Michigan State President Lou Anna K. Simon signed the document with FAO Assistant Director-General Arni Mathiesen as part of the first Global Conference on Inland Fisheries, 26-28 January at FAO headquarters in Rome, Italy.
The MSU/FAO relationship is expected to include a visiting scholar programme at MSU; student internships; a new assistant professorship in global inland fisheries ecology and management; and a hybrid online/fieldwork course.
Such programmes will help attract and develop the sorts of broadly capable and globally aware talent necessary to address the multidimensional challenges that inland fisheries face, Ms Simon said.
“Through programmes such as these we hope to elevate the profile of inland fisheries and aquaculture in global discussions on food and economic security, and on sustainable land development and water management,” she said.
Ms Simon joins some 20 MSU faculty, students, post-doctoral scholars and recent alumni at the conference, which MSU is jointly sponsoring with the FAO.
More than 60 million people in low-income nations are estimated to rely on inland fisheries for their livelihood. More than half are women often directly providing for their families. In the developed world, freshwater fisheries are the backbone of lucrative recreation and sport industries.
Yet global competition for fresh water is increasing for municipal use, hydropower, industry and agriculture. Rivers are being dammed and rerouted, lakes and wetlands are being drained and fish habitats altered without an understanding of the full impact.
"Fish always have been representative of how well humans are doing with their environment," said Bill Taylor, University Distinguished Professor in Global Fisheries Systems in MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability.
"It's time for us to make a move and speak for the fish to have them valued along with power, commercial, agriculture and other competition for water."
One of the largest issues is the lack of hard numbers. Mr Taylor, who has established an international reputation in inland fisheries, said that his research group recently reported that globally, just 156 of more than 230 countries and territories reported their inland capture fisheries production to the FAO in 2010. Moreover, even those reporting have inaccurate and grossly underestimated data.