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Freshwater fisheries need a fresh start

13 November 2018, at 9:30am

The freshwater fisheries sector has not unleashed its full potential in Europe and Central Asia, as river habitats face serious ecological, economic and regulatory challenges, according to the FAO.

Freshwater ecosystems accommodate 40 percent of the world’s fish species and contribute directly to the food security of rural households. With 11.47 million tonnes per year, inland fisheries account for 12 percent of the global fish catch, according to the latest numbers from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

These topics will be discussed today and tomorrow at a conference in Bucharest on river habitat restoration for inland fisheries in the Danube River basin and adjacent Black Sea areas, organized jointly by FAO, EUROFISH, and other partners.

The conference is organized around four themes: valuing inland fisheries resources, conservation and management, regulatory framework, and shared country experiences. During a final round-table discussion, participants will develop recommendations that can guide policy-makers in evidence-based decision making. The proceedings from the conference will be available in both English and Russian.

FAO senior fisheries and aquaculture officer Victoria Chomo
FAO senior fisheries and aquaculture officer Victoria Chomo

“Inland fisheries’ contribution to food security and rural livelihoods has often been overlooked in policy discussions, partly due to a lack of data and economic valuation of this important sector,” said FAO senior fisheries and aquaculture officer Victoria Chomo, secretary of the European Inland Fisheries and Aquaculture Advisory Commission, “not to mention the growing contribution to human health through recreation and eco-tourism services that river habitats and sport fishing can provide.”

However, due to a lack of official statistics on inland capture and recreational fishing, this sector is likely making a much larger contribution to the food security of riparian households than official statistics indicate. Inland fisheries provide diversified income for landlocked countries that do not have access to marine resources, especially in Central Asia.

“Women, in particular, benefit from inland fisheries, as they make up half the global workforce along the inland fisheries value chain – much more than in marine fisheries,” Chomo said.

Inland fisheries also provide several other advantages. Food loss and waste from inland fisheries – including by-catch, the unwanted fish and other animals caught during the fishing process – are significantly lower than marine capture fisheries, partly due to the higher level of home consumption and the shorter supply chains. In addition, the protein provided by inland fisheries has a much lower carbon footprint than marine capture fisheries or terrestrial meat production.

In Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, the sector’s challenges include river segmentation, which impacts commercially valuable but endangered migratory species such as sturgeon and the European eels, which also suffer from illegal fishing. Declining fish stocks and loss of biodiversity are caused by human activities and by a number of external drivers, such as climate change, that lead to depleted fish habitats. In the competition over freshwater sources, more powerful sectors such as agriculture and energy limit the quality and quantity of water available for inland fisheries.

Again, the lack of accurate economic valuation of the sector’s contribution to food security, livelihoods and the whole supply chain prevents sound decisions regarding the allocation of these scarce natural resources among competing uses. This is one of the issues addressed by today’s conference.

Scientists, experts and governmental representatives from around 30 countries in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia will participate. As a forum for the exchange of country-level experiences and regional research findings, the venue will facilitate scientific discussions on the issues facing rivers and inland fisheries and provide evidence-based policy advice for improved sharing and management of these resources, including the protection of endangered sturgeon as a flagship species of the Danube River.

The conference is co-hosted by the Romanian Ministry of Waters and Forests, the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Danube Sturgeon Task Force, and the International Association for Danube Research. A field visit for participants to a research facility is organized by the Government of Romania.

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