A new study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says we are dramatically underestimating the role inland fisheries play in global food security.
While it’s widely known that people across the world rely on freshwater fishes caught in lakes, rivers and streams to supply protein in their diet, putting a number on the global catch – or even the catch from individual fisheries – has been challenging.
Every year, countries report on all their food production and trade to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. These statistics are the backbone of what we know about human nutrition worldwide, and this information is used by many organizations as their basis for targeted interventions to improve food security and alleviate malnutrition.
But, says Etienne Fluet-Chouinard, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology and lead author of the paper, when it comes to inland fisheries, those numbers are often unreliable because they are based on deficient monitoring.
Freshwater fisheries are mostly found in low-income countries where they are dispersed across the landscape. They are also almost exclusively small-scale operations. Traditional methods of quantifying fish harvests are insufficient under these conditions.
For example, Fluet-Chouinard says, “subsistence fishers may not rely on fishing as their primary occupation for their livelihood and then they might consume some or all their catch within their household, so the fish never enters any formal value chain.”