Community-Based Managed Floodplain Fisheries: Varzea Project Phase II

Geographical location:

Latin America/Caribbean > South America > Brazil


The Varzea project addresses the problem of unsustainable fisheries. Alongside logging and land clearing (for cattle ranching and agriculture), small and large-scale commercial fisheries in the Amazon are threatening the world's most diverse freshwater fish communities, with an impact on an estimated 2,500 species (of a total of 5,000 species worldwide).

The project aims to demonstrate that lake reserves constitute a viable management model which is regionally significant for managing Amazonian floodplain resources. The efforts of fishing communities are supported through a comprehensive programme that develops their organisational and technical capability.


Amazon river floodplains are probably the most productive environments in the region. Thanks to its fertile soils, dense concentrations of fish, and its natural accessibility, the Amazon floodplains have played a central role in the regional economy since pre-Columbian times. Varzea settlement has typically been based on a strategy of multiple resource use involving fishing, farming, and animal husbandry.

Today, however, the support-base of varzea settlement is under increasing pressure. The 3 main factors responsible for this situation are the collapse of commercial agriculture, the expansion of cattle ranching, and the intensification of commercial fisheries. The combination of these factors has forced varzea inhabitants to become increasingly dependent on fishing for income and subsistence needs.

The resulting pressure on Amazonian fish populations has substantially reduced the productivity of varzeiro fishing efforts. At the same time, burning and overgrazing associated with the expansion of cattle ranching may be reducing the productive capacity of varzea fisheries. As a result of these trends, the viability of ribeirinho (riverine) subsistence systems and the ecological integrity of varzea ecosystems are seriously threatened.

Ribeirinho communities have responded to pressure on local fisheries by attempting to close local lakes and exclude fishermen from outside the community. This has led to an increase in conflicts between varzeiros and outside commercial fishermen.

In some cases, fishermen have succeeded in closing lakes and implementing measures to regulate lake fisheries. These community-based management systems constitute a new strategy of resource management (known as lake reserves), and are based on the principle that fisheries development is not necessarily synonymous with fisheries depletion and marginalisation of artisanal fishermen.

Through this new approach, ribeirinhos are shaping an alternative pathway of varzea resource use which has the potential to safeguard the interests of varzeiro fishermen, while also encouraging sustainable management of floodplain resources.

The project site is the Ituqui region, a 20,000 ha island located 3 hours downstream of Santarem (the major urban centre in the Lower Amazon, and the largest market for fish products). Approximately 300 families live on Ituqui distributed in 7 communities.

The major economic activity is small-scale commercial fishing, although most households also practice agriculture and animal husbandry. Over the last decade, Ituqui communities have worked together to resolve conflicts and regulate lake fisheries, a process in which local and regional leaderships have played key roles.

WWFUnited States supported preliminary surveys in the project site (Ituqui region) for 2 years in 1992-1993: Fisheries and Sustainable Resource Management of the Lower Amazonian Varzea. The results of this initial work were used as baseline information for designing this project.

The 3 main institutional partners are the Colonia dos Pescadores Z-20 (the municipal fishermen's union and the principal organisation representing ribeirinho resource users), the Nucleo de Altos Estudos Amazonicos (NAEA) of the Federal University of Para State (a major Amazonian social science research centre), and the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia (IPAM), a research institute for sustainable development.

The project is also developing close working relationships with the Mamiraua Integrated Conservation and Development Project (BR0043), and the Iara project, a government fisheries project also based in Santarem and funded by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ), an international cooperation enterprise for sustainable development with worldwide operations, based in Germany. In addition, project staff work closely with the state extension service (EMATER), as well as with municipal health and education agencies.


Overall objective

Develop grassroot technical and organisational capacity to assist ribeirinho communities in managing local fisheries, so that community-based management of lake resources can play a significant role in the sustainable development of Lower Amazonian floodplains (varzea).

Specific objectives

- Develop and implement a community-based management programme for the Ituqui lake reserve.

- Strengthen the technical and organisational capacity of the Colonia dos Pescadores Z-20, the local fishermen's union.

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