From: Nicole Winfield, Associated Press
Published June 12, 2007 12:00 AM

U.N. Seeks to Conserve Genetic Resources

ROME -- The United Nations is stepping up its campaign to conserve the world's genetic resources so crops and animals can adapt to global warming and other challenges, focusing on fish for the first time since fish are increasingly being bred to meet the world's food needs.

Fish farming, or aquaculture, has grown enormously in recent years, representing a $70.3 billion market in 2004 alone. Farmed fish are increasingly being consumed as wild fish stocks decline from overfishing, pollution and the effects of climate change.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization this week is hosting a meeting on preserving the world's genetic resources, a topic which to date has focused on crops and livestock. This year the agency is focusing on fish, and is urging governments to better conserve the world's fish genes since genetic diversity is critical for breeding.

"10,000 years ago, we started domesticating crops, and 6,000 years ago animals," noted Devin Bartley, senior fisheries resources officer at the Rome-based agency.

"With fish, we've only had the ability to breed them in hatcheries since the late 1950s or 60s. So we're just now starting that process of domestication and genetic improvement" that can lead to production growths of up to 20 percent, he said.

But in order to breed better, meatier fish, scientists need more information about their genetic makeup -- and that information is spotty at best, according to a FAO study. FAO is hoping governments devote more money and attention to change that.

Farmed fish now represent about 35 percent of world fish production -- up from about 3.9 percent in 1970, the study said.

In 2004, fish farms produced 59.4 million tons of fish and aquatic plants, valued at US$70.3 billion, the report said. Fish caught in the wild that year totaled 95 million tons, worth about US$84.9 billion.

FAO estimates that by 2030, an additional 40 million tons of fish per year are required to fulfill consumer needs, and Bartley says much of that will come from fish farms.

"Certainly with human population growth, there's a limited production from capture fisheries," or fishing in the wild, he said. "With aquaculture, and especially with genetic improvement, we're growing better fish on less feed, and that's going to go a long way to meeting this increased demand."


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