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Fishing in the city for food – the case of Stockholm

Like many large cities, Stockholm is situated at the seashore. Right in the city center, the freshwater meets the brackish waters from the Baltic Sea. Here salmon, bream, trout, zander, perch, pike, smelt, herring, and roach swim. Year-round you find fishers trying their luck throughout the city.

Early on in this project on urban fishing in Stockholm, we learnt that many Stockholm fishers eat the fish they catch. This surprised us, as we had assumed that fishers primarily released the fish back into the water, so called Catch & Release fishing. Digging further, we found that ‘urban fishing for food’ is happening all over Europe.


While fishing in the city for food is not a new topic of research, there are many questions still left unexplored.

Why dive into research on urban fishing for food?

Urban fishing for food offers many interesting entry points for research. We want to keep on exploring the phenomena of urban fishing and are asking questions on accessibility and justice, the role of fishing as a source for food and recreation, food safety and human health, ethical dimensions of the fisher-fish relationship, sustainable use of fish populations, and urban aquatic biodiversity. 


From Anthrome to Refugium? A Short History of Small-Scale Fisheries in the Anthropocene (2019)


In this article, we investigate small-scale fisheries—their characteristics and values—by considering the type of aquatic and marine environments in the Global North and South that they exploit and change. We use the literature on (small-scale) fisheries and our own studies to argue that the aquatic and marine environments where small-scale fishers currently operate are shrinking under the pressures from a globalizing and urbanizing world, to the extent that they acquire characteristics of biocultural refugia.

Boonstra, W.J., Björkvik, E., Joosse, S., & Hanh, T.T. H. (2019). From Anthrome to Refugium? A Short History of Small-Scale Fisheries in the Anthropocene. I Encyclopedia of the WorldTs Biomes. Reference Module in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences

Fishing in the city for food- a paradigmatic case of sustainability in urban blue space (2021) 


This article presents fishing in the city for food (FCF) as a trenchant example of urban ecology, and the ways in which urban dwellers use, interact with and depend on urban blue spaces. Our literature review demonstrates how FCF is studied in a diverse body of scientific publications that rarely draw on each other. As such, FCF and its relevance for sustainable and just planning of urban blue space remain relatively unknown. Using the literature review, a survey of FCF in European capitals, and examples from FCF in Stockholm, we demonstrate how attention to FCF raises pertinent and interrelated questions about access to water, food and recreation; human health; animal welfare and aquatic urban biodiversity.

Joosse, S., Hensle, L., Boonstra, W.J., Ponzelar, C., & Olsson, J. (2021). Fishing in the city for food- a paradigmatic case of sustainability in urban blue space. npj Urban Sustainability, 1(1), 1-8.

Urban fishing reveals underrepresented diversity (2022) (Correspondance article)

In collaboration with a network of other scholars who research urban fishing, we wrote a correspondence article to the article "Harnessing the diversity of small-scale actors is key to the future of aquatic food systems" (Short et al., 2021). Short et al. (2021) stress the need to acknowledge the vast diversity within small-scale fisheries and aquaculture (SSFA) and that contemporary governance must avoid assuming homogeneity in the SSFA sector when informing governance actions. Though Short et al. 2021 provide a much-needed snapshot of SSFA diversity, our commentary highlights that their framing of SSFA as only rural neglects the importance of urban SSFA and urban fishing, which is, in general, unacknowledged and understudied. Although the contribution that urban fishing makes to food production should not be overestimated, urban fishing provides important nutritional and sociocultural benefits to a growing group of city dwellers who use fishing to complement precarious livelihoods, as well as provide leisure, cultural and social expressions to many. With our commentary, we hope to draw attention to the importance of including urban fishers in future research to fully understand the vast diversity of SSFA.


Publication in Nature Food: Boonstra, W.J., Boucquey, N., Carlson, A.K. et al. Urban fishing reveals underrepresented diversity. Nat Food (2022). 

Read the commentary here.

