I could just tell you that fish are important. That they provide food for billions and livelihood for millions of people worldwide. That they contribute significantly to food and economic security by providing primary sources of animal protein, essential nutrients, and income.
But, big numbers like these need context. It’s much easier to conceptualize them in comparison to a reference point. So, with assistance from the very talented Hannah Dean, here are a few specific fisheries statistics comparisons to help show just how important fish are for food and livelihoods.
Fish as food
Fish are the world’s single most traded food commodity. They had an estimated export value of US$136 billion in 2013. This is almost equivalent to the three next most traded food commodities combined: soybean (US$58 billion), wheat (US$45 billion), and palm oil (US$39 billion).
86% of all fisheries production goes directly to human consumption. This amounts to about 136 million tons of fish going directly into people’s bellies – annually. That amount of fish is roughly enough to fill over a million train cars (assuming an average train car weighs 140 tons filled [30 tons empty]). If all those train cars were connected in one train (assuming an average train car is 60ft long), that train could stretch all the way to Mars (note the distance to Mars is not constant because it is in a different orbital path than earth).
Fisheries as a livelihood
58.3 million people are employed directly by capture fisheries or aquaculture. This means that the direct act of harvesting and raising fish employs almost 30 times more people than Walmart (the world’s largest private employer). These are just the fishers for food – not the post-harvest processors, the fish mongers, the recreational charter captains, or any other element of the supply chain.
4.72 million fishing vessels are licensed across the globe. This number is just under the number of automobiles registered in the state of Ohio. However, several lines of evidence (e.g., consumption studies) suggest that fisheries harvest is often unrecorded or drastically underreported, particularly in regards to small-scale or artisanal fishing (i.e., subsistence and local trade) in inland waters. Perhaps, if all vessels were accounted for, the estimated number of fishing boats would be more than the number of registered vehicles in California!