MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon's Opening Remarks

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon's Opening Remarks



 (Photo credit of Lou Anna K. Simon: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano)



I’m pleased to be here to help open the conference and, on behalf of Michigan State, to sign a memorandum of understanding with FAO to collaborate on inland fisheries educational programs. Those include: 

  • the Robin Welcomme Visiting Scholar Program at MSU;
  • internships for MSU graduate students with FAO mentors;
  • the establishment at MSU of a new assistant professor tenure track position in global inland fisheries ecology and management (currently in search process); and
  • the development of a hybrid online course with a field component to better understand the role of freshwater fisheries and aquaculture in food security, economic prosperity, and societal health and well-being.  
  • We look forward to developing other educational opportunities together as well.

These programs will help attract and develop the sorts of broadly capable and globally aware talent necessary to address the multidimensional challenges that inland fisheries face.

Through programs such as these we hope to elevate the profile of inland fisheries and aquaculture in global discussions on food and economic security and on sustainable land development and water management.

It’s an article of faith in administration that, “if something can be measured, it can be managed.”

That might not always be true, but our current inability to fully assess the quantitative and qualitative aspects of inland fisheries poses a real barrier to improving the well-being of millions.

Inland fisheries have long been a quiet but important component in food and economic security around the world. Yet the voices of those most dependent on these resources often are at risk of being drowned out by louder, more powerful interests.

There are many voices that need to be heard in any discussions involving the well-being of these resources, and I trust that this conference will help even the faintest of them find a hearing.

We believe that inland fisheries and aquaculture have a great capacity not just to sustain poor and disadvantaged communities around the world, but to elevate them.

From the banks of the Red Cedar

So it’s a pleasure and a privilege for me to come from the “mitten” of Michigan to the “boot” of Italy for this inaugural Global Conference on Inland Fisheries.

Like Italy itself, the shape of Michigan is defined by the water that surrounds it—four Great Lakes embracing two peninsulas.

The Great Lakes and our inland waterways profoundly influenced Michigan’s settlement and development, starting with providing subsistence and transportation for its earliest inhabitants. Today the lakes and streams remain important sources not just of water and nutrition, but of recreation, energy, and in many cases, livelihood.

Michigan is dotted with 11,000 inland lakes while nearly 60,000 kilometers of rivers and streams meander their way to the Great Lakes, eventually spilling into the world’s oceans.

It was along the banks of one of those pleasant streams, the Red Cedar River, that Michigan State University was founded in 1855.

Whether we’re talking about the Red Cedar or the Mississippi or the Amazon, the Danube, the Nile, the Volga, the Ganges, the Yangtze, or the Mekong, we understand that freshwater rivers and lakes are critical resources in sustaining life and livelihood around the world.

But as we confront critical issues of hunger, development, and sustainability on a global basis, we also understand that we need to know more. The full significance of these freshwater and fisheries resources remains still obscured below the surface.

Importance of inland fisheries

Inland fisheries are a globally distributed but under-assessed—and underappreciated—resource. Inland fishery activity tends to be small-scale or subsistence level, and often doesn’t get due consideration in planning or policy discussions.

As a matter of global resource sustainability, inland capture fisheries represent a particularly high value. Their demands on the environment are low, and in fact, the waters that sustain them provide a host of environmental services. They are highly renewable resources and their proximity to consumers and markets tends to contribute to a low carbon footprint.

As a matter of community sustainability, inland fisheries provide food and employment in rural areas where few other options often are available. They mitigate the necessity of maintaining higher-impact livestock food systems.

In order for a community to be considered food secure, the United Nations argues that people must have access both to an adequate supply of food and to important nutrients. In many locations, particularly in developing regions, inland fisheries contribute the greater portion of the animal protein, micronutrients, and fatty acids in people’s diets.

Maintaining local access to such a vital asset as inland fisheries should be a consideration in any decision concerning freshwater use or development. But when regional or national priorities arise—be they development or agriculture or hydroelectric power—this isn’t always the case.

I am pleased that this conference takes a cross-sectoral approach to inland fisheries sustainability—linking agriculture, hydropower, shipping, municipal, and industrial sectors with fisheries. Working together and recognizing the importance of other sectors is surely the best way to solve problems in sustainable ways.

Threats to inland fisheries

Fresh water can be said to be the scarcest resource on the planet and is essential for many human uses.

By now we are all aware that the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, requiring improved food and nutrition productivity with no more land or water than we have today.

Yet we’re told the effects of climate change, together with water scarcity and land degradation, could negatively impact agricultural production around the world by up to 25 percent by then.[i]  So it is vital to assess the actual contribution of inland fisheries in order to better protect and enhance them.

Back home in Michigan, we are acutely aware of the fragility of freshwater fisheries. Our Great Lakes, and even our inland lakes and rivers, have suffered greatly from pollution, overfishing, and the introduction of invasive species.

Across the continental United States, more than a quarter of its miles of streams are considered at high risk of habitat degradation from urban development, livestock grazing, agriculture, pollution, or dams.[ii]

Inland fisheries and the freshwater lakes and streams that sustain them, meanwhile, support many local economies in Michigan and elsewhere through agriculture, tourism, industry, and energy generation. Many communities continue to directly tap the Great Lakes for their municipal water supplies.

With our Canadian neighbors and sister states and provinces, we have developed a good deal of experience in regulating the use of our Great Lakes across boundaries and borders.