More than ponds amid skyscrapers: Urban fisheries as multiscalar human–natural systems (2022)

Although social-ecological fisheries research is growing, comparatively little attention is paid to fisheries in urban environments. We aim to address this imbalance, because as cities expand worldwide, we expect urban fisheries to become more widespread and important in providing food/nutrition security, recreation, community well-being, and other benefits to fisheries stakeholders and urban dwellers across spatiotemporal scales. This paper contains a first analysis of the economic and sociocultural provisions, trade-offs, and dilemmas associated with urban fisheries to yield insights for sustainable management and planning of urban blue space. To address these objectives, we use the metacoupling framework, a method for assessing human–nature interactions within and across adjacent and distant fisheries systems. We use examples from multiple countries and data from the United States to illustrate how urban fisheries encompass flows of people, money, and information across multiple spatiotemporal scales and provide nutritional, recreational, social, and cultural benefits to fisheries stakeholders. Throughout the world, urban fisheries are influenced by wide-ranging human needs (e.g. food provisioning, recreation, aquatic resource education) that generate social-ecological effects within and beyond cities. Our analysis yields insights for developing holistic, metacoupling-informed management approaches that address the diverse social-ecological objectives and trade-offs involved in sustainable development of urban fisheries.

Carlson, A. K., Boonstra, W. J., Joosse, S., Rubenstein, D. I., & Levin, S. A. (2022). More than ponds amid skyscrapers: Urban fisheries as multiscalar human–natural systems. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, 25(1), 49-58.

They research urban fishing: Relaxation is the main reason for metropolitan fishing

Ahmed pulls up the tackle where there are a total of seven herrings hanging in each hook. Ahmed fits within what is understood as an "urban fisher". He often stands on the quay at Nacka beach, a few kilometers from Slussen and The Old Town in Stockholm. Today, Ahmed risks being interviewed by Wijnand Boonstra and Anja Rieser who are researching "urban fishing" or in other words "street fishing" which is a project about how "the city's blue commons" are used by Stockholm's fishing-interested residents. "We will highlight three aspects. We will map how and why people fish, but also the quality and ecological status of the waters, and in what way the fish as a resource is managed".


The above is a translation of the introduction of an article by Lars Krögerström in Våra Fiskevatten number 4 2022. In which he interviewed Wijnand Boonstra and Anja Rieser about the Blue Urban Commons project. Read the article in Swedish here.

Urban nature does not stop at the waterfront, neither should urban planning: A case study of street fishing in Stockholm (2023)

While research on green urban spaces has established their important values and functions, less attention has been given to blue urban spaces and their importance for the wellbeing of urban residents. With the project “Blue Urban Commons” (2020-2023) we wish to gain more knowledge about these blue spaces through a case study of Stockholm, Sweden. The aim of this project is to understand how urban dwellers use and depend on city waters for recreation, food, and general well-being, with a specific focus on recreational fishing. This paper consists of four parts highlighting research strands, preliminary findings, and reflections concerning what issues are important for planning blue urban spaces. The first part provides an understanding of the various conditions that enable Stockholm to be an attractive city for fishing. In the second part, we present some preliminary findings regarding the diversity of fishers in Stockholm, using an ideal-typical distinction between fishing for fun and fishing for food. The fact that many people fish for food in Stockholm raises several questions, such as e.g. on water pollution and their potential health consequences for fishers and the fish, which we present in the third part. We conclude with some reflections on the various goals of planning urban waterfronts and the trade-offs that it includes between food safety and security, equal access, and human and non-human wellbeing.

Link to the article here

The Project 'Urban Fishing and the Blue Commons' is part of the project ‘Blue Urban Commons’ (2020-2023). This project investigates how use of blue urban spaces, such as canals, lakes, ponds and rivers, can help make city life more sustainable. The value and function of urban ecosystems for sustainable life has recently gained attraction, but much less attention is given to blue urban spaces. There is still a lot to learn: about the aquatic ecologies in the city, and how urban dwellers use and depend on these ecologies for recreation, food, and their wellbeing.


The research in this project will investigate questions about the aquatic ecological status of urban blue space, its access and use, and the distribution of benefits to urban dwellers. City fishing in the Swedish capital of Stockholm is used as a case study. The project integrates ecological and social scientific methods and brings together an interdisciplinary team of scholars from Uppsala and Stockholm University and The Swedish University for Agricultural Sciences.


The project is funded by FORMAS, the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development. Results of the research will inform urban planning that aims to contribute to sustainable and fair use of blue urban space as common property.

See the brochure about the project (in Swedish) here

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