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Tiny fish could help tackle global malnutrition

A new study published in the journal Nature Food has found that tiny fish could play a crucial part in tackling malnutrition and the food insecurity crisis across the globe. According to the scientists, small species of fish, such as herring, sardines, and anchovies, are the cheapest source of nutritious fish found in a large number of low- and middle-income countries, and are frequently caught in large quantities in the waters of nations that currently experience malnutrition. 

Malnutrition is rising in sub-Saharan Africa, with an estimated ten million children suffering from wasting and 55 million children being stunted by inadequate diets. However, these new findings show that just 20 percent of small pelagic fish caught locally could provide all children under five years of age living near the sea or lakes with a daily portion of highly nutritious food.

“Our findings show that nutrients critical to tackling malnutrition are within the reach of vulnerable people living nearby coastal and freshwater ecosystems across the globe,” said study lead author James Robinson, an expert in coral reef fisheries and climate change at the Lancaster University.

“These small locally-caught fish are packed with nutrients key for sustaining healthy diets, are already caught in sufficient numbers, and are affordable. Small pelagic fisheries must be fished sustainably, and catches must reach vulnerable local populations.”

Scientists have long known that these species of fish – which are widespread in the poor regions of the Global South – are rich in iron, zinc, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and selenium. Now, this study provides evidence that they are also much more affordable than other fish, and can thus offer a local and cheap source of micronutrients for people threatened with poverty and malnutrition. Unfortunately, the researchers warn that there are threats to the supply of these tiny fish from overfishing, as well as competing demand from industries dealing with fish oils or animal feeds.

“The need for locally accessible, cheap, and nutritious food sources has never been greater. Our study helps to shine a light on the ‘hidden’ environmental, social, economic and governance contributions of small-scale fisheries, focusing attention on the importance of policy making for sustainable and equitable management of small-scale fisheries,” concluded study co-author Godfred Asiedu, a fisheries policy and enforcement advisor at the Ghana Fisheries Recovery Activity.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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