Not surprisingly, water is a core research competency for Michigan State. MSU and Michigan’s other two research-intensive universities together spend about as much on water-related research as we do for advanced automotive R&D—$300 million over a recent five-year period.[iii]

Great Lakes restoration—including research on wetlands, fisheries, invasive species, and ecosystems—constitute a substantial portion of that research investment.  

Fisheries and social equity

Former President of Ireland Mary Robinson has reminded us that, “You can’t solve hunger merely by agricultural interventions alone.”  Globally engaged universities such as Michigan State understand that technical solutions are only part of any sustainable solution.

So it is for inland fisheries. Their cultural and social context must be part of any discussion.

More than 60 million people in low-income nations are estimated to rely on inland fisheries for their livelihood.[iv] More than half are women directly providing for their families, or in production situations, most often processing and selling the catch.[v]

We know that women are more likely to live in poverty or at its precarious edge, and they are disproportionately affected by disruptions in their families’ livelihood.

As with agricultural production, climate change, and other critical issues facing humanity, protecting freshwater fisheries includes an important social justice component.

The world’s poor, hungry, and disenfranchised—often the people most dependent on inland fisheries—are the very people whose voices most need to be heard and represented by us to those who will make decisions affecting them.

MSU and the FAO

So my Michigan State colleagues and I are pleased to partner with all of you in this week’s work in Rome. Michigan State and the FAO share complementary missions and values and a history of successful collaboration.

FAO was created to focus global efforts on a world without hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the living standards of all, especially the poorest, in an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable manner.

Michigan State is a public, global, and broadly capable research-intensive institution with deep experience in environmental studies.  Water and food are among our core areas of focus. Like the FAO, we were created and are dedicated to serving the common good.

Michigan State was a pioneer for America’s system of land-grant colleges and in the teaching of scientific agriculture. We are proud of our legacy of democratizing higher education and, through our outreach and partnerships, bringing cutting-edge knowledge directly to the people.

Inland fisheries require broad, multidisciplinary expertise of the sort MSU can offer, together with our partners and networks. These networks, like the problems they address, reach across regional and national boundaries. We are thrilled with the potential that our partnership with the FAO presents in the area of inland fisheries.

World-Grant Ideal

Michigan State embraces what we call the World-Grant Ideal. A university in this model sees the individual practitioner in the community—wherever they are in the world—not just as the beneficiary of its knowledge, but also as a partner in the creation.

The World-Grant Ideal recognizes that fundamental issues unfolding in one’s own backyard link directly to challenges occurring throughout the world. It not only recognizes this seamless connection but also actively grants to the world a deeply ingrained commitment to access and utilization of the cutting-edge knowledge required to address these challenges.

A key element is a unique kind of partnership. This is a partnership designed to co-create knowledge in relationships not just among academic disciplines or other higher education institutions, but with other stakeholders including communities and policy makers in any number of settings anywhere in the world.

We don’t do this thinking from the outset that we possess the right answers or know even which questions to ask. Rather, we approach it with a commitment to global engagement and a comparative, researched perspective that provides insight into how others are approaching similar challenges in other parts of the world.

We listen to our partners’ ideas to craft solutions through intellectually rigorous cooperative investigation. The World-Grant Ideal works from the bottom up—from the grass roots—just as concertedly as it does from the top down.

Going forward

Now MSU and FAO will strengthen our relationship through joint studies linking societal well-being and food security to the quality and quantity of freshwater habitats and local fish populations. 

This includes capacity building and training, new faculty, internships, fellowships and visiting scholars, and by sharing and disseminating information while advocating for our common goals.

To further improve our understanding freshwater fisheries ecology and governance, I am pleased today to announce that Michigan State University—working with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission and its many partners—has established a new endowed graduate fellowship program that focuses on inland fisheries.

I know that Bob Lambe, executive secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, wishes he could be with me to announce this important fellowship. 

It is named after Bill Taylor and Henry Regier, two Great Lakes Fishery Commissioners who have worked closely with the FAO and who have dedicated their lives to enhancing the sustainability of our magnificent Great Lakes ecosystem and fisheries resources. 

Inland fisheries represent an important component of a growing “blue growth economy.” Together we will help develop the kinds of multi-dimensional talent needed to assess the world’s inland fisheries and freshwater resources and to optimize and protect this resource. 

We are pleased to support people like you who, through your research and networking and outreach activities, give voice to our inland fisheries and to the many who depend on them.

All of you here today are an important part of this network. I wish you an inspiring and successful conference. I thank you for your participation. And I hope our work will yield a real bounty for all those we serve.

[i] Mary Robinson Foundation, quoting UN Environment Programme.

[ii] National Fish Habitat Board, 2010. Through a Fish’s Eye: The Status of Fish Habitats in the United States, 2010. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Washington, D.C.

[iii] Innovating for the Blue Economy: Water Research at the URC,

University Research Corridor/Anderson Economic Group, May, 2014.

[iv] BNP, 2009. Big Number Program: Intermediate Report. Penang, Malaysia.

[v] Welcomme, R.L., Cowx, I.G., Coates, D., Béné, C., Funge-Smith, S., Halls, A., Lorensen, K., 2010. Inland capture fisheries. Philos. Trans. R. Soc. Lond., B, Biol. Sci. 365, 2881–2896.