Human health alters the sustainability of fishing practices in East Africa

Kathryn J. Fiorella, Erin M. Milner, Charles R. Salmen, Matthew D. Hickey, Dan O. Omollo, Abdi Odhiambo, Brian Mattah, Elizabeth A. Bukusi, Lia C.H. Fernald, Justin S. Brashares

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Understanding feedbacks between human and environmental health is critical for the millions who cope with recurrent illness and rely directly on natural resources for sustenance. Although studies have examined how environmental degradation exacerbates infectious disease, the effects of human health on our use of the environment remains unexplored. Human illness is often tacitly assumed to reduce human impacts on the environment. By this logic, ill people reduce the time and effort that they put into extractive livelihoods and, thereby, their impact on natural resources. We followed 303 households living on Lake Victoria, Kenya over four time points to examine how illness influenced fishing. Using fixed effect conditional logit models to control for individual-level and time-invariant factors, we analyzed the effect of illness on fishing effort and methods. Illness among individuals who listed fishing as their primary occupation affected their participation in fishing. However, among active fishers, we found limited evidence that illness reduced fishing effort. Instead, ill fishers shifted their fishing methods. When ill, fishers were more likely to use methods that were illegal, destructive, and concentrated in inshore areas but required less travel and energy. Ill fishers were also less likely to fish using legal methods that are physically demanding, require travel to deep waters, and are considered more sustainable. By altering the physical capacity and outlook of fishers, human illness shifted their effort, their engagement with natural resources, and the sustainability of their actions. These findings show a previously unexplored pathway through which poor human health may negatively impact the environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4171-4176
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number16
StatePublished - Apr 18 2017


  • Environmental change
  • Fishing livelihoods
  • Health and environment
  • Lake Victoria
  • Social-ecological systems


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