After reading my posts on the international arms trade, a friend thought I might be interested in some data on the international trade in fish. While I know almost as little about fish as about arms, I always welcome good data. The data in question is published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. The FAO also hosts FAOStat, which looks like an interesting data repository. If I can get myself a subscription to this service, it may provide the subject matter for future posts on the Mule.
But back to the fish. The first point my correspondent made was that many fish exporters are also importers. Among the top 50 importers of fish, all but 16 countries also appear in the list of the top 50 exporters. The chart below* gives an indication of the relative scale of fish imports and exports in 2006 of the top 10 importing countries. Of these big importers, only China and Denmark export even more fish than they import.
Fish Trade by the Top 10 Importers (2006)
But the real mystery my fishy correspondent alerted me to is the difference between total worldwide imports and exports of fish. According to the figures, total worldwide imports of fish amounted to US $89.6 billion while exports only amounted to US $85.9 billion. That would appear to mean that US $3.7 billion worth of fish was imported in 2006 from nowhere! While I am sure that statistics of this kind may not be too accurate, the report does report each country’s trade figures to the nearest US $1000, so it seems to be a big difference. I speculated that some countries were not admitting to exporting whale meat to Japan, but my correspondent pointed out that whales are not fish. While the US Supreme court has ruled that tomatoes are vegetables, I do not know their view on whales, and this is probably not the answer anyway. Any theories out there, readers?
At the suggestion of singingfish, I will be making available the code used to produce charts here on the Stubborn Mule. Most of the charts are produced using the R statistical package, which is free and open-source. R can be downloaded here. The data and code for the chart above is here. I will gradually add the code for charts from older posts as well.
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that my correspondent also suggested fish rain as an explanation. I, however, am not convinced. Regardless of the original source, I am sure most countries would treat fish rain as a natural bounty rather than an import.
* Tip for reading the chart: there is no label on the right hand side for the USA and no label on the left for Denmark, but following the lines should make it obvious where they would be if there was room.