Fishermen in poor countries cannot afford fishing nets and use anti-malarial mosquito nets to catch fish and feed their families.
This practice has alarmed researchers who fear that misuse of the networks poses health risks, destroys ecosystems and endangers food security. So far, experts have only been able to speculate about the effects of this type of fishing on marine populations. But a new study has found that fishermen who use these nets in Mozambique’s seagrass meadows catch disproportionately large quantities of juvenile fish.
Stockholm University researcher Benjamin Jones worked with fishermen in 10 different villages to find out what types of fish people caught using these nets. He found that fishermen who used mosquito nets caught more than half the average daily catch, but that the majority of the fish were juvenile and less than 4 inches long.
“Once you remove these fish, it means no fish will enter maturity and no fish will breed,” says Jones. “If you remove that many fry, the marine fish populations can effectively collapse completely. And that’s the kind of negative ecological function that type of fishing does. “
The seagrass beds where fishermen use these nets provide shelter for juvenile fish that normally populate coral reefs and other tropical ecosystems. Many of the species caught are also major food sources in the area, says Jones.
Researchers say mosquito net fishing occurs in many developing countries, but is most common in East Africa. At the heart of the problem is that people in poverty-stricken areas face choices about how to feed their families and protect themselves from malaria. Since buying a boat and fishing net can be prohibitively expensive and many health organizations give out bed nets for free, people use their mosquito nets instead. According to Jones, women and children also use the nets to fish to feed their families.
“You have no choice and that is the real societal problem,” says Jones.
Around three billion people around the world are at risk of malaria, and mosquito nets have been instrumental in reducing the number of people developing the disease. A number of countries have bans prohibiting the use of mosquito nets for fishing, but these have been largely ignored. More education is needed to teach people why they shouldn’t use their bed nets to fish, Jones says.
He says his study is just a snapshot of what is likely a major global problem, and health organizations, scientists and fishing communities need to come together to address the problem.