Researchers are developing a method to track and measure the movement of fish, one of the world’s most traded commodities, from the water to the plate within a country. It’s not just about the size of the catch when it comes to alleviating hunger and food insecurity; it’s also about who can ultimately put the right fish on the table.
There are several ways to ensure that you get the right fish on the right plate:
- Start by selecting a fish that is appropriate for the dish you want to prepare. Different types of fish are better suited to different types of dishes. For example, a delicate white fish like cod might be better suited to a light, simple preparation, while a heartier fish like salmon would be more suitable for a bolder, more flavorful dish.
- Consider the seasonality of the fish. Some types of fish are more readily available at certain times of the year, so it’s a good idea to choose a fish that is in season.
- Consider the sustainability of the fish. Some types of fish are overfished or caught in ways that are harmful to the environment, so it’s important to choose a fish that has been sustainably caught.
- Make sure the fish is fresh. Look for bright, clear eyes and firm, shiny flesh. Avoid fish that has a strong, fishy smell or that looks slimy or discolored.
- Cook the fish properly. Different types of fish require different cooking methods, so be sure to follow the recipe or guidelines for cooking the specific type of fish you have chosen.
A team of Michigan State University scientists has developed a method to track and measure the true picture of how one of the world’s most traded commodities moves from the water to the plate within a country. Their findings in Nature Food about Sub-Saharan Africa revealed unexpected gaps in the traditional supply-and-demand analysis of fish, opening up opportunities to get the right fish to those in need. And the innovations they deployed, they say, can be useful anywhere.
Our work on spatial analysis of fish in Malawi goes beyond Malawi and fish food systems. Most countries, including the United States, face food and nutrition security issues in different forms and contexts.Emma Rice
“We know that all fish aren’t created equal in terms of containing the right nutrition for certain people in certain circumstances,” said co-author Abigail Bennett, assistant professor at MSU. “Effective policy needs new data that reveals how variation in the supply, price, and form of fish in different places throughout a country shapes who can access that fish, with special attention to people who are poor and vulnerable to malnourishment.”
Existing data on food production indicate food supply, but not whether food reaches those who need it. Meanwhile, consumption data describe who ultimately ends up accessing food, but not where it came from or how it reached them. The group bridged that gap by looking at how fish moves across space through value chains after it is harvested and at household demographics.
They studied in Malawi in sub-Saharan Africa, looking at the trips two freshwater fish — small sardine-like usipa and medium-sized chambo, a variety of tilapia — took to end up at peoples’ tables, which meant understanding why fish ended up at certain markets, and whether people could afford them. The little usipa is the bigger catch, both in volume and dollar value. It’s affordable, often sun-dried, and consumed whole. Chambo is usually eaten fresh and is pricier.
The team, led by co-author Park Muhonda when he was a postdoctoral researcher at MSU, surveyed more than 900 people throughout the fish food journey. He now is at Oregon State University.
The group found that usipa is distributed much more widely than chambo – available in 72 or the 79 markets surveyed across Malawi – while chambo was available in only 16 of those markets, which skewed to urban areas. Usipa also packs more nutritional punch than chambo, being higher in protein, vitamins, and minerals critical to nursing women and their children. But the group found that policies were championing the fancier chambo.
“While most fisheries policy in Malawi has previously focused on the larger high-value tilapia species, these results indicate the need for a shift in policy focus towards the small pelagic species to better support food security and nutrition,” said co-author Edith Gondwe, an MSU Ph.D. student in fisheries and wildlife.
The work in “Spatial analysis of aquatic food access can inform nutrition-sensitive policy,” which revealed disconnects between policy and need, can help guide policy beyond Malawi.
“Our work on spatial analysis of fish in Malawi goes beyond Malawi and fish food systems,” said master’s student Emma Rice. “Most countries, including the United States, face food and nutrition security issues in different forms and contexts. This approach of spatial analysis of food systems could be adopted in any context to understand what types of food flow to which populations and through what mechanisms.”