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© WWF / Gustavo YBARRA

Fish management in the Amazon floodplains

Abundant fish resources feed the inhabitants of the Iténez, Bolivia
Fish for all?
More than 3,000 fish species navigate the sprawling inland waters of the Amazon Basin. And almost one in ten fishes caught in freshwater worldwide comes from the region.
So with all this natural abundance, why is managing fish resources for future generations such a challenge and what is WWF doing about it?

Fish, a vital part of life in the Amazon

Fishing is the main source of income and food for riverside communities in the Amazon River Basin. In Brazil, the region's potential is as high as 1 million tons per year, the equivalent of half of the total fish production from the country's rivers and lakes.

The Amazon Basin's fish bounty

Thanks to the area's considerable fish resources, with a current production worth almost 400,000 tons per year and which includes about 200 species, some 200,000 people in the region have jobs.

Fish also happens to be a basic subsistence for locals: it represents the main source of protein for riverine populations, with a per capita consumption between 100 gr and 550 gr per day.

Cause for concern

But predatory fishing practices have caused a general scarcity of fish – some species are even threatened with extinction.

Pollution from urban settlements, commercial and predatory fisheries, cattle-ranching in the floodplains, governmental projects affecting the basin (such as dams, flood control and mining) and deforestation of floodplain forests all undermine fish resources.

These problems however are just a symptom of a more serious factor: resettlement and population growth in the varzea regions of the Amazon Basin.

Find out more

Varzea fisheries case study

Community-managed fisheries in the flooded forests of the Varzea in Brazil have yielded conservation and livelihood benefits such as 25% increase in average agricultural income, improved health, strengthened capacity in conflict resolution and a 60% increase in production of commercially valuable fish. Download the Varzea case study

Portrait of Socorro Pena who works with fishing communities to promote sustainable use, Ituqui Island near Santarem, Para, Brazil © WWF / Edward PARKER

Why WWF is involved

Obviously, fisheries are a critical resource of the Amazon varzea, and the way in which the sector develops will have a fundamental impact on floodplain settlement and land use. For these reasons, WWF is intervening to better understand local fisheries and to improve management practices.

Understanding fisheries

Although there has been considerable research on Amazon fisheries and floodplain ecology, little attention has been paid to the economic dimensions of commercial fisheries and their development.

WWF is studying fisheries and commercial development of the sector from a regional economic perspective. Thanks to modelling techniques developed for the regional management of commercial fisheries, it is possible to document the status and trends in the sector.

Team of fish scientists Collecting fish Jaú National Park, Amazonas, Brazil © WWF / Juan PRATGINESTOS

Other activities carried out by WWF include biological studies of fish (e.g. the pirarucu Arapaima gigas) and research on the impact of harvesting. WWF is also strengthening local organizations to take care of fish resources and helping to establish policies and institutions that strengthen management, including community management.

On patrol for sustainable fishing

Monitoring is being conducted in Brazil's Silves municipality with participants from the local communities and ASPAC (the Silves Association for Environmental and Cultural Preservation). Funds provided by a local ecotourism project are used to finance the patrols, a vital aspect for the sustainability of the project.

The efforts, it seems, are paying off. According to locals and research, lakes that are managed show significantly increased fish stock. Various factors account for this change, such as improved conservation measures, priority use for ecotourism and subsistence fisheries, patrolling and community awareness.

Fish management, part of a conservation package

Completing the local programme in Silves is a permaculture project (organic crops), which provides the ecotourism lodge with vegetables.

Permaculture activities are supported by the ProVarzea project, an initiative led by IBAMA (the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), aimed at developing public policies for the conservation and management of the floodplains of the central region of the Amazonian basin. These activities have been implemented by ASPAC.

Natural Resources Management Agreements

Through local partners, WWF has succeeded in getting stakeholders draw up management plans for shared resources. Still in Brazil, WWF and its local partner organization IPAM have developed a model in the Santarém region in the state of Pará for the management of the floodplain lakes and the development of fisheries management agreements.

WWF-Brazil and its Santarém partners are beginning efforts to disseminate the methodology to the Silves community near Manaus and with communities on the Upper Purús River in the Brazilian State of Acre.

Next [WWF and aquarium trade in the Amazon and Orinoco] >>


Lakes with functioning fishing agreements are 60% more productive on average than lakes without such agreements.

Source: WWF, 2005. Serving People, Serving Nature. Report.