Proceedings of the Third World Fisheries Congress: Feeding the World with Fish in the Next Millenium—The Balance between Production and Environment

Role of the Forum of Patos Lagoon in the Management of Artisanal Fisheries in the Extreme South of Brazil

Enir G. Reis, H. Rodrigues


The Patos Lagoon is the world’s largest choked lagoon (Kjerfve 1986). It has a surface area of 10,360 km2 and has been the site of important artisanal fisheries since the late nineteenth century (von Ihering 1885). An industrial fishery (trawlers and some purse seiners) started in 1947 in offshore waters.

Catches in the estuarine area of Patos Lagoon reached 40,000 tons in 1966, but they declined to less than 15,000 tons in the 1980s due to excessive fishing effort, catches taken at inappropriate stages of a species’ life cycle, environmental pollution, and the use of harmful fishing gear (Reis 1992). In 1999, the total annual catches were reduced to about 5,000 tons (CEPERG/IBAMA 1999). Of six species that were caught through the year, only two remain economically important, the mullet Mugil platanus and pink shrimp Farfantepenaeus paulensis. All target species of the artisanal fisheries are marine species that use the estuary to complete their life cycle and are also exploited by coastal medium-scale and offshore industrial fisheries. The state of fish stocks ranges from exploited to overexploited (Haimovici 1998; unpublished information from E. G. Reis).

Presently there are about 4,000 artisanal fishers, 30% fewer than 10 years ago (Reis et al. 1994). The total profit by fishers in a very good fishing year is only US$165.00 a month, which must support a family of five.

Fishers and fisheries sectors in the extreme south of Brazil and especially in the Patos Lagoon are not organized; initiatives that should have been taken several years ago are yet to be developed or are at an early stage. Such initiatives would certainly have reduced important impacting actions that have resulted in a sharp decrease or even the elimination of traditional fishing seasons and the resulting worsening of the social and economic condition of fishing communities. Misleading fishing policies that created an unprecedented crisis in the region, where unproductive fishers depended exclusively on government social benefits, hampered such initiatives. The deterioration of the condition of fisheries resources is partly the result of poor policy (Townsley 1998), and overfishing results when the norms of self-restraint, prudence, and community solidarity have eroded. It occurs when fishers do not care about their resource, their community, or each other (Jentoft 2000).

The objective of this study is to describe the role of the Forum of Patos Lagoon (FPL), a newly established organization to manage artisanal fisheries in the estuary using a community-based model.