Mosquito Net Fishing Threatens Human Health and Biodiversity

It’s sounds like a fairly innocuous problem, but some impoverished communities have begun to use mosquito nets for fishing –  a practice that may endanger fish populations and put human health at risk. 

In a first-of-its-kind global assessment, scientists sought to examine the frequency with which subsidized or free mosquito nets are used in countries at high-risk for malaria.

Researchers from Imperial College London, the Zoological Society of London and Oxford University sent questionnaires to workers across the health and fishery sectors in countries considered at-risk of malaria to gauge how widespread the practice of mosquito net fishing, or MNF, might be.

According to their findings, MNF appears to be happening across all of the malarial zone, including in freshwater and marine environments. The practice is especially prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa — and, as this release details in certain instances, MNF is occurring on a surprisingly large scale. In fact, some results described fisherman sewing several mosquito nets together to form one large fishing net.

There are a number of reasons why mosquito net fishing is problematic. Malaria nets might actually seem like a sensible and inexpensive choice for fishing — at least for the people who have been given them — but they tend to be much finer than traditional fishing nets, and therefore able to catch much smaller fish. In many areas, MNF particularly impacts juvenile fish.

Juvenile fish mortality can be a major stressor for fish populations, as healthy breeding adults decline in number. Obviously this problem can take several years to manifest, but as previous cases have shown, it eventually leads to fish stock management challenges.

The other major issue with mosquito net fishing is the fact that those nets are not being used for the purpose they were intended for: preventing the spread of malarial diseases.

The researchers are keen to stress that there is no blame to be portioned out here. It’s understandable that people with limited resources would consider it a worthwhile gamble to prioritize providing for their families over the risks of contracting malaria. However, researchers urge health management strategists and advocacy groups to try to tackle this issue.

“Recent decades have seen the broad distribution of free or subsidized mosquito nets, which has had a hugely important impact on reducing incidences of malaria in developing countries,” Rebecca Short from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial and ZSL’s Institute of Zoology, explained. “We are wholly supportive of the efforts of the healthcare community to tackle this disease, which is so damaging to many people’s lives, but there needs to be further research into the potential impacts of this unintended consequence.”

The researchers recommend additional studies to better understand the specific circumstances that lead to MNF. They also believe that more intentional net distribution programs could improve proper use.

Assistance with proper disposal of used nets offers another option for restricting net distribution. One idea is to implement a system that encourages trading in old nets in order to get new ones, including a small incentive to help ensure that the nets would not be used for other purposes.

In the meantime, working with local governments to devise sensitive public messaging may drive critical public health messaging. After all, if we’re going to beat malaria, proper use of mosquito nets remains key.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

44 comments

Maria R
Maria R8 days ago

Thanks for this

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 days ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 days ago

Tfs

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KimJ M
KimJ M8 days ago

Alarming :(

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Michael F
Michael F10 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Lenore K
Lenore K10 days ago

no

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Loredana V
Loredana V10 days ago

Stop eating fish! It's good for their health, yours and the environment. Easy.

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Ruth S
Ruth S11 days ago

Thanks.

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Leo C
Leo C11 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Clare O
Clare O11 days ago

Bound to happen, why wouldn't you expect it?

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