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Part 1 - Management Guidelines

Part 1 of this paper provides guidelines for the management of large floodplain rivers. Effective management of these complex resources requires holistic and multi-disciplinary approaches. In addition, the high variability of ecological and social characteristics between different rivers demand locally-appropriate solutions. These guidelines attempt to show which questions need to be asked to find effective local solutions - there is no single ‘right’ answer which may be applied ‘top-down’.

The guidelines are presented in a concise and simple format, leaving the underlying research to the more detailed Part 2. The concepts are presented in four main sections - the ‘why, what, who and how’ of management. A final summary section shows how these components may be drawn together into an effective management approach. The ‘why’ section demonstrates the high value of floodplain fisheries and their urgent need for management. The ‘what’ section describes the characteristics of floodplain fisheries resources, in terms of their environment, their fish and their exploitation by fishing communities. The next section considers who has an interest or stake in the management of the fishery, and who has the capacity and ability to fill the various roles required. Finally, the ‘how’ section presents guidelines for the sub-division of floodplain rivers into spatially defined ‘management units’, and for their adaptive management using locally appropriate tools. The guidelines recommend both a ‘hierarchical’ and ‘spatial’ approach to management, based on the strong participation of both government, communities and other stakeholders at appropriate levels. This approach represents the logical outcome of the various studies described in Part 2, but now requires field testing and validation. The authors would thus welcome any comments on these ideas.

1 Why Manage?

1.1 Why manage floodplain rivers?

Floodplain river systems are both highly valuable and highly vulnerable
Despite their high values, floodplain river habitats are now among the fastest disappearing of all ecological systems
Floodplain rivers may be managed for many different objectives, but not all at once

Floodplain river systems are both highly valuable and highly vulnerable. Both of these characteristics are partly due to the impacts of external factors on the resource. Water flows from upstream bring both beneficial nutrients and potentially damaging pollutants. They are also partly due to the extensive and variable nature of the floodplain environment: this provides many opportunities for natural resource use, but also stimulates over-use and destruction when different users compete for access.

The high values of floodplain river systems are due to:

Their high vulnerability is due to:

Inland waters of the Asian region (including rivers, lakes and reservoirs) are more heavily exploited than in either Africa or South America, and provide more than half of the world's production from inland capture fisheries (52.3% of the world catch of 6.5 million tonnes in 1990, according to FAO).

Despite their high values, floodplain river habitats are now among the fastest disappearing of all ecological systems. Outside Asia, it has been estimated that 77% of the 139 largest river systems in North America, Europe and the former Soviet Union are strongly or moderately affected by interventions associated with navigation, reservoir operations, inter-basin diversions and irrigation. These modifications have resulted in the loss of many fisheries particularly for migratory species in both the rivers themselves and in the lakes and seas they feed. In other cases they have necessitated intensive efforts to retain valuable species, such as the sturgeon and the salmon, through artificial breeding and stocking programmes. There are strong pressures for similar modifications in large rivers everywhere. The fisheries sector is frequently viewed as economically unimportant when compared with the financially powerful electricity generation lobby, with the needs for supply to the urban, industrial and agricultural sectors. For this reason it tends to be overlooked when allocating water or issuing permits for public works that involve massive alteration to the aquatic ecosystem. Such abuses can only be avoided if fisheries interests are strongly represented in those fora responsible for such decisions.

Floodplain rivers thus urgently require effective, integrated management to ensure that their potential values to fisheries and other sectors are maintained. This urgency has already been recognised by the Ramsar Convention, under which a few particularly valuable wetland environments are protected as nature reserves. Much more needs to be done for the vast majority of river catchments which lie outside Ramsar sites.

1.2 Management objectives

Well-managed fisheries may be highly productive, and may serve many different objectives. As shown below, different objectives will appeal to different levels of society. Unfortunately, not all of these objectives can be achieved at the same time. Managers must thus attempt to satisfy as many objectives as possible, and must recognise that their goals for the fishery, such as maintaining biodiversity or raising revenues, may not all be shared by fishing communities.

These guidelines show how different objectives may be achieved by collaborative management. As will be seen, successful management requires appropriate decision-making and effective contributions from each of the above management levels.

Likely selection of alternative management objectives by different levels of society

 International Policy MakersNational Policy MakersRegional Fishery ManagersLocal Communities
General Objective    
 Sustainability (of following)
Ecological Objectives    
Primary Use Objectives    
 Food / nutrition
Ornamental fish  
Sport fishing  
Social Objectives    
 Income to fishers   
Equity / benefit distribution 
Poverty reduction 
Conflict reduction
Government Objectives    
 Revenue to government  
Contribution to GDP   
Export income   

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