Freshwater, Fish and the Future: Proceedings of the Global Cross-Sectoral Conference

Drivers of Caribbean Freshwater Ecosystems and Fisheries

Thomas J. Kwak, Augustin C. Engman, Jesse R. Fischer, and Craig G. Lilyestrom


Abstract. —Freshwater tropical island environments support a variety of fishes that provide cultural, economic, and ecological services for humans but receive limited scientific, conservation, and public attention. Puerto Rico is a Caribbean tropical island that may serve as a model to illustrate the interactions between humans and natural resources in such complex ecosystems. The native freshwater fish assemblage of Puerto Rico is distinct from mainland assemblages in that the assemblage is not diverse, all species are diadromous, and they may be exploited at multiple life stages (e.g., postlarva, juvenile, adult). Primary large-scale drivers of recent water-use policy include economic growth, human population density, and urbanization, with climate change as an overarching influence. Watershed and riparian land use, water quality, river flow and instream physical habitat, river habitat connectivity, exotic species, and aquatic resource exploitation are important proximate factors affecting the ecosystem and fisheries. Research on ecological processes and components of the stream and river fish assemblages has expanded the knowledge base in the past decade with the goal of providing critical information for guiding the conservation and management of the lotic resource to optimize ecosystem function and services. The greatest challenge facing Caribbean island society is developing policies that balance the needs for human water use and associated activities with maintaining aquatic biodiversity, ecological integrity and services, and sustainable fisheries. Achieving this goal will require broad cooperation and sustained commitment among public officials, agency administrators, biologists, and the public toward effective resource management.