Inland fisheries around the world – and the people who depend on them for food, livelihoods, and well-being – need international cross-sectoral action to improve the sustainability of freshwater aquatic resources, according to recommendations supported last week at the Committee on Fisheries (COFI) meeting at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. “The Rome Declaration: Ten Steps to Responsible Inland Fisheries” synthesizes the results of a 2015 international conference of nearly 250 experts from more than 40 countries. A side event also launched the publication of the conference proceedings book, Freshwater, Fish and the Future, co-published by FAO, Michigan State University (MSU), and the American Fisheries Society.

Freshwater fish provide food, livelihoods, and ecosystem services to millions of people, especially in low-income countries, yet their value is generally not adequately considered in water use, energy, and development decisions. Freshwater fisheries around the world may appear to be very different, but their value to local communities and the threats to their sustainability are often similar.

“As outlined in FAO’s latest report on the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, the challenges facing local inland fisheries – for example, competition for water, dams and diversions that interfere with fish migration, and a changing climate – are global and found in developed and developing countries alike,” said Árni Mathiesen, Assistant Director-General Fisheries and Aquaculture Department, FAO.

The challenges to inland fisheries are also critical to the 60 million people who rely on freshwater fish for livelihoods – over half of whom are women. Fish is also an essential source of protein and other nutrients that cannot easily be replaced with other food sources.

“Rivers in Asia, Africa, and South America provide fish that serve as a major food source for millions of people,” said June Pierce Youatt, Provost, MSU. “These are not people who have the option to buy alternative nutritious foods at the local markets – they live in rural communities in some of the poorest nations on earth and rely on ready access to a plentiful supply of fish.”

FAO and MSU are collaborating to bring greater awareness of the value and sustainability challenges of inland fisheries around the world. With the publication of the proceedings and the Rome Declaration’s ten recommendations, the next step is regional implementation. FAO is working on updating the global state of inland fishery resources and developing new projects. MSU is joining this effort with faculty positions, internships, a visiting scholars and immersive experience program, and an upcoming online course on inland fisheries that will be available to students throughout the world.

“The Rome Declaration is bringing new attention to both the value and vulnerability of this resource,” Youatt said. “MSU is proud to partner with FAO to work on an issue with so many global and cross-sectoral implications, such as nutrition security, water use, blue growth, development and ecosystem services.”

For more information, read the full Rome Declaration at the FAO website.

Freshwater, Fish and the Future: Proceedings of a global conference on inland fisheries (free PDF download)