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Attitudes to the management of natural resources are changing world-wide. These changes arise mainly from concerns about the state of the resources as they come under increasing pressure to satisfy a range of demands. Most important among these is the need for food, especially in tropical areas, which is forcing local populations to over exploit animals and plants. In addition, the sustainability of the living resources is threatened by impacts from other users by pollution and environmental modification. In general the capacity of present agricultural and industrial technologies to exploit and damage has far outstripped the capacity of societies to interpret, assimilate and control such changes. Efforts to do so show that present difficulties result from political, social and economic factors rather than from a lack of technological solutions. Concerns over these trends led to the convening of the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development in 1992 and the acceptance of its Agenda 21. This highlighted the problems and, through Government commitment, provided a moral framework and guidelines for the sustainable use of natural resources. At the same time the Convention on Biodiversity was formulated and has now been accepted or acceded to by 176 Countries. The Convention is binding on its signatories and at present provides the only international legal framework for conservation and sustainable use.

Inevitably these developments have had their effect on fisheries. Most of the worlds fisheries are over-exploited or are about to become so. Nowhere is this more evident than in inland waters, especially rivers, which are almost without exception heavily or excessively fished. Added to this is the high degree of alternative use of water for industry, agriculture, power generation, urban supply and transport, all of which influence the amount of water in the system and the structure of the environment. As populations and levels of income rise so does the demand for water for these various uses and this commodity is now seen as limiting development and human well being in many parts of the world. Unfortunately fisheries is one of the least valued of the various uses of water and in many areas institutions making decisions on the allocation of water do not even consider fish. As a result rivers are one of the most endangered ecosystems and their faunas are especially under threat of species extinction and population disturbance. To counteract these threats fisheries managers have to represent the interests of their sector in decision-making mechanisms at all levels. At the same time fisheries have to rationalise their own operations. One of the first steps in this process has been the adoption by countries of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. This Code, adopted by the Food and Agriculture Organisation's Committee of Fisheries in 1995, furnishes voluntary guidelines on the organisation of fisheries at national level. It, together with the Convention on Biological Diversity, also emphasises the need for countries to regulate their aquatic environment for conservation of aquatic biodiversity and for sustainable fisheries.

Many of the ideas presented at these international fora are now being expressed at national level. As a result the objectives for management in many parts of the World are changing rapidly as policy makers adjust to the new vision of the resource. Frequently such changes exceeds the capacity of legislators to formulate new laws and it is probably better at present to retain flexibility through more generalised regulations until a more stable consensus emerges. At their meetings major discussions centre around mechanisms to ensure equity at national and international levels, and attempts to reconcile the conflict between conservation and use which lies at the heart of sustainable development. Furthermore, existing institutions and mechanisms have proved inadequate even for the management of food fisheries so new approaches to organising society for this purpose have to be sought. Three trends appear to be conditioning the direction of management at present.

The emergence of new conservation oriented objectives for natural resources management. This objective arises directly from the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing and is more evident in temperate countries where abundant food supplies reduce dependence on river and lake fish. Nevertheless there is a growing trend to take these attitudes into account in attempting to make food fisheries more sustainable.

Changing patterns of use within the fishery. These arise mainly from demographic shifts throughout the world, principally human movements away from the rural to the urban. This has two effects. Firstly there is a need for fisheries for urban supply rather than satisfaction of local demand. Such fisheries tend to inflate the pressure on the resource by increasing prices and selecting for the larger fish in the assemblage. Secondly there is a global trend to reserve all or part of the resource for recreational rather than food fisheries. Usually the unit value of the recreational fishery is far higher than the food fishery. Where there is strong urban demand, recreational interests and pressure groups tend to displace the food fishery with drastic effects on food supplies and employment.

The emergence of new philosophies for participatory management. Two divergent trends are apparent here. On one hand, there is the suppression of national authority through economic integrating organisations. This is especially important in the case of fisheries where the basin approach is crucial for the protection of migratory or transboundary stocks. On the other hand, there is a trend for national powers to be devolved to local authorities within the country. This trend is further decentralised in the case of co-management systems where the fishermen's communities share responsibility for management. As the centralised nation state has been the preferred institution for management until recently these new approaches have yet to be developed and tested.

The study of large rivers and adequate understanding of how they function for fish and fisheries is fairly recent. For this reason the incorporation of these ideas into management of large floodplain rivers of the tropics is still developing. Further studies are needed particularly on the policy, social and economic aspects of the fisheries. There is also a need for research on the biology of individual systems to determine their state of exploitation and degree of modification by other users.

