EAST LANSING, Mich., Nov. 10 (UPI) -- There's power in numbers -- but also in concentration. Ocean fishing is not only big business, but it's consolidated. Because of that, its interests are well-spoken for and widely considered when it comes to policy decisions, resource management and conservation efforts.
The opposite is true for freshwater fishing -- according to a new study by researchers at Michigan State University -- which happens in isolation and is largely unaccounted for, losing out to other freshwater interests like hydropower and irrigation. This fact, they argue, could have important implications for food security, especially in developing countries.
"Right now, society looks at water and rarely sees or values the fish within," William Taylor, Distinguished Professor in Global Fisheries Systems at Michigan State, said in a press release. "As such, society often unwittingly uses the water and the land in ways that negatively impact fish habitat, ultimately affecting fish production and distribution."
"All over the world there are people catching fish to feed themselves and their families," explained lead study So-Jung Youn, a graduate student in Michigan State's sustainability program. "Individually it may not seem like much, but it adds up to a significant amount of food, and it's a perspective people too often forget."
The interests of those who fish, for both sustenance and recreation, are regularly ignored -- not only because they practice in isolation and are often disorganized, but also because their activities are often under- or un-reported.
Only 156 of more than 230 countries and territories offered freshwater fisheries production data to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in 2010.
Taylor and So-Jung say individual fishermen, hauling carp, tilapia and other freshwater species from rivers, lakes, ponds and reservoirs, play a significant but unacknowledged part of the food supply system and local economy. As more and more rivers are dammed and rerouted, and as wetlands are drained, small-scale fishing and the food resources they provide are increasingly under threat.
"It's not a question of whether we should stop using water for other purposes, but we need to consider what harms are being created, and if they can be mitigated," Youn said. "People are losing jobs and important sources of food because fish habitats are being degraded, greatly reducing fish production in these waters."
The study was published last month in the journal Global Food Security.