Fishers' knowledge identifies environmental changes and fish abundance trends in impounded tropical rivers

Ecol Appl. 2013 Mar;23(2):392-407. doi: 10.1890/12-0429.1.


The long-term impacts of large hydroelectric dams on small-scale fisheries in tropical rivers are poorly known. A promising way to investigate such impacts is to compare and integrate the local ecological knowledge (LEK) of resource users with biological data for the same region. We analyzed the accuracy of fishers' LEK to investigate fisheries dynamics and environmental changes in the Lower Tocantins River (Brazilian Amazon) downstream from a large dam. We estimated fishers' LEK through interviews with 300 fishers in nine villages and collected data on 601 fish landings in five of these villages, 22 years after the dam's establishment (2006-2008). We compared these two databases with each other and with data on fish landings from before the dam's establishment (1981) gathered from the literature. The data obtained based on the fishers' LEK (interviews) and from fisheries agreed regarding the primary fish species caught, the most commonly used type of fishing gear (gill nets) and even the most often used gill net mesh sizes but disagreed regarding seasonal fish abundance. According to the interviewed fishers, the primary environmental changes that occurred after the impoundment were an overall decrease in fish abundance, an increase in the abundance of some fish species and, possibly, the local extinction of a commercial fish species (Semaprochilodus brama). These changes were corroborated by comparing fish landings sampled before and 22 years after the impoundment, which indicated changes in the composition of fish landings and a decrease in the total annual fish production. Our results reinforce the hypothesis that large dams may adversely affect small-scale fisheries downstream and establish a feasible approach for applying fishers' LEK to fisheries management, especially in regions with a low research capacity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem
  • Extinction, Biological
  • Fishes / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Population Density
  • Power Plants*
  • Rivers*
  • Tropical Climate*