In the absence of complete freshwater fish catch data, how can we assess and value the contribution of freshwater fish to local consumption? This is the central question recently explored by Fluet-Chouinard et al. in Global hidden harvest of freshwater fish revealed by household surveys. Understanding that "experts have long believed that fish catches from rivers and lakes are underreported" they backcalculated freshwater fish harvests using surveys of household consumption. Having collected data from 548,000 households across 42 countries, they found that:
- freshwater catches are likely to be ∼65% higher than officially reported
- these hidden harvests are concentrated in low-income countries where they represent the equivalent of the total annual animal protein consumption of 36.9 million people, and
- long-term underreporting of inland fisheries masks their critical role in feeding the world’s poor and complicates using catch statistics to evaluate the impact of overharvest and ecosystem degradation
This study provides a way of estimating inland water freshwater fish production in a manner that maybe easier than the difficult task of assessing and monitoring freshwater fish catches. Additionally, it yields useful information on people's diets and the nutrient contribution of fish to those diets. As noted above, the headline finding is that we currently underestimate global inland fish catches by 65%. Inland fish catches are more important than we thought, and need to be considered in water resource management and food and nutrition policies.
This week, Eddie and colleague Dave Mills of WorldFish published a commentary piece to Fluet-Chouinard et al.'s publication, entitled Counting the fish eaten rather than the fish caught in which they argue that Fluet-Chouinard's use of household food consumption surveys provides a critical methodology and potential solution to long-term underreporting of inland fisheries. This methodology contributes to a rapidly growing policy discussion about the role of fish in nutrition and food security.
Both articles are available upon request.