No small fry: Tiny fish can nourish the world; here is how

Fresh and dried fish are staples of the local diet in many areas and are frequently more affordable or readily available than alternatives like eggs, dairy products and fruits

By Arya Rohini
Published: Tuesday 06 December 2022
Small fish are up to twice as economical as other fish types. Photo: iStock.__

More than a billion people across the world depend heavily on fish and other aquatic foods for nutrition. The majority of these people reside in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) of Africa, Asia and the Pacific, often near rivers, lakes or the ocean.

Small fish captured in lakes and the oceans of these countries can help fill nutritional gaps in undernourished people, especially young children, according to a new study.

Researchers determined the most economical and nutrient-dense fish in 39 low- and middle-income countries using catch, economic and nutritional data of 2,348 different fish species

Targeting small marine fish could help tighten nutrient gaps in sub-Saharan Africa, where nutrient deficits are widening, stated the study titled Small Pelagic Fish Supply Abundant and Affordable Micronutrients to Low- and Middle-Income Countries.

Also read: Environmental DNA-based assay to detect invasive catfish in waterbodies

Pelagic fish, which live in the upper layers of open water, such as herring, sardines and anchovies were the least expensive and most nutrient-dense fish in 72 per cent of the countries, noted the study published December 1, 2022, in Nature Food journal.

The research was led by James Robinson, a senior research associate at Lancaster University.

“This study shows that small pelagic fish are relatively affordable and are high-quality sources of nutrients,” said Kathryn Fiorella, a co-author of the study, in a press release.

This is particularly true for countries where access to small pelagic fish can be a key tool in addressing malnutrition, Fiorella added.

Fresh and dried fish are staples of local diet in many areas and are frequently more affordable or readily available than alternatives like eggs, dairy products and fruit.

Also read: Four African countries back agreement against illegal, unregulated fishing

These superfoods are incredibly potent sources of the micronutrients needed for human health and cognitive growth.

A humble 20 per cent of the current small pelagic fish catch could meet the recommended dietary requirements of all children under five who live close to coastlines.

Small pelagic fish are up to twice as economical as other varieties and are rich in selenium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iron and calcium.

Cold-water species that are found close to the ocean floor, such as cod and flounder, are the most expensive, researchers said.

The report also identified challenges to the availability of these small fish, such as overfishing, trade and the growing international demand for fish oil.

Creating equitable and sustainable regulations for managing small-scale fisheries is crucial since they provide unrecognised or underreported environmental, social and economic benefits.

The researchers believe the findings will help inform public health and fisheries strategies in areas with inadequate information on fish nutrition.

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