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The environment of inland fisheries

If countries are to act in a responsible way they should protect fish habitats and other natural resources (that is, the environment) from destruction and pollution. They should also try to plan activities in such a way that damage from human activities is minimal. When we talk about "managing" inland resources we are really talking about planning the way that resources such as rivers and lakes and the surrounding landscape are used by people.

Developing policies to safeguard the environment is usually the responsibility of national governments. Sometimes this responsibility extends beyond national borders because river or lakes, for example, can cross several countries or national border lines. When this happens there should be international cooperation among the countries.

Where fisheries projects exist in waters shared with other countries, international agreements are needed when fishing activities in one country affect those activities in another country. For example, migrating fish may no longer appear in countries located downstream if the waters upstream are over fished, if environments are heavily polluted or if dams across rivers block fish movements up and down the river. Countries that share inland waters have a responsibility to make sure that they follow international laws and agreements about how these waters should be used. To be successful, both international agreements and domestic policies concerning the use of inland waters should be based on an understanding of how development activities affect the natural environment.

When large projects such as dams, mining or agriculture are being planned, it is very important to make sure that fishing interests in inland waters are considered. While it is difficult to predict how different uses of inland waters will affect the environment, countries should do all they can to estimate the extent of environmental damage by undertaking studies such as environmental impact assessments. Such studies are designed to identify biological and social changes that will result from development projects. After the impacts have been identified, a project may be cancelled or corrective actions can be planned. For example, negative impacts from an industrial project that pollutes inland waters can be offset by measures to control pollution and to rehabilitate fish habitats.

In talking about "impact assessments" we should be aware that they should not focus solely on the environmental effects of a single project. Rather they should, as far as possible, assess the collective impacts of projects. In other words, how will all the activities in a given area affect local resources and local populations? These studies should be done by national governments or by local project managers.

One way to safeguard fishing interests is to develop plans that deal with the needs of everyone using inland resources. Organizations should be established as a means for individual fishers or other "stakeholders" (that is, people that have an interest in inland fisheries) to express their views and concerns regarding changes to their environment. The stakeholders should be encouraged to attend meetings when important issues are being discussed and they should be given access to studies and reports about activities affecting local fisheries. Fishers or their representatives should participate in these organizations by agreeing to priorities for inland water use by non-fishery projects. Likewise, fishery managers should share information about fishery plans with people involved in the other projects.

Fishery managers do not normally make decisions about the plans other users of inland waters make and that will have impacts on the environment. However, when steps are taken to increase fish productivity or to introduce new species of fish, the managers do make decisions affecting the natural environment of their local communities. Responsible fisheries seek to protect the interests of the fishery and also to minimize any undesirable effects of its own activities.

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