This paper presents the results of four research projects in South and South-East Asia. It also presents guidelines for management derived from these studies, adapted particularly to the large rivers of the region. These guidelines are intended to support the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible fisheries and as such are aimed primarily at securing the sustainability of floodplain resources in order to secure a continuing supply of protein rich food. The Marine Resources Assessment Group carried out the work in association with several other overseas and UK institutes. Funding for this paper was provided by the UK Department For International Development. The Technical Paper was published through FAO to ensure a wide dissemination of its ideas.

The Technical Paper is in two parts:

Part 1. General ideas on the management of large floodplain rivers based on the experiences gained by the projects and on other literature from related research.

Part 2. Technical data derived directly from research on the selected South East Asian rivers.

The Technical Paper is aimed to provide fisheries administrators and scientists at policy making, executive and field levels with the tools they need to make decisions on the allocation of riverine resources and management of river fisheries. The material provided (especially in Part 1) may also be used in the construction of courses for extension workers.


Floodplain river fisheries need local solutions - there is no single ‘right’ answer which may be applied ‘top-down’

This report provides guidelines for the management of fisheries in large floodplain rivers. Effective management of these complex resources requires holistic and multi-disciplinary approaches. The high variability of ecological and social characteristics between different rivers also demand locally-appropriate solutions. These guidelines thus attempt to show which questions need to be asked to find effective local solutions - there is no single ‘right’ answer which can be applied ‘top-down’.

The guidelines are presented in a concise and simple format in Part 1. The underlying research which led to the guidelines is given in the more detailed Part 2. The Part 1 guidelines are written in five main sections - the ‘why, what, who and how’ of management, and a final summary showing how these components may be drawn together into an effective management approach. The guidelines recommend both a ‘hierarchical’ and a ‘spatial’ approach to management, based on the strong participation of both government, communities and other stakeholders at appropriate levels.

In the ‘why’ section, floodplain river systems are shown to be both highly valuable and highly vulnerable. Despite their high value, floodplain river habitats are now among the fastest disappearing of all ecological systems: effective management is urgently required. Floodplain rivers may be managed for many different objectives, but not all objectives may be achieved at the same time. Managers must, for example, choose between high employment combined with low profits, and low employment combined with a higher quality fish catch. To encourage local participation in management, the preferred objectives of fishing communities should be supported where possible.

The ‘what’ section describes the characteristics of floodplain fisheries resources, in terms of their environment; their fish and their exploitation by fishing communities. Multi-species, multi-gear floodplain fisheries have more complex interactions between the environment, the fish and the fishers, than any other type of fishery. This complexity may only be handled by an appropriate management approach, and the sharing of responsibilities between those most able to achieve them.

The floodplain environment comprises many different habitats and may provide many alternative livelihoods. With demands for irrigation water, power generation and flood control, floodplains are increasingly being modified on both a large scale and a small scale. Floodplain fish production, however, is dependent on the maintenance of the natural functioning of floodplain systems. Fisheries interests must be well represented in fora responsible for integrated catchment management.

Floodplains are inhabited by many different types of fish, including strongly migratory ‘whitefish’ and more locally-resident ‘blackfish’. Whitefish and blackfish must be managed in spatial units appropriate to their distribution patterns: most whitefish will require a catchment focus, while blackfish may be managed more by villages for their own local benefits. The spatial relationships between waterbodies and the communities near to them will determine who may be able to manage effectively in each locality.

The high species and habitat diversity of floodplains is reflected in the complexity of the fishery. Floodplain fishing communities often comprise a complex network of ‘stakeholders’, with leaseholders, middle-men and fishers at various levels of authority and dependency. Many different types of fishing gears are also used, from simple hooks and traps up to more elaborate, expensive and effective structures such as barrier traps and fish drives. ‘Hoovering gears’, such as dewatering, poison, electric fishing and fish drives attempt to catch all the fish in dry season waterbodies, and must be limited to ensure the survival of blackfish as they prepare for spawning with the new flood. Barrier gears must also be limited to ensure the access of whitefish to their spawning grounds.

