Healthy freshwater ecosystems provide services that people depend on. A sustainable future for freshwater ecosystems is an ultimate need for human beings.
Flowing Rivers, Full Bellies: The case for freshwater conservation to achieve food security is the title of a publication presenting five cases in managing water ecosystems to guarantee the maintenance of the ecosystem and the food production.
One example that comes from the Amazon is the management of fisheries in the lower floodplains – also called varzeas – in the Brazilian Amazon. Although many different species can be found in the wide seasonal lakes formed in the varzeas, the iconic pirarucu fish (Arapaima gigas), one of the largest freshwater fish species in the world, is the most sought after because of its high commercial value.
One of the strategies in the co-management of floodplain fisheries in the Brazilian Amazon is integrating the informal community fishing into a formal policy and institutional framework and agreements designed to control access to and pressure on floodplain lake fisheries. This process is implemented in a partnership with local communities, state government agencies, other non-governmental organizations and WWF. The key to success has been the development of a consistent set of rules and policies to manage the floodplain resources, even in areas of informal settlement.
Among the objectives of the Varzea Project are the development of community management systems for fishing activities in the floodplain, viable economic alternatives to diversify sources of riverside household income, conducting research on commercial fisheries developed in the region, the completion of environmental education programs, creating policies for participatory management of fishing activities and strengthening activities of local organizations and associations. Today it is one of the most successful community (aquatic and forest) management systems in the Amazon.
The lessons learned from the Varzea Project and the accumulated experience have been shared with WWF teams in Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia and Tanzania stimulating them to adapt the management systems to their local realities.
Facts and figures about the pirarucu fish and its management:
• The Pirarucu fish (Arapaima gigas) is one of the largest freshwater fish species in the world.
• It can reach up to three meters and weigh 200 Kg.
• The species can occur in Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Guyana.
• It is an important source of protein for Amazon populations.
• In Brazil, arapaima capture increased from 495 tons in 2001 to 1,236 tons in 2006, according to the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama).
• Brazilian legal measures to protect the pirarucu species are being implemented since 1990, among them a closed season for fishing during the reproduction period.
• Amazon Brazilian states have been toughening their legal measures to protect pirarucu and forbid fishing in areas without management plans.
• Since 1975, Pirarucu has been listed in Annex II of the Convention on International Trade of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) as a species that has to be strictly regulated and controlled.
• There has been an 88% increase in the number of pirarucus in the managed lakes in the municipality of Manoel Urbano, state of Acre (Brazil) since the project began.
• Income of fishermen from the municipality of Manoel Urbano involved in the management project has increased 267% during the seven years of project implementation.
• WWF Brazil has been implementing the Varzea Project for 18 years and the results are showing that community support and public policies are fundamental for the sustainable development of freshwater ecosystems in the Amazon.
(Source: Manejo do Pirarucu: Sustentabilidade nos Lagos do Acre. Available in Portuguese at WWF-Brazil website).