Fishing & aquaculture: reducing the impact on biodiversity to ensure food security

Aquatic food systems (artisanal and industrial fishing and aquaculture) are crucial to the food security of many countries and to global nutrition. Although they have a significant impact on biodiversity, they represent an important source of employment, especially for populations living in coastal areas and on riverbanks.

As economic sectors, fishing and aquaculture cover all activities from the capture or farming of living aquatic resources to their sale. Five of the 16 BIODEV2030 countries have identified fishing or aquaculture as a priority economic sector contributing to the erosion of biodiversity and the country’s development: Fiji (coastal fishing), Madagascar (shrimp industry), Mozambique (mangrove crab and shrimp industries), Senegal (artisanal fishing) and Vietnam (shrimp and fish farming). 


There has been considerable development in the fishing and aquaculture sectors over the past decade, due to growing global demand. These sectors have strongly contributed to the economic development of certain regions and the food security of many households. For example, fishing (all industries combined) is a source of income for nearly 1.5 million Malagasy nationals, and accounted for nearly 7% of Madagascar’s GDP in 2018. In Fiji, an estimated 50% of rural households engage in coastal subsistence fishing1.

Fishing effort is increasing throughout the world, with growth in the number of boats, their engine power and tonnage. For example, in Senegal, there has been a 43.93% increase in one year in the number of canoes used for artisanal fishing in the Thiès region. This is putting pressure on fish stocks.

Aquaculture may also become a driver of strategic growth: Vietnam is planning to increase production by 55.5% over the next 10 years2. However, the greatest expansion in aquaculture is expected to be seen in sub-Saharan Africa.

To satisfy demand and halt species decline, stocks will need to be sustainably managed by all stakeholders in the value chain (artisanal and industrial fishers, farmers, retailers, wholesalers, processors, decision-makers, investors, etc.).

3.1% per year

Average annual growth rate in global fish consumption between 1961 and 2017

Source : FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.

8.1 billion dollars

Gross value added by marine artisanal fishing in Africa (38.8% of total value added by fishing in Africa)

Source : Wanjohi Kabukuru, “African fisheries still underdeveloped”, NewAfrican, 30/09/2020, [consulté le 30/06/22]


The increase in fishing effort has resulted in the overfishing of most stocks of commercial interest. Poor practices in artisanal fishing (trespassing in marine protected areas, taking young fish, breaching the fishing code, using monofilament lines or explosives, etc.) are exacerbating the issue of overfishing and contributing to progressive deterioration in biodiversity.

The growth in aquaculture is exacerbating the depletion of fish stocks. This is because the practice requires wild fish to feed the farmed species. In addition to this indirect impact, aquaculture is placing many other direct pressures on biodiversity. Farming ponds are developed by converting key ecosystems such as mangroves. Aquaculture activities also contribute to disease transmission and to water pollution through chemical, medicinal and biological discharge.


Proportion of world fish stocks that are overfished

Source : FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome.

Fishing and aquaculture have negative impacts on biodiversity due to:

1. Overfishing: reduces population renewal, which can lead to disappearance of species. Fishing should not be guided solely by the availability of stocks. Their renewal must be taken into account to preserve biodiversity.

2. Fishing methods and areas: non-selective techniques harvest many protected species. They also degrade key habitats for the renewal of species (spawning grounds and nurseries). Fishing practices and locations must be controlled and regulated.

3. Farming methods and areas: use of chemicals and antibiotics; plastic pollution from pond linings. Aquaculture facilities may be located in areas of high biodiversity value (coastlines, mangroves). Practices and locations must be controlled and regulated.


For fishing:

  • Manage the space so that stocks can recover:
    • Create and facilitate the effective management of marine protected areas including highly protected (no-take) zones and buffer zones
    • Create artificial reef immersion zones
    • Define fishing areas based on knowledge of the life cycle of the species being fished and of endangered species present in the area
  • Adapt fishing techniques to reflect growing demand but also depletion of stocks, and to allow for essential population renewal:
    • Reduce the risks of overfishing through coordinating management of fishing stocks, including by traditional fishers
    • Reduce by-catch of unwanted fish by banning fishing equipment that is not adequately selective
    • Limit expansion in the number of canoes and in the industrial fleet 
  • Establish ‘biological’ rest periods and fishing seasons to allow population renewal

For aquaculture:

  • Avoid areas of high biodiversity value in locating farming ponds
  • Rationalise the use of chemical and pharmaceutical products

The voluntary commitments made by the national sectors involved in the BIODEV2030 project must also cover industrial fishing to achieve more significant and sustainable impacts on biodiversity.

Sources :

1 © FAO 2022. Fishery and Aquaculture FAO Country Profiles. Fiji. Country Profile Fact Sheets. Fisheries and Aquaculture Division [online]. Rome. [Cited 30 June 2022]. 

2 Direction générale du Trésor [French Treasury]. L’aquaculture et la pêche, secteur clé de l’économie agricole du Vietnam. 2 July 2021.

Photo crédits: Lance Anderson