A new study found that inland fisheries are underreporting how many fish are caught and consumed each year.
The research shows that food reports and data meant to keep track of where the world’s food is going and coming from underestimates how much inland fisheries supply to low-income countries.
Fish are an important source of protein, however, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted a study to show that harvest reports from inland fisheries are unreliable and based on insufficient monitoring.
Every year, food production reports are sent to the Food And Agriculture Organization, a part of the United Nations, and these reports make up a large part of how we understand and track global food security.
Given the importance of accurate food reports for food security and preventing starvation and malnutrition, the study emphasizes the need for better harvest records of inland fisheries.
The results were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Part of the reason inland fisheries have a difficult time reporting accurate harvests is that the majority of fisheries are small-scale operations located in low-income countries.
Some of the fish harvested in these areas are for personal consumption and not sold which means that they are not reported to the UN.
“Subsistence fishers may not rely on fishing as their primary occupation for their livelihood and then they might consume some or all their catch within their household, so the fish never enters any formal value chain,” said Etienne Fluet-Chouinard, the lead author of the study.
To better understand the role inland fisheries play in local and global food chains, the researchers reviewed Household Consumption Expenditure Surveys which are conducted as a way to estimate living standards.
Data from over half a million surveys in 42 low and middle-income countries were considered for the study, and the researchers found that people were catching far more fish than was being reported every year.
The 42 countries were underestimating their harvests by 65 percent.
“Approximately one out of every three fish caught is not showing up in the national statistics,” said Fluet-Chouinard. “In a lot of those countries, the resource is important because it is an open-access resource, so even disenfranchised groups can tap it as a source of animal protein.
Fluet-Chouinard notes that it’s possible that nearly 200 million people are getting all their animal protein from rivers and lakes.
The results are extremely problematic because the Food And Agriculture Organization relies on reports to make decisions about management and sustainability, and if these fisheries become threatened, many people would lose their main source of protein.