ahead of an international conference in Penang, Malaysia, November 3 that some fish species will disappear from markets and the quality of seafood will decline -- and it also predicted increasing disputes between countries over fishing grounds.

It said the decline in catches will have a serious impact on food security, nutrition and income in the two decades.

"Fish is the fastest growing source of food in the developing world yet demand greatly exceeds supply and the problem is growing," Dr Meryl Williams, Director-General of the center, said in the statement.

Fish consumption doubles With 90 million more mouths to feed a year, fish stocks could not cope after 50 years in which average per capita consumption of fish has almost doubled.

Aquaculture, or fish farming, offered a partial solution and under the study's most likely scenario, global production will rise 1.5 percent annually until 2020.

Two-thirds of the growth will come from aquaculture, which will provide 41 percent of total food production by then -- up from 31 percent five years ago.

Economists estimate that the fishing industry's inability to keep pace with demand will result in prices rising anywhere between 4 and 16 percent by 2020 at best, and in a worst case scenario by 26 to 70 percent.

The conference will be attended by policymakers, scientists, industry leaders and non-government organizations from 40 countries.