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FAO State of World Fisheries, Aquaculture Report- Fish Utilisation, Processing

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In 2010, 40.5 percent of world fish production was marketed in live, fresh or chilled forms and 45.9 per cent processed in frozen, cured or otherwise prepared forms for direct human consumption, according to the FAO's "The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2012" report.


Fishery production is very heterogeneous in terms of its range of species and product forms. Being highly perishable, fish needs timely harvesting and procurement, efficient transportation, and advanced storage, processing and packaging facilities for its marketing. In particular, specific requirements and preservation techniques are needed in order to preserve its nutritional quality, extend its shelf-life, minimize the activity of spoilage bacteria and avoid losses caused by poor handling. Fish is also very versatile as it can be processed into a wide array of products to increase its economic value. It is generally distributed as live, fresh, chilled, frozen, heat-treated, fermented, dried, smoked, salted, pickled, boiled, fried, freeze-dried, minced, powdered or canned, or as a combination of two or more of these forms. Fish can also be preserved by many other methods destined for food or non-edible uses.

In 2010, 40.5 percent (60.2 million tonnes) of world fish production was marketed in live, fresh or chilled forms, 45.9 percent (68.1 million tonnes) was processed in frozen, cured or otherwise prepared forms for direct human consumption, and 13.6 percent destined to non-food uses (Figure 19). Since the early 1990s, there has been an increasing trend in the proportion of fisheries production used for direct human consumption rather than for other purposes. In the 1980s, about 68 percent of the fish produced was destined for human consumption, this share increased to 73 percent in the 1990s, and in 2010 it was more than 86 percent, equalling 128.3 million tonnes. In 2010, 20.2 million tonnes was destined to non-food purposes, of which 75 percent (15 million tonnes) was reduced to fishmeal and fish oil; the remaining 5.1 million tonnes was largely utilized as fish for ornamental purposes, for culture (fingerlings, fry, etc.), for bait, for pharmaceutical uses as well as raw material for direct feeding in aquaculture, for livestock and for fur animals.

In 2010, of the fish destined for direct human consumption, the most important product form was live, fresh or chilled fish, with a share of 46.9 percent, followed by frozen fish (29.3 percent), prepared or preserved fish (14.0 percent) and cured fish (9.8 percent). Freezing represents the main method of processing fish for human consumption, and it accounted for 55.2 percent of total processed fish for human consumption and 25.3 percent of total fish production in 2010. These general data mask significant differences. The utilization of fish and, more significantly, the processing methods vary according to the continent, region, country and even within countries. The highest percentage of fishmeal is produced by Latin American countries (44 percent of the total in 2010). In Europe and North America, fish in frozen and canned forms represents more than two-thirds of fish used for human consumption. Africa has a higher proportion of cured fish (14 percent of total production) than the world average. In Africa, but also significantly in Asia, a large amount of production is commercialized in live or fresh forms. Live fish is particularly appreciated in Asia (especially by the Chinese population) and in niche markets in other countries, mainly among immigrant Asian communities. Commercialization of live fish has grown in recent years as a result of technological developments, improved logistics and increased demand. An elaborate network of handling, transport, distribution, display and holding facilities has been developed to support the marketing of live fish. New technological systems include specially designed or modified tanks and containers, as well as trucks and other transport vehicles equipped with aeration or oxygenation facilities to keep fish alive during transportation or holding and display. Nevertheless, marketing and transportation of live fish can be challenging as they are often subject to stringent health regulations and quality standards. In some parts of Southeast Asia, their commercialization and trade are not formally regulated but based on tradition. However, in markets such as the European Union, live fish have to comply with requirements, inter alia, concerning animal welfare during transportation.

