Working with Community Fisheries in the Amazon Basin

By Regina Junio

This story is part of a series on adaptation in the Brazilian Amazon.

The majority of Brazilian Amazon fishermen live in areas vulnerable to climate change, or depend on resources whose distribution and productivity are known to be influenced by climate variability. One of these areas is the Amazon floodplains, where WWF-Brazil has several projects coordinated by me.

Relationships between the impacts of climate change and these fishing communities’ ability to adapt have barely been investigated. This research could help to guide the development of conservation measures that can be used to help community fisheries adapt to the impacts of adverse climate change, both in Brazil and beyond.

Climate change is the most important global environmental issue at this time. Despite quantitative uncertainty in the climate models about the exact extent of impacts, predictions show that future climate will increase, among other things, the frequency of extreme weather events, like severe droughts. Resilience building is a key strategy for mankind to face future climate change.

The purpose of my postings will be to provide a synthesis of current thinking on the relations between climate change, vulnerability assessment, and adaptation projects of community fisheries in the Amazon basin. In my future entries I will present details of the case of Santarem.

The 2005 drought had a major impact on communities on the Amazon floodplains, especially those located inland from the river, such as Igarapé do Costa where the Climate Witness Workshop was held in March of 2008. More extreme weather, including higher floods and more intense dry seasons with lower water levels, will put great pressure on household and community resource management systems. While communities cannot work directly on the ultimate industrial and atmospheric causes of climate change, there are many things these fishing communities can do to mitigate the local consequences.

In the Brazilian Amazon, small-scale fishermen as well as many other floodplain livelihood systems will be severely impacted by water levels changing and flooding events. For instance, shifts in local precipitation and evapotranspiration will alter the hydrology of inland waters. Altered seasonal flood timing will affect fish reproduction, growth and mortality, as well as other elements of floodplain livelihoods (agriculture, cattle ranching, and forestry). The increased frequency of extreme events has already led to escalating loss of fishing days due to bad weather, decreased agricultural productivity, and damage to fishing nets and boats.

Our attempts to help the ecosystems and communities of the Amazon floodplain are designed to leverage local and indigenous ´traditional knowledge´ (i.e. of fishing techniques, the agricultural calendar and interactions between ecosystems and natural resources) with basic weather parameters and technical support in order to create adaptation strategies for the livelihood of these communities. Which kind of adaptation strategy that will work for each community is difficult to predict, but we can expect that they will mainly concern sheltering, cultivation, transportation and the use of natural resources in general. I welcome you to explore with me over the coming months the story of preparing the people and species of the Amazon floodplain for the emerging climate.