It’s Time to Focus on the Forgotten Fisheries

By Janeen Madan

“While marine fisheries are under increasing scrutiny, those based on river and lake systems rarely engage the international community- an oversight of potentially profound implications,” warned Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the launch of a new report entitled Blue Harvest, compiled by UNEP and The WorldFish Centre.

An estimated 100 million people in Africa depend on fish, from inland sources, for their daily intake of protein, as well as important micronutrients, especially vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

This report highlights the vital importance of often-neglected inland fisheries, by focusing on their role in supporting nutrition, generating jobs, and sustaining healthy ecosystems.

In Africa, an estimated 100 million people depend on fish from inland sources, such as lakes and rivers, not only for protein, but also for much-needed micronutrients, especially vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc. Inland fisheries also generate as many as 60 million jobs, of which 33 million are carried out by women. In India alone, 5.5 million people are engaged in fishing and fishing-related occupations. Furthermore, by consuming plankton, insects and plants, fish play an important role in maintaining ecosystem balance. And, nutrients from fish eggs, carcasses and excretion help support the production of algae and other freshwater organisms.

But, as rivers are dammed and lakes are polluted by untreated waste water, inland fisheries are declining due to the loss of fish habitats and spawning grounds. And, environmental factors, such as fluctuations in seasonal flood patterns and reductions in river flow, are also putting increasing pressure on available fish stocks.

Fish catches from the Niger River, the principle river in West Africa, for example, have fallen due to dam building and drought related reductions in river flow. And in China, as a result of pollution from major cities, such as Nanjing and Beijing, 25 billion tons of waste water is released into the Yangtze River annually.

The Blue Harvest report urges countries to adopt an integrated “ecosystem approach” to manage inland fisheries. This approach “considers ecosystems as holistic living systems and recognizes that they provide a host of different interconnected services, rather than just a resource base to be exploited.”

According to Patrick Dugan, at The WorldFish Center and lead author of the report, “Recent achievements in the U.S. and the Vu Gia-Thu Ban River basin in Vietnam show that political will and careful planning can provide win-win solutions. These have kept some river corridors free from dams, while others are managed for both environmental and hydropower objectives. We need urgently to replicate these successes more widely and in larger rivers if we are to sustain the world’s inland fisheries.”

To learn more about the importance of fisheries and innovations in fishing, fish processing, and fish markets, see: Turning the Catch of the Day into Improved Livelihoods for the Whole Community, “Greening” Fisheries Could Calm Troubled Waters, The Tanji Fish Market, Fishing for Innovations That Conserve Fisheries, Tapping Local Ingenuity to Raise Fish and Livestock, Fishing for Recognition and Support, Catch of the Day: Choosing Seafood for Healthier Oceans and Farming Fish for the Future.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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