Fish stocks and fisheries in mountain rivers, lakes and reservoirs are dependent on good quality water, unimpeded migratory routes for migratory fish species, and sustainable fishing pressure. Development of fisheries in rivers, lakes and reservoirs in mountain countries does not depend only on healthy and abundant fish stocks, but also on the social and economic conditions. Mountain fisheries are frequently based on fishing activities by subsistence or artisanal fisherfolk, who combine fishing activities with farming to make a living. Where full-time fishers cannot make a living from fishing, the fishery is abandoned, and fishers may migrate to towns to seek other opportunities of employment. Such is the situation for example in Nepal. Poor income from fisheries also slows down the development of fisheries, such as is the case with aquaculture in Ethiopia. Overfishing of rivers and lakes is common where there is open entry in fisheries and no control on effort. Where a fishery law and regulations exist, their enforcement may be poor or non-existent.
Mountain waters also suffer from the deterioration of the catchment environment. Deforestation and poor agricultural practises lead to soil erosion and an increase in water turbidity, with spawning beds of valuable cold water fish species such as Tor sp., Schizothorax sp. and trout silted over. Not only are the natural habitats damaged or destroyed, but hatcheries constructed along streams may be damaged and made inoperative by the increased flow rates from deforested catchments, and the associated increase in transport of sediments, including stones and boulders, in fast running streams. Pollution from settlements, factories and mines further aggravates the situation, as well as water diversion for irrigation, or damming. Fishery managers have to cope with an ever increasing number of impacts arising from human activities outside fisheries.
Fisherfolk in mountain areas often belong to the poorest and marginalized social groups. Some governments provide assistance to fishers including low credit. But the lower the Gross National Product of a country, the lower the assistance by the Government. The shortage of government support may or may not be supplemented by external assistance. FAO, NGOs and other similar agencies and countries providing bilateral assistance have supported cold and warm water fisheries development in a number of mountain countries in Asia, Latin America, Africa and in Papua New Guinea.
Fishery managers have been involved in enhancing capture fisheries in rivers, lakes and reservoirs, with the major strategy being maintenance of valuable fish stocks at fishable levels through regular stocking of fish seed grown in hatcheries, often stocking exotic fish species. Introductions of suitable cold water species in open waters has been applied in mountain countries of Latin America, Africa, Asia and Papua New Guinea and lake fish production, apart from the regular stocking of open waters, has been enhanced by cage culture, as for example in Lake Titicaca and the lakes in Phewa Valley, Nepal.
Aquaculture in mountain countries has been developed at different levels. In Ethiopia aquaculture is still struggling through the economic constraints due to the high price of the product, while trout culture in other countries such as in Latin America, with ready markets, especially the tourist industry, and with proximity to major cities, has been developing successfully. With rising living standard, cold and warm water aquaculture fish production, based on intensive feeding of quality feeds, is expected to develop further. Temperate and warm water fisheries based predominantly on mass production of cyprinids (carps) with omnivorous or phytoplankton and macrophyte diets will always produce more fish more cheaply than cold water capture fisheries and aquaculture. There is still much opportunity for the development of fisheries in poor mountain countries with warm water resources, but the recent success of developing aquaculture in mountain provinces of Viet Nam shows that fish farmers in the rural areas can become the direct beneficiaries of the implementation of inexpensive aquaculture technologies, and as a consequence achieve significant improvement in their standard of living.
As fisheries play an important role in providing food and income to people in mountain areas, they must be integrated into the rural development and water resource development initiatives. Governments in some countries have already done so, but in a number of countries much still needs to be done. Among the issues which need to be addressed are the following:
Better integration of fisheries developssment in mountain regions within an overall ecosystem and rural development approach is essential.
Consideration of social and economic values, and of biodiversity importance of fisheries must be given in agriculture and hydro-electric generation and conservation schemes.
Information and experiences on effective measures to address poverty through improved aquaculture, enhanced fisheries and capture fisheries management measures should be collated.
Research into mountain aquatic ecosystems especially the biology and behaviour of mountain river fish stocks, migration patterns and environmental impacts needs to be strengthened.
Improved fisheries data collection and dissemination is essential for better planning of fisheries development.
Training and education in specialized fisheries fields, such as stock assessment, fish migration behaviour, genetics and limnology, needs to be intensified.
Regular monitoring, paying close attention to fisheries resources through enhancement, will help in assessing the cost/benefit of such activities.
Aquatic resource management interventions must be based on the understanding of socio-economic conditions and livelihoods of fisher communities and on promotion of local ownership and management of fisheries.
The potential for small-scale aquaculture as an option for improving livelihoods of fishers and farmers in mountain areas needs to be explored.
Inter-sectoral co-operation and coordination between fishery and other sectors concerned with rural development and water resources management needs to be strengthened.
Communication and exchange of experiences and information resulting from the above need to be enhanced.
In a number of countries policy development needs to be strengthened, especially in integrated watershed development, gender equity, and poverty alleviation that recognizes the social and economic importance of aquatic resources and supports poor aquatic resource users.
There is a need for more effective technology and information transfer and education on breeding and culture of native mountain river fish species.
Several problem areas are common and resources have to be shared among neighbouring countries in mountain regions with transboundary issues. Collaborative action on a regional scale would probably be the most cost-effective way to address common problems and share experiences. A network for development and conservation of mountain river, lake and reservoir fisheries should be established among concerned nations in the different mountain regions.
This can be achieved through action programmes for mountain countries, addressing the following:
regional reviews on aquatic biodiversity, environment, habitat and conservation of fishery resources;
socio-economic reviews and rural livelihoods development focusing on fisheries in mountain countries;
regional reviews on aquaculture in mountain countries;
national and regional strategies for phased implementation of fishery development programmes for mountain countries.
The following is a selection of topics for possible project activities:
information collection and exchange;
assessment of the current fishing pressures on wild fish stocks and identification of measures for sustainable management;
assessment of existing experiences in community based management and identification of opportunities for application and transfer of successful management systems;
assessment of existing experiences in enhanced fisheries, and identification of opportunities for application of fisheries enhancement. Give special attention to the opportunities for aquaculture of cold water fishes as a means of crop diversification for poor farmers;
assessment of ongoing farming of high value cold water fish and opportunities for further investment in such technologies to improve income and livelihoods in rural communities and for private sector investment opportunities;
zoning of different ecological areas to identify their aquaculture/fishery potential (also overlapping with livelihood/vulnerability indices);
freshwater fish as an export item for mountain countries;
studies of indigenous fish behaviour during migratory movements; maintaining species diversity in spite of dams, weirs and other obstacles to fish migration; rehabilitation of the existing, and construction of new, fish passes; and preparation of designs suitable for migratory fish of mountain regions;
development of guidelines on rehabilitation/construction of fish passes;
cooperation in development of technology for indigenous fish culture through regional coordinated research and development programmes. The first step would be to obtain a detailed evaluation of current activities and achievements with the most promising mountain river, lake and reservoir species of economic importance;
identification of specific activities for biodiversity protection and conservation of threatened species;
any aquatic biodiversity issues that relate to trade and particularly the "TRIPS" (Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) agreement of the World Trade Organization;
gender issues and their importance in rural livelihoods of highland farm households;
identification of opportunities to integrate fishery conservation and management measures within existing or planned watershed management, land use development or rural development projects.
FAO. 1995. Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Rome, FAO. 1995. 41p.
FAO. 1997. FAO Technical Guidelines for Responsible Fisheries: Inland fisheries. No. 6, Rome.