Fishing to eat: Eleven percent of freshwater fish consumed worldwide from recreational fishing

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 (Image: Pixabay CC0)
(Image: Pixabay CC0)

Fishing with rod and reel is much more than just a leisure activity: In many regions of the world, it makes an important contribution to their own diet with fish. This has been shown by an international research team, including Robert Arlinghaus, Professor of Integrative Fisheries Management at the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology (IGB) and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. In the study published in Nature Food, the research team estimates that recreational fishing in lakes and rivers accounts for more than eleven percent of the annually reported catches in inland fisheries worldwide. Due to climate change and other negative water developments, the fishing yield of important freshwater fish species such as trout and salmon is declining in many regions, which has a negative impact on the food supply from inland waters.

"We have assessed the nutritional and economic importance of fish consumption from recreational fisheries in 81 countries and refute the common assumption that recreational fisheries play only a minor role in the nutrition of the population worldwide. Self-caught fish makes an important contribution to self-sufficiency in protein and micronutrients," says Robert Arlinghaus from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), co-author of the study.

Eleven percent of the world’s freshwater fish are caught by anglers

Around 280 million recreational anglers take more than 1.3 million tons of fish from inland waters every year. This means that recreational fishing contributes significantly to the total catch of inland fisheries worldwide - to be precise, 11.3 percent of the officially reported 11.5 million tons of freshwater fish are caught in recreational fisheries. However, these figures do not appear in the global fishing statistics, as recreational fishing is not recorded there. Yet recreational fishing is the dominant form of inland fishing in all industrialized countries today. In Germany alone, anglers take around ten times more fish from inland waters than professional fishermen. There are more than three million people in Germany who go fishing in their free time. In the EU, one in ten of the population fishes.

Germany consumes a lot of home-caught fish

In terms of countries, Canada, Poland and Argentina consume the most fish per angler from inland waters. Germany is also among the top ten in sixth place. The fact that Germany is so far ahead is partly due to the popularity of the hobby. On the other hand, the utilization of the fish caught is mandatory in Germany. This means that many anglers also fish in order to eat the fish they catch themselves," explains Robert Arlinghaus.

Trout-like fish such as brown trout, char and salmon as well as perch, zander and pike are popular with anglers worldwide. In Europe and especially in Germany, carp and other carp-like fish (cyprinids), eels and catfish are also popular edible fish. In Germany, trout and carp dominate the fishing yield with roughly equal shares. However, perch such as zander are also popular for eating.

Contribution of self-caught fish to a healthy diet

The importance of recreational fishing for self-sufficiency in important nutrients was also investigated. One important factor is vitamin B12, an essential micronutrient that is abundant in fish and is important for human health, including for bones, the formation of red blood cells and nerve function. "The nutritional and physiological benefits of caught fish depend heavily on the type of fish and the quantity taken, which we have taken into account in our calculations," says Robert Arlinghaus, categorizing the results. In general, the nutritional contribution of home-caught fish to total social fish consumption is particularly high in Austria, Belarus, Argentina, Belgium and Poland. In the case of vitamin B12, anglers in Canada and Bangladesh were the main beneficiaries, as these people do not get enough vitamin B12 from other fish and seafood.

Total consumer value of harvested fish is around 10 billion US dollars per year

The researchers also determined the total consumer value of freshwater fish caught through recreational fishing on the basis of comparable offers at local market prices. This amounted to 9.95 billion US dollars per year worldwide. Canada (2.74 billion US dollars), China (2.57 billion US dollars) and the United States (2.38 billion US dollars) were at the top of the list. In seven other countries, including Germany, the market value of the fish caught was over 100 million US dollars per year. This confirms our earlier studies for Germany, according to which recreational fishing is an important economic factor in this country. However, the social, economic and psychological significance of angling goes far beyond the market value. In Germany, over 50,000 jobs are supported by angling," says Robert Arlinghaus.

Recreational fishing is threatened by climate change in these countries

Recreational fisheries are also facing the challenges of climate change: depending on the fish species and climatic conditions, the success of adaptation will vary. The researchers identified Iceland, New Zealand, Denmark and Kenya as the countries with the highest climate sensitivity of the fish species consumed in recreational fisheries. If we also take into account the countries in which anglers consume particularly large numbers of fish, it becomes clear that, in addition to Canada, some European countries, including Germany, are among the most vulnerable countries. In addition to climate change, other environmental changes, such as the development and construction of waterways, also have a negative impact on fish yields.

Management of inland waters should also take nutritional aspects into account

The nutritional aspect of recreational fishing should be more strongly integrated into the management of inland waters. Climate, oil land use, water use, fragmentation of river basins and other large-scale influences are changing the usability and quality of recreational fisheries. The consequences of declining fish stocks and their impact on nutrition should be taken into account in water management decisions, because even caught fish is one of the most sustainable animal foods of all," concludes Robert Arlinghaus.

The team of authors points out that further data is required to reduce the uncertainties in the global estimates presented and to investigate further correlations. Examples include possible negative health effects of fish consumption, such as the risk of ingesting harmful substances from fish caught by humans.