Millions of people in the Asian region depend on fisheries for a living, and the sector is a major source of food security, employment, income and foreign exchange. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), of the 47.6 mn fishers worldwide engaged in fishing and fish farming as a full- time, or, more frequently, part-time, occupation, as many as 42.3 mn, or 89 per cent, are in Asia. China has the maximum number of fishers and fish farmers, followed by India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and the Philippines. The majority of fishers and fish farmers are small-scale, artisanal fishers, eking out a living from coastal and inland fishery resources.
These figures are likely to be underestimates. An FAO study in Southeast Asia, for example, suggested that the figure reported to the organization for the number of inland capture fishers worldwide (4.5 mn, full-time, part-time or occasional) is easily exceeded by those fishing in inland waters in just eight countries covered by the study, namely, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Further, these figure do not include those involved in other fisheries-related activities, such as marketing, processing, net-making, supplying ice, boat building, and so on. Importantly, women play an important role in several of these activities. Assuming a ratio of about 1: 3 -- that is, for every person who fishes, there are three others on shore engaged in fisheries-related activities -- a conservative estimate would place the total number of people involved in fisheries-related activities in Asia at about 130 mn. The total number of people dependent on the sector in Asia is, no doubt, much higher.
Significantly, 90 per cent of the catch from small-scale fisheries worldwide caters to human consumption. According to the Asian Development Bank, artisanal, small-scale fisheries in Asia are estimated to contribute to at least 50 per cent of total fisheries production, providing extensive rural employment.
Total fish production in Asia in 2005 was estimated at 88.19 mn tonnes (world total: 140.49 mn tonnes), of which 39.6 mn tonnes were from marine capture fisheries (world total: 83.7 mn tonnes) and 5.8 mn tonnes were from freshwater capture fisheries (world total: 9.0 mn tonnes). In 2004, ten Asian countries?China, Indonesia, Japan, India, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Malaysia and Myanmar and Taiwan, Province of China ?were among the top 20 countries in terms of production from marine capture fisheries, contributing to 43.6 per cent of total production. Similarly, nine Asian countries?China, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam and Pakistan?were among the top 20 countries in terms of freshwater capture fisheries.
Fish is an important source of food security in the region. For more than 1.6 bn of the 3.5 bn people in the region, fish provide more than 20 per cent of the animal protein consumed. This figure rises to more than 50 per cent in countries such as Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
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