, Volume 45, Issue 7, pp 753–764 | Cite as

On the sustainability of inland fisheries: Finding a future for the forgotten

  • Steven J. Cooke
  • Edward H. Allison
  • T. Douglas BeardJr.
  • Robert Arlinghaus
  • Angela H. Arthington
  • Devin M. Bartley
  • Ian G. Cowx
  • Carlos Fuentevilla
  • Nancy J. Leonard
  • Kai Lorenzen
  • Abigail J. Lynch
  • Vivian M. Nguyen
  • So-Jung Youn
  • William W. Taylor
  • Robin L. Welcomme


At present, inland fisheries are not often a national or regional governance priority and as a result, inland capture fisheries are undervalued and largely overlooked. As such they are threatened in both developing and developed countries. Indeed, due to lack of reliable data, inland fisheries have never been part of any high profile global fisheries assessment and are notably absent from the Sustainable Development Goals. The general public and policy makers are largely ignorant of the plight of freshwater ecosystems and the fish they support, as well as the ecosystem services generated by inland fisheries. This ignorance is particularly salient given that the current emphasis on the food-water-energy nexus often fails to include the important role that inland fish and fisheries play in food security and supporting livelihoods in low-income food deficit countries. Developing countries in Africa and Asia produce about 11 million tonnes of inland fish annually, 90 % of the global total. The role of inland fisheries goes beyond just kilocalories; fish provide important micronutrients and essentially fatty acids. In some regions, inland recreational fisheries are important, generating much wealth and supporting livelihoods. The following three key recommendations are necessary for action if inland fisheries are to become a part of the food-water-energy discussion: invest in improved valuation and assessment methods, build better methods to effectively govern inland fisheries (requires capacity building and incentives), and develop approaches to managing waters across sectors and scales. Moreover, if inland fisheries are recognized as important to food security, livelihoods, and human well-being, they can be more easily incorporated in regional, national, and global policies and agreements on water issues. Through these approaches, inland fisheries can be better evaluated and be more fully recognized in broader water resource and aquatic ecosystem planning and decision-making frameworks, enhancing their value and sustainability for the future.


Inland fisheries Sustainability Governance Integrated water resources management Food-water-energy nexus 



The Global Conference was convened as part of a partnership agreement between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and Michigan State University (MSU); the contributions of FAO, MSU, the American Fisheries Society, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research in support of the Global Conference is gratefully acknowledged. Cooke is supported by the Canada Research Chairs Program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Too Big To Ignore Network of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We thank several anonymous referees for providing valuable input on the manuscript. Kathryn Dufour assisted with formatting the manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government. Photo credits: Karen Murchie, Ian Cowx, and Vivian Nguyen.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven J. Cooke
    • 1
  • Edward H. Allison
    • 2
  • T. Douglas BeardJr.
    • 3
  • Robert Arlinghaus
    • 4
  • Angela H. Arthington
    • 5
  • Devin M. Bartley
    • 6
  • Ian G. Cowx
    • 7
  • Carlos Fuentevilla
    • 6
  • Nancy J. Leonard
    • 8
  • Kai Lorenzen
    • 9
  • Abigail J. Lynch
    • 3
  • Vivian M. Nguyen
    • 1
  • So-Jung Youn
    • 10
  • William W. Taylor
    • 10
  • Robin L. Welcomme
    • 11
  1. 1.Fish Ecology and Conservation Physiology Laboratory, Department of Biology and Institute of Environmental ScienceCarleton UniversityOttawaCanada
  2. 2.School of Marine and Environmental AffairsUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center, United States Geological SurveyRestonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Faculty of Life Sciences, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, and Integrative Fisheries Management and Integrative Research Institute for the Transformation of Human-Environmental SystemsHumboldt-Universität zu BerlinBerlinGermany
  5. 5.Australian Rivers InstituteGriffith UniversityLoganAustralia
  6. 6.Fisheries and Aquaculture DepartmentFood and Agriculture Organization of the United NationsRomeItaly
  7. 7.Hull International Fisheries InstituteUniversity of HullHullUK
  8. 8.Northwest Power and Conservation CouncilPortlandUSA
  9. 9.Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, School of Forest Resource and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  10. 10.Department of Fisheries and WildlifeCenter for Systems Integration and SustainabilityEast LansingUSA
  11. 11.Department of Life SciencesImperial College of LondonSilwood ParkUK

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