Every couple of years or so, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations publishes the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture (SOFIA). An important part of these reports is to give an overview of the current situation on marine capture fish stocks. In 1974, 50% of the world’s fish stocks were fully exploited and only 10% overexploited; in 2005, the picture was 52% and 25%, fully and over-exploited, respectively. The recent report of 2009 states that 57% were fully exploited and 30% overexploited.
The FAO definition is purely in terms of physical fish stock size; however, in economic terms, the situation is worse than the percentages are showing because it is the most valuable fish stocks that are overexploited.
This situation has arisen because not much effort has been focused on policy on fish resource wealth. Paradoxically, it is because fish resources are valuable when they are overexploited, and the more valuable they are, the more quickly they will be overexploited. In other words, fishing effort has been pushed beyond the point of Maximum Sustainable Yiled (MSY); and hence, the stocks are declining.
But if fishing effort were to be reduced to Maximum Economic Yield (MEY), then the fishery sector could make a much greater contribution, because in addition to some value-added generated, there would be a new amount – the resource rent – which would be a pure addition to value-added; also referred to as wealth.
A wealth focus in fisheries policy is essential for two reasons. First, it is the resource wealth which drives the overexploitation of the fishery; second, the resource wealth is clearly a very large potential component of value added and GDP in the future.
If therefore countries wish to achieve the 6% growth target in the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), they have little option but to move fish resource wealth to the centre of the policy debate.