Future of Inland Fisheries
Robin L. Welcomme
Fish from inland waters are an important source of food rich in protein, micronutrients, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals, with a yield, reported to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) by member countries, of around 11 million metric tons in 2011. Although this only contributes about 2.5% to global animal protein supply, it is extremely important in certain countries, principally in Asia and Africa where many communities are dependent on inland waters for livelihoods and food. About 57 million people are directly employed by the inland food fisheries sector worldwide. In addition, inland water fish support extensive and valuable recreational fisheries and a range of ecosystem services. Inland aquaculture contributed a further 39 million metric tons in 2011 and, together with capture fisheries, contributes nearly 12% of the animal protein consumed worldwide. These figures are possibly unreliable because the geographically diffuse, multispecies, multigear nature of inland fisheries makes the collection of statistics difficult in many member countries, whereas in others the administrative infrastructure for collection and processing of such data is lacking. Based on visits to more than 80 countries in my work for FAO, I feel the reported catches to be low because many smaller fisheries are often omitted from the reports, a view echoed by others who feel that global catches from inland waters are more likely to be about 14 million metric tons per year. The increasing pressures on inland waters make the various lake, river, and wetland ecosystems extremely vulnerable, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature tells us that freshwater aquatic species are among the most in danger of extinction. The social, ecological, and dietary significance of inland fisheries makes it extremely important that our profession try to determine the future direction of the sector to better shape policies for management and conservation.