Illustrating the hidden economic, social and ecological values of global forage fish resources
People benefit from the existence of forage fish through a wide range of uses, both direct and indirect. However, due to lack of data and gaps in existing research, the commercial importance of these species tends to get prioritized over the wider benefits they provide to society and the environment. This paper aims to identify all the multiple beneficiaries of forage fish and present their global value that encompasses different categories of benefits using both quantitative and qualitative methods. By adopting the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment framework, we estimated the global economic benefit provided by forage fish to be $18.7 billion per annum, over three times of their direct catch value. This is a partial estimate due to data limitation. We demonstrated the importance of forage fish to the livelihoods of coastal communities by providing direct employment to 5.6 million fishermen globally. The analysis also explored the important role forage fish plays by addressing the nutritional needs of indigenous and coastal communities, and their role in shaping the culture and customs - the significance of all of which cannot be captured by money values alone. We concluded that attempts to capture the economic values of forage fish are likely to be underestimates of the true value that forage fish hold for humans and other interlinked ecosystems. Understanding the true value of forage fish is important to avoid inadvertently making undesirable tradeoffs or management decisions that are environmentally and economically unsustainable.
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