Fisheries have an increasingly important role to play in feeding the world’s rapidly burgeoning population, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

At a day-long briefing in Rome earlier this month the FAO told a meeting of the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations, people have never consumed as much fish as they do today.

Per capita global fish consumption has doubled since the 1960s.

Fish provides more than 20 percent of the average per capita animal protein intake for three billion people.

Fisheries sustainability is critical for marine ecosystems and to communities dependent on the resource.

The FAO says that while no universal definition exists, there is general consensus that sustainability is about meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own.

In the New Zealand context, that approach is embodied in the concept of kaitiakitanga, of guardianship.

The needs of all parties include a complex array of objectives, including food provision, employment, income and nutrition, as well as a wide range of social aspects.

When the FAO was founded in 1945 in the ashes of World War II, the fear was the world would not be able to feed its three billion people.

Now our planet is contending with three times that number by mid-century.

That presents the challenge of balancing biodiversity conservation with fisheries objectives.

The FAO is aiming to address that with a new approach to fisheries sustainability in the 21st century in an international symposium in Rome in November that will draw together a wide range of stakeholders.

“It is a very fragmented world, one dominated by fear,” FAO director Manuel Barange told the ICFA delegates.

“We need to free people from fear so that they can get the facts.”

The agenda will include challenges, opportunities and trade-offs for reconciliation of both fisheries and conservation management objectives.

How does future fisheries management balance livelihoods, food security and conservation needs?

And what are the trade-offs that society is prepared to take to balance those objectives?

The FAO ideal is to have all the world’s stocks at sufficient biomass to support maximum sustainable yield.

The ICFA countries met for two days at Sant Anselmo in Rome, a Benedictine teaching monastery on the Aventine hill.

Those represented – US, UK, France, Spain, Netherlands, Iceland, Denmark, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Peru, Australian and New Zealand – shared respective current issues.

ICFA members represent countries harvesting around 85 percent of the annual global catch.

New Zealand highlighted the potential impact the anti-fishing lobby is having on fishers’ livelihoods and warned no country was immune to trade threats to both export and domestic markets.

John Connelly, president of America’s National Fisheries Institute, summed up their major issue in just two words - “President Trump”.

The current trade war is particularly damaging to US fisheries that process in China, being hit with both import and export tariffs.

The level of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains a major concern and there is no accurate assessment of its extent.

The total IUU catch was estimated at 26 million tonnes in 2009 but that was based on 2007 date and “was just a desk exercise”.

The main tool to combat the illegal trade is agreement among countries on port status checks, according to an FAO fisheries director Matthew Camilleri.

“It is becoming more difficult for misbehaving countries to operate,” he said.