Feedbacks among fish access, livelihoods, food security, and nutrition

Although the coupling of human and natural systems is increasingly recognized, rarely do we deeply examine the dynamics that shape their interactions at the household and individual scale. Our work examines household and individual-level livelihood, food, and nutrition security, and how those relate to resource access and governance. Our work on this topic is at two research sites.


Within Cambodia’s inland fisheries, reliance on natural resources, fish consumption, and biodiversity are all high yet threatened. Climate change, rapid development, Mekong dams, and increased fishing pressure are all shaping this unique system that is home to the second highest freshwater biodiversity in the world.

Within Cambodia’s rice field fisheries, we are partnering with WorldFish to explore the benefits of Community Fish Refuge ponds. These community-managed ponds are conserved year round to provide a brood stock of fish that migrates into rice paddies during the monsoon season and are harvested by local families. We examine the governance and biophysical factors that contribute to biodiversity and biomass in Community Fish Refuges and particularly the complex governance mechanisms that build or erode healthy fisheries. In this context of households using a portfolio of livelihood activities, we are also examining the impact of temperature increases on fishing behavior and fish catch. Longitudinal data shows that sustained temperature increases reduce fishing participation, but not fish catch. Further work in Cambodia has examined the use and production of traditional processed fish products, like prahok, and analyzed food safety risks and nutrient composition.

A photovoice project with the Center for Khmer Studies offers a unique community perspective to understand how fishing households value fishery biodiversity and assess threats to their fishing livelihoods and access to fish for consumption. Analyses of WorldFish survey data further aim to quantify the relationship between biodiversity within the ecosystem, fish catch, and fish consumption.

Example projects:

  • Wang, Q, Byrd, K, Thilsted, SH, Navin, C, Kim, M, Fiorella, KJ. 2022. Nutrition and Food Safety of a Locally-Processed Fish Product in Cambodia. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society. 25(3): 73-81.
  • Fiorella, KJ, Bageant, ER, Schwartz, N, Thilsted, SH, Barrett, CB. 2021. Response to Temperature Change in Cambodia’s Inland Fisheries. Science Advances. 7(18): eabc7425.
  • Fiorella, KJ, Bageant, E, Kim, M, Vichet, S, Try, V, Baran, E, Kura, Y, Brooks, A, Barrett, C, Thilsted, S. 2019. Improving Fish Biomass and Biodiversity within a Dynamic Social-Ecological System: Community Fish Refuges in Cambodia. Ecology and Society. 24(3).
  • Kim, M, Bageant, E, Thilsted, S, Fiorella, KJ. Community Management of Fish Refuges in Cambodian Rice Field Fisheries. Ed Krueger, CC, Taylor, WW and Youn, S-J. 2019. From catastrophe to recovery: stories of fishery management success. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, Maryland.


Using a unique longitudinal dataset from Mfangano Island on Lake Victoria, Kenya, our group has investigated links between fish access and livelihood, food and nutrition security in the context of a globalized fishery. In this work, we integrate ecological data on fish availability with household data on patterns of environmental resource use, fish consumption, and child nutrition.

Recent analyses unpack the multiple pathways from fish access to child cognitive development, disentangling effects by the species of fish consumed and fishing income using structural equation modeling. Key findings from this research project have also shown participation in fishing livelihoods does not necessarily contribute to access to fish for consumption and women’s consumption of diverse fish species uniquely affected the fatty acid content of breast milk, which is critical for child development.

In Kenya, this project is called the Mfangano Research on Environmental and Community Health Study and the abbreviation RECH, means fish in Dholuo, the local language

Example projects:

  •  Milner, EM, Fiorella, KJ, Mattah, B, Bukusi, EB, Fernald, LCH. 2018. Timing, intensity, and duration of food insecurity are associated with child development in Kenya. Maternal & Child Nutrition. 14(2).
  • Chung, EO, Omollo, DO, Mattah, B, Hickey, MD, Salmen, CR, Milner, EM, Brashares, JS, Young, SL, Fernald, LCH, Fiorella, KJ. 2019. Characteristics of Pica Behaviors Among Women in Western Kenya. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 16(14): 2510.
  • Fiorella, KJ, Milner, EM, DO, Bukusi, E, Fernald, LCH. 2017. Quantity and species of fish consumed shape breast milk essential fatty acid concentrations among women living around Lake Victoria, Kenya. Public Health Nutrition. 21(4): 777-784.
  • Fiorella, KJ, Hickey, MD, Salmen, CR, Nagata, JM, Mattah, B, Magerenge, R, Cohen, CR, Bukusi, EA, Brashares, JS, Fernald, LCH. 2014. Fishing for Food? Analyzing links between fishing livelihoods and food security around Lake Victoria, Kenya. Food Security. 6(6): 851-860.