Utilization of World Fisheries Production (Breakdown by Quantity), 19622010


Not only live fish, but, as mentioned above, fish and fishery products must be handled and transported by highly efficient distribution channels that can ensure that the integrity of the produce is maintained. Improvements in packaging help in preserving the quality of products. In the last few decades, major innovations in refrigeration, ice-making and transportation have also allowed the distribution of fish in fresh and other forms. As a result, developing countries have experienced a growth in the share of frozen products (24.1 percent of the total fish for human consumption in 2010, up from 18.9 percent in 2000) and of prepared or preserved forms (11.0 percent in 2010, compared with 7.8 percent in 2000). However, notwithstanding the technical advances and innovations, many countries, especially less-developed economies, still lack adequate infrastructure and services including hygienic landing centres, electric power supply, potable water, roads, ice, ice plants, cold rooms and refrigerated transport. These factors, associated with tropical temperatures, result in a high proportion of post-harvest losses and quality deterioration, with subsequent risk to the health of consumers. In addition, marketing of fish is also more difficult owing to often limited and congested market infrastructure and facilities. Owing to these deficiencies, together with well-established consumer habits, fish in developing countries is commercialized mainly in live or fresh form (representing 56.0 percent of fish destined for human consumption in 2010) soon after landing or harvesting. Cured forms (dried, smoked or fermented) still remain a traditional method to retail and consume fish in developing countries, even if their share in total fish for human consumption is declining (10.9 percent in 2000 compared with 8.9 percent in 2010). In developed countries, the bulk of production destined to human consumption is commercialized frozen or in prepared or preserved forms. The proportion of frozen fish has been growing in the last four decades: it represented 33.2 percent of total production for human consumption in 1970, increased to 44.8 percent in 1990, to 49.8 percent in 2000, and reached a record high at 52.1 percent in 2010. The share of prepared and preserved forms remained rather stable during the same period and it was 26.9 percent in 2010 (Figure 20).

Fishmeal is the crude flour obtained after milling and drying fish or fish parts, and it is produced from whole fish, fish remains or other fish by-products resulting from processing. Many different species are used for fishmeal and fish-oil production. However, small pelagics, in particular anchoveta, are the main groups of species used for reduction, and the volume of fishmeal and fish oil produced worldwide annually fluctuates according to the fluctuations in the catches of these species. The El Nio phenomenon has considerable effects on catches of anchoveta, which has experienced a series of peaks and drastic drops in the last few decades, going from 12.5 million tonnes in 1994 to 4.2 million tonnes in 2010. Fishmeal production peaked in 1994 at 30.2 million tonnes (live weight equivalent) and has followed a fluctuating trend since then. In 2010, it dropped to 15.0 million tonnes owing to reduced catches of anchoveta, representing a 12.9 percent decrease compared with 2009, of 18.2 percent compared with 2008 and of 42.8 percent with respect to 2000. Another important source of raw material for the production of fishmeal is the processing waste from commercial fish species used for human consumption. Growing value addition in fishery products for human consumption leads to more residues, which in the past very often were simply discarded. Nowadays, more and more waste is used in feed markets, and a growing percentage of fishmeal is being obtained from trimmings and other residues from the preparation of fish fillets. According to recent estimates, about 36 percent of world fishmeal production was obtained from offal in 2010.

Utilization of World Fisheries Production (Breakdown by Quantity), 2010


In the past, fishery by-products, including waste, were considered to be of low value, or as a problem to be disposed of in the most convenient way or discarded. In the last two decades, there has been a global trend of growing awareness about the economic, social and environmental aspects of optimal use of fishery by-products, and of the importance of reducing discards and losses in post-harvesting phases (storage, processing and distribution). The utilization of fish by-products has become an important industry in various countries, with a growing focus on handling byproducts in a controlled, safe and hygienic way. Improved processing technologies have also helped in their utilization. In addition to the fishmeal industry, fisheries by-products are also utilized for a wide range of other purposes, including the production of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, other industrial processes, as direct feeding for aquaculture and livestock, incorporation into pet feed or feed for animals kept for fur production, ensiling, fertilizer and landfill. Technologies such as microencapsulation and nanoencapsulation are facilitating incorporation of important nutrients such as fish oils into various other foods. These technologies enable the extension of shelf-life, and provide a taste profile barrier eliminating fish-oil taste and odour while improving the nutritional availability. Chitin and chitosan obtained from shrimp and crab shells have a variety of uses, such as in water treatments, cosmetics and toiletries, food and beverages, agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. From crustacean wastes, also the pigments carotenoids and astaxanthins can be extracted for use in the pharmaceutical industry, and collagen can be extracted from fish skin, fins and other processing discards. Fish silage and fish protein hydrolysates obtained from fish viscera are finding applications in the petfeed and fish-feed industries. Calcium carbonate for industrial use can be obtained from mussel shells. In some countries, oyster shells are used as a raw material in the construction of buildings and for the production of quicklime (calcium oxide). Small fish bones, with a minimum amount of meat, are also consumed as snacks in some Asian countries. A number of anticancer agents have been discovered following research on marine sponges, bryozoans and cnidarians. However, following their discovery, for reasons of conservation, these agents are not extracted from marine organisms directly but are chemically synthesized. Another approach being researched is aquaculture of some sponge species. Fish skin, in particular of larger fish, is exploited to obtain gelatin as well as leather to be used in clothing, shoes, handbags, wallets, belts and other items. Species commonly used for leather include shark, salmon, ling, cod, hagfish, tilapia, Nile perch, carp and seabass. Shark cartilage is utilized in many pharmaceutical preparations and reduced in powder, creams and capsules, as are other parts of sharks, e.g. ovaries, brain, skin and stomach. In addition, shark teeth are used in handicrafts; similarly, the shells of scallops and mussels can be used in handicrafts and jewellery, and for making buttons. Procedures for the industrial preparation of biofuel from fish waste as well as from seaweeds are being developed.