The next section considers ‘who’ should be involved in the management of floodplain fisheries. The first step is to identify who has an interest or stake in the fishery. A description of stakeholders and the nature of their interest is vital information as management is essentially about managing the people who exploit the fishery. Understanding the relationships between stakeholder groups is also important, for example whether they co-operate or conflict with each other or whether the groups are dependent in some way (financial, political etc.) on each other. Awareness of the relationships that stakeholders have with the fishery and with each other will guide the development and implementation of management plans. For example, activities that will increase conflict, and so undermine the chances of management success, can be avoided or planned for (i.e. the activity can be gradually introduced alongside measures designed to improve relationships and trust between the groups in conflict). Exclusion of any one stakeholder group from the process can seriously undermine management, rules can be ignored and challenged as people feel they have had no part in their development. Awareness, consultation and the full participation of stakeholder groups will usually increase the perceived legitimacy of management and the likelihood of its success.

An indicative list of the groups who will have a stake in floodplain fisheries management is presented alongside a brief description of their likely interests in the fishery. The word ‘community’ is used in this listing, with the reservation that it implies a cohesive group of people with similar objectives. In reality, ‘floodplain communities’ are typically very mixed, often with significant social, cultural and financial differences. A stakeholder analysis of a specific community would disaggregate the community into smaller groups with similar interests. The process of developing management plans could then take account of these differences between groups.

Successful management requires that stakeholders take responsibility for a range of roles. This document identifies and discuss 18 individual roles, as follows: establish management objectives; ensure international responsibilities are taken into account; ensure the environment is protected; assess the fishery; provide technical guidance (knowledge/expertise); conduct research (pure and applied); provide a catchment perspective for management; develop management plans; set rules for fishing (i.e. who can fish, which species, where, when and how); set rules for institutional support of fisheries management; develop appropriate legislation to support fisheries management; provide mechanisms for conflict resolution; co-ordination; communication; training/extension; monitoring; enforcement; and, funding of fisheries management. The list is long, but not exhaustive. It is intended to guide managers as they develop their own priorities for successfully managing their fishery.

The question of who should take responsibility for which role is not always straightforward. The decision requires an assessment of the ‘capacity’ of each of the stakeholder groups. Four categories of capacity are identified: resources, trained members, rights and motivation. Lack of resources often undermines fisheries management. Resources may include staff in a Fisheries Department or members of a co-operative management group as well financial resources. The costs associated with some management interventions, such as stocking and habitat rehabilitation, can be very high and shortfalls in a budget may be more of a constraint than technical or social aspects of the intervention.

The second category is trained members. Fisheries management requires a range of skills and stakeholder groups must have people who are experienced or well trained in the areas for which they have responsibility. As can be seen from the list of roles identified here, skills in technical assessment of a fishery through to conflict resolution are needed for successful management. Often these skills are not present or will need to be improved by appropriate training.

The third category of capacity is rights, this covers recognised roles, responsibilities and the right to manage. With so many stakeholders involved in floodplain fisheries and the long list of roles, it is very important that all groups involved understand and agrees who is doing what. Conflict often occurs in fisheries when there is some confusion or disagreement between groups over responsibilities: this can not be ignored as such conflict undermines management. The recognition of different groups' rights to manage often needs to be formal. This can be through a formal letter of agreement between the floodplain stakeholders and the relevant government department or even included as part of national or local legislation. This provides the stakeholders with the authority to manage including the power to exclude groups who are not part of the agreement. This is a very powerful and important part of a stakeholder group's capacity to manage.

The final category is motivation. Fisheries management requires active involvement of all stakeholders to the process of developing, implementing and refining plans for management. Involvement takes time and sometimes money, therefore incentives and disincentives need to be understood. Stakeholder analysis will help identify the reasons why people will sometimes prefer not to be part of the management process: plans need to be made to maximise incentives and minimise disincentives. Incentives can range from adequate salaries and opportunities of promotion for staff in government organisations, through to tangible benefits such as larger fish and improved social status for members of stakeholder groups based on the floodplain.

The final part of the ‘who should manage’ section proposes a match of stakeholders to the necessary management roles within a hierarchical system of management units. Three very broad groups of stakeholders are identified for this exercise: government departments, floodplain communities and intermediary organisations (i.e. projects, NGO's, aid agencies etc). As with the listing of roles, this match is presented as a guide to managers, providing an overview and illustrating the process rather than giving a definitive answer for all floodplain fisheries. The main outcome of this is that all three groups have important roles to play in both catchment and local management areas. However, responsibilities will vary between groups depending on which level of management area is under discussion. Governments will have to take the lead in catchment level management as they have the greatest capacity to coordinate and manage fisheries on this scale. In contrast, floodplain communities are often in a better position to take responsibility for managing the local areas within a supportive framework provided by government. Intermediary organisations may play a facilitating role, supporting both governments and communities in the clarification of roles, improving capacity and developing management plans.

