Understanding of global freshwater fish and fishing too shallow, scientists say

November 5, 2014, Michigan State University
Credit: Michigan State University

What sounds counter-intuitive to an activity commonly perceived as quiet is the broad recommendation of scientists at Michigan State University (MSU) recommending that small-scale fishing in the world's freshwater bodies must have a higher profile to best protect global food security.

In this month's journal Global Food Security, scientists note that competition for freshwater is ratcheting up all over the world for municipal use, hydropower, industry, commercial development, and irrigation. Rivers are being dammed and rerouted, lakes and wetlands are being drained, habitats are being altered, nutrients are being lost, and inland waters throughout the world are changing in ways, big and small, that affect fish.

Yet while the commercial fishing enterprises in oceans are accounted for, millions of individuals who fish for subsistence, livelihoods, or recreation are largely unaccounted for. It's a collective voice researchers say need to be heard.

"All over the world there are people catching fish to feed themselves and their families," said So-Jung Youn, a master's degree student in MSU's Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). "Individually it may not seem like much, but it adds up to a significant amount of food, and it's a perspective people too often forget."

Youn is the first author of "The importance of inland capture fisheries to global food security." The paper observes that globally, just 156 of more than 230 countries and territories reported their inland capture fisheries production to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 2010, and that even those reporting have inaccurate and grossly underestimated data. When accurately assessed, the amount of caught could equal the current amount of marine fish caught.

As a result, even though the people pulling in the carp, tilapia and other freshwater fish are playing an important role in enhancing local food security, their importance is not being accurately reflected in the production values that are reported and thus are often invisible in policies and decisions regarding food security and water use.

"It's not a question of whether we should stop using water for other purposes, but we need to consider what harms are being created, and if that can be mitigated, " Youn said. "People are losing jobs and important sources of food because fish habitats are being degraded, greatly reducing fish production in these waters."

William Taylor, MSU University Distinguished Professor in Global Fisheries Systems, says what water is used for is a growing global battle and that fish are a significant part of global . That means, he says, fish need a voice – and part of that voice are the people who eat them.

"Right now, society looks at water and rarely sees or values the fish within," Taylor said. "As such, society often unwittingly uses the water and the land in ways that negatively impact fish habitat, ultimately affecting fish production and distribution."

Fishing on the Amazon at sunsetIn January, Taylor is to chair the Global Conference on Inland at FAO Headquarters in Rome. The conference will address the challenges and opportunities for freshwater fisheries on a global scale, attempting to make the invisible visible to society.

Explore further: Fish moving poleward at rate of 26 kilometres per decade

Related Stories

Fish moving poleward at rate of 26 kilometres per decade

October 10, 2014

Large numbers of fish will disappear from the tropics by 2050, finds a new University of British Columbia study that examined the impact of climate change on fish stocks. The study identified ocean hotspots for local fish ...

30% of fish stocks overexploited: UN agency

July 9, 2012

Almost 30 percent of fish stocks monitored by the UN's food agency are overexploited, undermining the crucial role sustainable fisheries play in providing food and jobs for millions, a report said Monday.

Fish "personality" linked to vulnerability to angling

October 28, 2014

Individual differences in moving activity in a novel environment are linked to individual differences in vulnerability to angling, according to an experimental study completed at the University of Eastern Finland and the ...

Plastic nanoparticles also harm freshwater organisms

October 18, 2014

Organisms can be negatively affected by plastic nanoparticles, not just in the seas and oceans but in freshwater bodies too. These particles slow the growth of algae, cause deformities in water fleas and impede communication ...

Recommended for you

Microbial dark matter dominates Earth's environments

September 26, 2018

Uncultured microbes—those whose characteristics have never been described because they have not yet been grown in a lab culture—could be dominating nearly all the environments on Earth except for the human body, according ...

How leaves talk to roots

September 26, 2018

New findings show that a micro RNA from the shoot keeps legume roots susceptible to symbiotic infection by downregulating a gene that would otherwise hinder root responses to symbiotic bacteria. These findings reveal what ...

Team names world's largest ever bird—Vorombe titan

September 25, 2018

After decades of conflicting evidence and numerous publications, scientists at international conservation charity ZSL's (Zoological Society of London) Institute of Zoology, have finally put the 'world's largest bird' debate ...

The grim, final days of a mother octopus

September 25, 2018

Octopuses are the undisputed darlings of the science internet, and for good reason. They're incredibly intelligent problem-solvers and devious escape artists with large, complex nervous systems. They have near-magical abilities ...

Climate change not main driver of amphibian decline

September 25, 2018

While a warming climate in recent decades may be a factor in the waning of some local populations of frogs, toads, newts and salamanders, it cannot explain the overall steep decline of amphibians, according to researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.