The St Andrews Prize for the Environment

University of St Andrews


2016 Finalist

Mamirauá Institute - Bringing Back an Amazon Giant

Mamirauá Institute - Bringing Back an Amazon Giant

The MAMIRAUÁ INSTITUTE’s Fishing Management Programme is focused on increasing the population of an endangered species of fish called the Giant Arapaima. The project helps improve the prospects of isolated riverine communities in the Amazon, where fishing is essential to their survival and income.

In the 1980s, foreign boats began fishing deeper into the Amazon interior and overfishing caused the decline of populations of the Giant Arapaima, which is one of the most sought-after fish in the region. Alongside a permanent fishing ban of the species in 1996, Brazil’s last socioeconomic census showed that the 700+ thousand people who live in the region had the lowest Human Development Index in the country.

Thanks to a change in Brazilian legislation later in 1996, a Sustainable Development Reserve model was introduced to ensure the sustainability of fish populations in the Amazon. The Mamirauá Institute for Sustainable Development was created in 1999 to monitor fish stocks in the region by involving fishermen’s associations and unions.

During the project’s early stages, a significant amount of effort went into understanding underlying contexts, such as the species’ biology, ecology and carrying capacity. The socio-economic aspects of the local communities were also closely studied and assistance was given to local fishermen to organise themselves as associations in order to meet legal and market requirements. From there on, a community-based management model was developed, which includes diagnosis and planning, mapping fishing areas, assessing local communities and fish population size, zoning fishing areas and generating awareness of sustainable management practices. At the heart of this community-based model is the financial profit that the local communities see from their efforts. This provides the incentive for communities to take responsibility for the species’ conservation.

During its 16 years, the programme has shown that it is possible to combine species conservation with a positive social, ecological and economic impact. So far, the project has achieved a 25% average annual growth in the populations of Giant Arapaima in managed areas. It has also achieved a 29% average annual increase in earnings from the activity and an increase in the number of fishermen and their associations adopting the management practice.

In 2010, the Mamirauá Institute’s Fishing Management Programme was awarded the Millennium Development Goals Brazil Award as an acknowledgement of their work. The project was also awarded the 2011 Brazil Ramsar Convention Prize, the 2015 Banco do Brazil Foundation Award in Social Technologies and the 2015 Energy Globe Awards Brazil. The Mamirauá Institute aims to create a greater awareness of the project and to expand its partnership network to help scale the model to other places beyond South America.

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