According to OurWorldData: World fish production, ie total fish production plus fish and shellfish aquaculture, has quadrupled in the last 50 years. Not only has the world’s population more than doubled during this period, but the average person now eats nearly twice as much shellfish as they did half a century ago.
This has increased pressure on fish stocks around the world. Globally, the proportion of fish stocks that are overexploited, meaning that we catch them faster than they can reproduce to maintain population levels, has more than doubled since the 1980s and this means that levels of current catches of wild fish are unsustainable.
One innovation has helped alleviate some of the pressure on catching wild fish: aquaculture, the practice of raising fish and shellfish. The distinction between farmed and wild-caught fish is similar to the difference between raising livestock versus hunting wild game. Except that for land animals, agriculture is many thousands of years old, while for shellfish it was very rare until a little over 50 years ago.
In the visualizations, we see the change in aquaculture and capture fish production from 1960 onwards. What is striking is that the global catch of wild fish has not increased since the early 1990s, and instead has remained relatively constant at around 90 to 95 million tonnes per year. Fish farming, on the other hand, is growing very rapidly, from 1960 to 2015 it has multiplied by 50 to over 100 million per year.
In the 1960s, aquaculture was relatively niche, with production of a few million tons per year. Particularly since the late 1980s, annual production has increased rapidly. In 1990 the world produced only 17 million tons. Now it produces more than 100 million tons.
As we see, aquaculture production has now surpassed the wild catch. It has absorbed almost all of the growth in global demand in recent decades and will continue to play a critical role in protecting wild fish stocks as demand for seafood continues to increase.
Ritchie H. & Roser M. (2021, Octubre) Fishing and Overfishing, Our world in Data (first published). URL: https://ourworldindata.org/fish-and-overfishing#total-seafood-production-by-country
With appreciation to Ray Hilborn, Michael Melnychuk, Max Mossler y Daniel Hively de RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database for the data provision and the feedback to the research.