Freshwater, Fish, and the Future

The first global conference on inland fisheries was held January 26-28th, 2015 at the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome, Italy.

 By Abigail Lynch

Inland fisheries are loosely defined by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as capture fisheries and aquaculture above mean tide levels.  While reported inland capture landings are modest in comparison to marine capture landings (marine catches are seven times higher), inland fisheries serve important nutritional, economic, cultural, and recreational roles.  Inland fish are a major source of protein, essential fats, and micronutrients for hundreds of millions of people.  More than 60 million people in low income countries rely upon inland fisheries as a source of livelihood and women represent over half of the individuals in the inland fisheries supply chain.  They provide cultural and recreational services and contributions to human health and well-being.

While fishing, itself, is often the largest anthropogenic influence on marine fisheries, inland fisheries are often impacted by other societal needs and uses of water resources, particularly competition for freshwater needed for agricultural production, human consumption, and power generation.    Despite the importance of inland fish and inland fisheries, they are often underappreciated in agricultural, land-use, and water resource planning.


First, inland fisheries are difficult to assess and have complicated or unclear governance systems.  Obtaining accurate information about inland fisheries production is, inherently, a difficult process because most inland fisheries activity is small-scale, highly dispersed, and generally unreported to governmental agencies.  Second,  inland fisheries often “compete” with other economically and socially important sectors (such as agriculture, hydropower, and transportation).  Because assessment is difficult, valuation of inland fisheries is limited and the role of inland fisheries in individual well-being and societal prosperity and stability is often unknown.

Participants from 46 nations converged on Rome for the Global Inland Fisheries Conference.
Participants from 46 nations converged on Rome for the Global Inland Fisheries Conference.

The first Global Conference on Inland Fisheries: Freshwater, Fish, and the Future convened January 26-28th to address these issues.  Two hundred and twenty delegates from 46 countries converged on FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy to examine cross-sectoral approaches to sustain livelihoods, food security, and aquatic ecosystems.  Rather than “fish people” preaching to “fish people,” the conference aimed to engage all water resource users for practical discussions aimed at “win-win” solutions for all sectors.   Conference participants self-selected into four working groups based on the conference’s four themes:

  • Biological Assessment
  • Economic and Social Assessment
  • Drivers and Synergies
  • Policy and Governance

These working groups conducted facilitated discussions based on their theme and reported back to the full group on their findings and recommendations.  These discussions are being consolidated into formal conference recommendations which will be made publicly available on the conference website.  The conference organizers aim to use these recommendations to communicate the value of inland fish and fisheries, develop new and novel research strategies, and lay the foundation for a High-Level Policy Panel which will make formal recommendations to the FAO Committee on Fisheries member nations.

Word cloud from a discussion on "win-win" scenarios for inland fish and fisheries.
Word cloud from a conference discussion on “win-win” scenarios for inland fish and fisheries.

Beyond fisheries policy recommendations, the next step for inland fisheries professionals is to take a lesson from the non-fishery participants at the conference and return the favor.  Engage more closely with other water resource users: attend their meetings; engage with their professional communities; learn their languages.  If anything was learned by all at the conference, it was that inland fish and fisheries cannot be a stand alone sector.  While the fish are important, so are the other water resource users.  Only through reaching out and looking for policies and practices that are complimentary to other sectors will inland fish and fisheries get a place at the decision-making table — not the dinner table — they, surely, already have a place there 🙂

For more information: #InFish


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