The Four "Fs" of Fish

We recently had the distinct pleasure of meeting Abby Lynch, a fisheries research scientist with Michigan State University.  Please read her great story below and look for more from her on The Fisheries Blog in the coming months.

Some time ago, on my way back home after an international trip, I was asked by the immigrations officer at passport control what my profession was.

I said, “I am a fisheries scientist.”

“Huh,” he said. “I’ve never heard that one before. So, you work with fish?”

“Yes; I study how environmental factors and fishing pressure influence fish populations.”

I suppose my answer was sufficient for him; he just stamped my passport and moved on to the next person in line. But, reflecting on the event, it was a missed opportunity for me to explain why fish are important to him, even if he had never thought about fish before. Fish are valuable for a lot of reasons; but, in the 30 seconds I spent with that immigrations officer, I could have boiled it down to the four “Fs” of fish: food, finances, fun, and function.

  • Food: Three billion people (> 40% of global population) depend directly upon fish as an important source of nutrition;
  • Finances: 540 million people (8% of global population) depend upon fishery industries for livelihood and income;
  • Fun: In the U.S. alone, anglers spend over $40 billion in support of fishing activities annually; and,
  • Function: Fish comprise more than half of all vertebrate animal species and occupy all major aquatic habitats.

Food

How’s the fish?
Fish meal is often used in feed for other livestock.
So, eating that turkey leg is possible thanks to fish.

Capture fisheries are the last large-scale wild food resource in the world and aquaculture is a quickly growing sector. Both provide essential protein and nutrients to many across the globe. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), fish directly provide more than 1.5 billion people with almost 20% of their animal protein and another 3.0 billion with at least 15%. Combined, that means fish are directly feeding more than 40% of the world’s human population. Fish are also an important indirect source of protein for many others who generally do not realize it. Fish meal and oil is often an important component of feed for livestock. So, choosing between chicken and fish as meal options may, in fact, be choosing between fish…and reprocessed fish.

Finances
FAO estimates that global first-sale value of capture fisheries and aquaculture is $192.3 billion, annually. That’s the equivalent of one-seventh of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product. And, it’s only the first-sale value of the fish – only the first step in a potentially long supply chain. In terms of jobs, 44.9 million people are employed by fisheries or aquaculture systems, according to FAO. All of these FAO estimates are likely to be gross underestimates because of difficulties with reporting in many countries and many fisheries. Even still, at minimum, fisheries employ more than 20 times more people than Walmart, the world’s largest private employer.

Fun
Fish are also fun. From watching fish in the dentist office waiting room to fish on the end of a fly rod, people enjoy many fishy hobbies. While these personal experiences are extremely important to the people who have them, they can be appreciated even by folks that don’t in terms of money. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimates that Americans spend $41.8 billion on angling activities alone. That’s a massive industry and the estimate doesn’t even include others involving fish, such as SCUBA diving and the aquarium trade.

Function
Fish are the most diverse group of vertebrates on earth – almost 28,000 species — more than half of all living vertebrate species. They also inhabit almost every aquatic ecosystem on the planet. They are often equated to aquatic “canaries in a coal mine” because they are indicators of ecosystem health and, in some cases, a litmus test for potential impacts of environmental change on humans.

So, the next time I go through passport control, I might meet an immigrations officer who eats fish or is a recreational angler. For him or her, the importance of fish will be an easy sell. But, if I meet another officer that doesn’t have any direct contact with fish, I’ll be ready with a better answer — the four Fs of fish: food, finances, fun, and function!

By Abby Lynch

For more information, please refer to:
Lynch, A. J. and W. W. Taylor 2013. The Four Fs of Fish: Communicating the Public Value of Fish and Fisheries. Fisheries 38(1): 43-33.

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2 responses to “The Four "Fs" of Fish

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