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Substitution of inland fisheries with aquaculture and chicken undermines human nutrition in the Peruvian Amazon


With declining capture fisheries production, maintaining nutrient supplies largely hinges on substituting wild fish with economically comparable farmed animals. Although such transitions are increasingly commonplace across global inland and coastal communities, their nutritional consequences are unknown. Here, using human demographic and health information, and fish nutrient composition data from the Peruvian Amazon, we show that substituting wild inland fisheries with chicken and aquaculture has the potential to exacerbate iron deficiencies and limit essential fatty acid supplies in a region already experiencing high prevalence of anaemia and malnutrition. Substituting wild fish with chicken, however, can increase zinc and protein supplies. Chicken and aquaculture production also increase greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural land use and eutrophication. Thus, policies that enable access to wild fisheries and their sustainable management while improving the quality, diversity and environmental impacts of farmed species will be instrumental in ensuring healthy and sustainable food systems.

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Fig. 1: Variation in nutritional composition of wild fish, chicken and aquaculture species from Loreto, Peru.
Fig. 2: Wild fish substitutions and nutritional supplies.
Fig. 3: Nutritional impacts of wild fish substitutions for vulnerable subgroups.

Data availability

Data used are available in the main text and Supplementary Data 1.

Code availability

All code is available upon request from the corresponding author.


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We thank M. Montoya for supporting field logistics and R. Arbildes-Tello, G. Alvarez and M. Cueva for help with collecting and processing samples. This work was supported through grants to S.A.H. by the NYC Community Trust and the Conservation, Food and Health Foundation. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Authors and Affiliations



S.A.H. initially conceptualized the research with substantial input from R.D.F. and S.N. All authors subsequently refined the research goals. S.A.H. led the data analysis and wrote the first draft with all authors subsequently providing input.

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Correspondence to Sebastian A. Heilpern.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks K. Seto and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–5.

Supplementary Data 1

List of species and their corresponding traits.

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Heilpern, S.A., Fiorella, K., Cañas, C. et al. Substitution of inland fisheries with aquaculture and chicken undermines human nutrition in the Peruvian Amazon. Nat Food 2, 192–197 (2021).

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