From Catastrophe to Recovery: Stories of Fishery Management Success

Evidence of Recoveries from Tropical Floodplain Fisheries: Three Examples of Management Gains for South American Giant Arapaima

Daniel J. Gurdak, Caroline C. Arantes, Leandro Castello, Donald J. Stewart, and L. Cynthia Watson


Abstract.—Although tropical inland fisheries provide important regional income and food security, these fisheries face severe management challenges that are amplified by distinct ecological, economic, and political factors. The arapaima (genus Arapaima) are of particular interest because of their large size (up to +3 m and +200 kg) and their substantial economic and cultural value in South America. Arapaima are among the most historically important and overexploited fisheries in South America. Unfortunately, traditional fishery management approaches have been ineffective, and arapaima populations have suffered drastic stock depletions and even local extinctions across much of their range. Fortunately, over the past 15 years, small-scale co-management efforts have promoted pockets of successful recovery for arapaima fisheries. In this analysis, we begin by introducing the history of arapaima fishing, the difficulties encountered by early management efforts, and subsequent improvements to arapaima management approaches using co-management at a small scale with local residents. We then evaluate the implementation of this promising approach across three regions: (1) Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, Amazonas State, Brazil; (2) Santarém region, Pará State, Brazil; and (3) North Rupununi, Guyana. Specifically, each region was evaluated based on the presence and implementation of eight principles needed for the sustainable governance of common-property natural resources in situations with and without active management: (1) defined boundaries, (2) congruence between appropriation and provision rules and local conditions, (3) collective action arrangement, (4) monitoring, (5) graduated sanctioning, (6) conflict resolution mechanism, (7) minimum recognition and right to organize, and (8) nested enterprises. For each region, we examined how management was implemented and identified current and ongoing challenges. Based on our experience with these fisheries, we offer some lessons that can be instrumental for arapaima management and other inland fisheries: manage even when faced with uncertainties; monitor, evaluate, and adapt management efforts; bridge knowledge systems; foster genuine interest and cooperation of various stakeholders to ensure long-term success; and move toward an ecosystem-based approach. These lessons will be instrumental in overcoming management challenges in the future and could be applied to other fisheries.