Great technological development in food processing and packaging is in progress, with increases in efficient, effective and lucrative utilization of raw materials, and innovation in product differentiation for human consumption as well as for the production of fishmeal and fish oil. Processors of traditional products have been losing market share as a result of long-term shifts in consumer preferences as well as in processing and in the general fisheries industry. The fish industry is dynamic by nature and, in the last two decades, the utilization and processing of fish production have diversified significantly, fuelled by changing consumer tastes and advances in technology, packaging, logistics and transport. In developed countries, innovation in value addition is converging on convenience foods and a wider range of high-valueadded products, mainly in fresh, frozen, breaded, smoked or canned forms to be marketed as ready and/or portion-controlled, uniform-quality meals. These require sophisticated production equipment and methods and, hence, access to capital.

Supported by cheaper labour, in developing countries, processing is still done through less sophisticated methods of transformation, such as filleting, salting, canning, drying and fermentation. These traditional labour-intensive, fish-processing methods provide livelihood support to large numbers of people in coastal areas in many developing countries, and they will probably remain important components in rural economies structured to promote rural development and poverty alleviation. However, in the last decade, fish processing has been evolving also in many developing countries, with increased fish processing. This may range from simple gutting, heading or slicing to more advanced value addition, such as breading, cooking and individual quick-freezing, depending on the commodity and market value. Some of these developments are driven by demand in the domestic retail industry, by a shift in cultured species, by outsourcing of processing and by the fact that producers in developing countries are increasingly being linked with, and coordinated by, firms located abroad. Supermarket chains and large retailers are also emerging as important players in setting requirements for the products they buy. Processing is becoming more intensive, geographically concentrated, vertically integrated and linked with global supply chains. These changes reflect the increasing globalization of the fisheries value chain, with large retailers controlling the growth of international distribution channels. The increasing practice of outsourcing processing at the regional and world levels is very significant, its extent depending on the species, product form, and cost of labour and transportation. For example, in Europe, smoked and marinated products, for which shelf-life and transportation time are important, are being processed in Central and Eastern Europe, in particular in Poland and in the Baltic States. Whole frozen fish from European and North American markets are sent to Asia (China in particular, but also India and Viet Nam) for filleting and packaging, and then re-imported. The further outsourcing of production to developing countries might be restricted by sanitary and hygiene requirements that are difficult to meet as well as by growing labour costs.

At the same time, processors are frequently becoming more integrated with producers, especially for groundfish, where large processors in Asia, in part, rely on their own fleet of fishing vessels. In aquaculture, large producers of farmed salmon, catfish and shrimp have established advanced centralized processing plants to enhance the product mix, obtain better yields and respond to evolving quality and safety requirements in importing countries. Processors that operate without the purchasing or sourcing power of strong brands are also experiencing increasing problems linked to the scarcity of domestic raw material, and they are being forced to import fish for their business.

August 2012

Further Reading

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