Conflicts between fishermen and the Amazon aquatic megafauna

Despite the conflicts that hinder fishing, fishermen say they can live with megafauna species, even if their populations increase in the future

By Patrick Cook and Clara Machado

The enormous Amazonian biodiversity provides plenty of food to its residents, especially fish, which are the main source of protein for most people in the region. However, this same incredible biodiversity represents a threat when fishermen deal with large animals such as alligators or animals that scare fish away and destroy fishing nets, such as the Amazon river dolphin. The conservation of freshwater wildlife and the management of conflicts between humans and wildlife is a major challenge for global conservation.

Conflicts between people and these aquatic animals can occur through attacks, species that feed on fish trapped in fishing nets, damage to fishing equipment, and entanglement of animals. To better understand how fishermen deal with these conflicts and how they can affect the conservation of these species, Patrick Cook led a study with the participation of researchers from Instituto Juruá that documents conflicts between fishermen and four species of the Amazonian aquatic megafauna: the alligator (Melanosuchus niger), the giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), the Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and the tucuxi (Sotalia  fluviatilis).

Above: alligator (Melanosuchus niger) and giant otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) (Photo: Frank Hajek)
Below: Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) (Photo: Sannie Brum)

In the paper “Human-wildlife conflicts with crocodilians, cetaceans, and otters in the tropics and subtropics“, published in Biodiversity and Conservation, the researchers interviewed 49 fishermen from 37 communities asking a series of questions about interactions with these four species in the Mid-Juruá region.

The interviewees classified the four species according to the degree of problem they cause, and the alligator was considered the largest source of conflict, followed by the Amazon river dolphin, the giant otter, and the tucuxi. This result was expected, after all the alligator poses a direct threat to human life. Most adults in Juruá know or have heard of someone who has been killed by an alligator. On the other hand, conflicts with tucuxi have rarely been reported. Although all four species are described as a problem to some extent, most respondents reported that they could continue to live with them, even if their populations increased in the future, which is really positive news in terms of conservation.

When animals get stuck in fishing nets, the fishermen’s reaction can vary greatly depending on the animal they encounter. When it is an Amazon river dolphin or a tucuxi, fishermen simply release them most of the time (79% and 86% of the time), while the alligator is killed 93% of the time. Interestingly, 40% of the respondents stated that the giant otters could escape fishing nets without assistance, probably due to their ability to tear the nets with their teeth and claws.

As these conflicts occur, fishermen change their fishing spots to avoid them. The discovery that even with these threats fishermen believe that they can continue to live with these four species is great news for the future of the forest. It is a demonstration of the wisdom of the residents, who understand the importance of sharing the forest with animals, despite the conflicts they have to deal with.

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