Freshwater fish play an important role in global food security, particularly in low-income nations. But scientists and policymakers have never had a good grasp on exactly how much freshwater fish people eat. Now, a new survey of 548,000 households in 42 low-income countries finds families eat 9.26 million metric tons of wild-caught freshwater fish annually — 65 percent more than previously estimated.
That quantity of fish is enough to cover the total annual animal protein consumption of 36.9 million people, according to an analysis of the surveys published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The findings, which include surveys conducted from 1997 to 2014, indicate that one-third of the global inland fish harvest goes unreported. The surveys also suggest that more care should be given to protecting freshwater fish stocks and that aquaculture production alone will likely not be adequate to replace lost food sources if these stocks drastically decline. The research was done by ecologists and food scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
“These hidden harvests from rivers and lakes have resulted in long-standing underappreciation of the contribution of inland fisheries to food security in low-income countries,” the study authors write, “which leads in turn to inadequate accounting for the value of freshwater fisheries in decisions about dams, irrigation, flood control, and other water uses.”