Around the world
Closely mirroring the global population pattern, in 2002 87% of the world's fishers were concentrated in Asia - most notably in China where the reported number of people engaged in cultivation of aquatic life has doubled in the pst decade. This compares with 77% in 1970 and 80% in 1980.
Africa, where artisanal fisheries still dominate but local industrial fisheries are gradually developing, represented 6.9 percent of the world's fishers. Between 1970 and 1990 the number of Africa's fishers grew by 37% to 1.9 million.
South America declined in its world share of fishers from 4% in 1970 to 2% in 2000.
Europe has dropped markedly from 5.4 % in 1970 to 3.6% in 1980 and 2.3% ten years later, remaining fairly stable at 2% in 2000. Despite decreases in employment opportunities offered by the long-range fleets operating in distant marine fisheries as a consequence of the widespread extension of national fisheries jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles, the number of European fishers increased in absolute terms between 1980 and 1990. Part of this increase is probably due to the emerging aquaculture industry.
In scantily populated Oceania, commercial fishers only number about 0.3% the world total, but often account for a significant part of the economically active population in agriculture, and in its Small Island Developing States the fish they produce is crucial for the food security of the population.
Growth in developing countries
In 2000, 97% of the world's fishers were from developing countries and produced over 75% of the 130.4 million tonnes of global catch. In most developing countries of low and middle-income, where the majority of people are employed in the agricultural sector, those employed in fishing and aquaculture has been growing steadily. In industrialized economies offering occupational alternatives, the numbers of fishers have been on a declining trend or at best stationary. For instance in two important fishing countries, Japan and Norway, the number of fishers more than halved in the last three decades.
In many countries, fishing is a seasonal or a part-time occupation, peaking in the months when riverine, coastal and offshore resources are more abundant or available, but leaving time in seasonal lows to other activities. This is especially true in fisheries for migratory species and those subject to seasonal weather variations. In 1990 full-time fishers - that is, according to the definition used in compiling the data, those receiving at least 90% of their livelihood from fishing - numbered close to 12 million people (or 41% of the total), while an additional 10 million people, identified as part-time fishers, were those deriving between 30 and 89% of their income from fishing. The remaining 6.5 million people were occasional fishers who acquired only less than 30% of their livelihood from fishing and aquaculture.
While employment in fisheries is not the sole indicator of the importance of the sector to a national economy, it is interesting to note that in 2000 fishers represented 2.6% of the population economically active in agriculture, compared to 2.3% ten years earlier. Furthermore, fisheries and aquaculture provide local employment opportunities - indeed those two industries are the backbone of coastal areas.
There are wide variations among countries in fishery labour productivity and in capital intensity. Highly industrialized fisheries generally employ few fishers per unit of output. For instance, in 1995 each of Iceland's 5 600 fishers - 600 of whom are women - produced an average 280 tonnes of fish. Also in 1995, it took 301 000 Japanese fishers, including 54 000 women, to produce 6.7 million tonnes of fish, while nearly 6 million Indian fishers produced some 5 million tonnes of fish.