Finally then, the ‘how’ section presents guidelines for the sub-division of floodplain rivers into a hierarchy of spatially defined ‘management units’, and for their adaptive management using locally appropriate tools. Responsibility for the management of a river fishery should be divided between a ‘catchment management authority’ and a number of other co-management partnerships, each managing a local sub-unit. Such partnerships may be either village-based or district-based, depending on the size and types of waterbodies involved and on the traditional and formal activities of existing institutions.

Fishery management units should be selected to achieve the maximum overlap between the range of authority of the management group (e.g. a village boundary) and the distribution range of a fish stock. The managers of Catchment Management Areas (CMAs) should be responsible for (1) managing migratory whitefish stocks for the overall benefit of the catchment's fishers, (2) co-ordinating management activities in the smaller village units, and (3) representing fishery interests in sectoral talks on integrated catchment management. The smallest Village Management Areas (VMAs) provide the strongest management opportunities for local blackfish stocks, where fishing communities have traditional control over local waterbodies, within areas small enough to manage effectively. Other Intermediate Management Areas (IMAs) may also be identified in between CMAs and VMAs. In both IMAs and VMAs, traditional institutions and government administrative systems should be built upon where available to take advantage of existing management skills, local knowledge and systems of authority.

Guidelines are given for the strategic assessment of the different types of management units, and for the preparation of management plans. Such plans may include a mixture of different tools for ensuring sustainability, raising revenues, and ensuring a fair distribution of benefits. The appropriate management plan for each fishery unit depends on its local environmental and social conditions, its management objectives, and its current state in comparison with those objectives. Menus of different tools are proposed for each type of management unit, and the objectives, advantages and disadvantages of each tool are described.

Due to the competitive interactions between fishing gears, it is important to recognise that technical management approaches such as gear closures, closed seasons, and mesh/fish size limits always have benefits for some gears, and losses for others. Barrier trap regulations and habitat restorations are particularly recommended for CMAs to maintain the long-distance migration pathways of whitefish. Restrictive leasing of waterbodies combined with reserves and other technical tools are recommended for VMAs to ensure the dry season survival of local blackfish stocks and the access of whitefish into community waters. Simple management tools are recommended for larger floodplain lakes shared between surrounding villages, to control overall fishing levels, encourage co-operation, and reduce conflicts. Tools for floodplains impounded by flood control or irrigation schemes are also described, mainly involving the operation of sluice gates for the joint benefits of agriculture and fisheries.

Due to the high variability between floodplain systems, the local impacts of such different management tools are impossible to predict in advance. An adaptive management approach is therefore recommended, with monitoring programmes designed to ensure the local effectiveness of the chosen management strategies. The participation of fishers in these monitoring programmes is encouraged, and the funding required should be raised from the fishery wherever possible. The results of the monitoring programme should be widely disseminated, and should show clearly whether or not the community's objectives for the fishery are being achieved.

The information used to monitor the fishery will depend on the objectives chosen for it and may include both ecological and socio-economic data. Changes in the inputs to the fishery should be monitored in order to understand any changes in the monitored outputs. Monitoring changes in the wider environment or fishing practices, for example, may help to explain unexpected changes in fish catches. Since environmental conditions change naturally from year to year, managers must be prepared to examine long-term trends in their data. ‘Process monitoring’ of the co-management partnership may also be vital, especially in the early stages, to ensure that conflicts of interests or other factors do not prevent effective collaboration.

The final section of the guidelines summarises the necessary steps required for successful management. The steps are divided into those which should be taken by (1) national-level policy makers, (2) catchment managers (including any co-ordinating fora for multi-CMA rivers), and (3) managers of the individual CMA, VMA and IMA fishery units. Though the ongoing adaptive management process is relatively simple, it can only be successfully implemented when all the necessary steps have been implemented at higher levels. Most importantly, decentralised management can not proceed effectively until the management rights of local people and agencies have been recognised and clearly stated in the legislation. With appropriate hierarchical and spatial sharing of management responsibilities between government and local communities, and with effective participation and communication, the high value of floodplain river fisheries may be retained by these approaches.

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