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The Business Adaptabilities Of Fisheries

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Fisheries, the harvesting of wild fish and other aquatic animals, often play a valuable role in livelihood strategies that is not readily replaced by the development of irrigated agriculture. Despite this, the impacts of irrigation development and management on fisheries are seldom considered. Viewing fisheries and irrigation within an integrated and participatory management framework ensures that livelihoods and food security are enhanced rather than hurt by irrigation development. And it provides an opportunity to increase the overall productivity of irrigation systems--at little additional cost.

Protecting and enhancing fisheries in irrigated areas

Policymakers and planners have tended to overlook artisanal fisheries--despite the fact that in rural areas, fisheries often contribute significantly to incomes and diets. An estimated 50 million people in developing countries derive income and food from inland fisheries. In locations as diverse as the Mekong, Amazon and Lake Chad basins, researchers found that rural households typically obtain 10 to 30 percent of their total income from inland fishing. And, particularly for poor households, fish is often the primary source of protein. Irrigation development and management can have direct and indirect impacts on fisheries. It can change flow patterns, size and connectivity of aquatic habitats, and water quality--affecting the productivity and diversity of fisheries. It can also change physical accessibility or rights of access to water bodies--affecting who is able to benefit from the resource. But, contrary to popular belief, fisheries can happily co-exist with irrigation systems--contributing to the overall productivity of systems and to livelihoods and food security of the surrounding communities. Recent research from Laos and Sri Lanka has shown that irrigation development can actually enhance fisheries production, with appropriate water management and policy support.

Benefits of an integrated and participatory management of irrigation and fisheries

The prevailing sectoral approach to natural resources management tends to prevent optimal use of water for irrigation and fisheries. Irrigation generally falls under one department and fisheries another, with very few, if any, institutional linkages between the two responsible agencies--even though the productivity of fisheries in irrigated areas is closely linked to irrigation management. With an integrated and participatory management approach, fisheries can often help "top up" the benefits provided by irrigation, and may match the needs of poor and vulnerable groups otherwise neglected or adversely affected by irrigation development. Identifying the main interactions between biophysical and economic/social systems provides a new and broader perspective for the management of both irrigation and fisheries. These, in turn, need to be considered in the context of the multiple and competing water uses within a river basin, as addressed in an Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) framework. In "Water Management and Ecosystems: Living with Change," Malin Falkenmark describes the first-order of business for responsible water management as identifying essential ecosystem goods and services and taking steps to protect those resources. It is important to keep in mind that "ecosystem" applies to modified as well as "natural" environments. Ecological protection has tended to focus on rivers and lakes, but man-made habitats are often equally if not more important from a livelihood perspective. The drive to secure human welfare means that few landscapes are untouched. The challenge is to find ways to "live with change"-- "secure capacity to absorb continuous change without loss of the dynamic capacity of ecosystems to uphold the supply of

ecological goods and services."


Since irrigation development modifies aquatic habitats and hydrology, it usually has negative effects on at least some components of local aquatic biodiversity. But this does not mean that impacts on fisheries are necessarily negative as well: some species may actually benefit--for example, if reservoir construction increases the extent of their habitat. Depending on local conditions and infrastructure design and operation, irrigation may enhance overall fisheries production levels. In the two case studies reported here, irrigation development created new aquatic habitats without substantially affecting the extent or production capacity of the existing habitats supporting fisheries production: rain-fed rice-fields in Laos and ancient tanks (small reservoirs) in Sri Lanka. Another popular belief that has misdirected policy in the past is that fishing is an activity of last resort and that it can easily be "replaced" by irrigated agriculture. In Laos, researchers found that the majority of rural households fished as part of a traditional livelihood strategy--one that also involved farming, collection of forest products and occasional wage labor. Policy responses need to be adapted to local conditions and to recognize that fisheries can perform a range of functions, from an activity of last resort, through part of diversified livelihoods, to a specialized and remunerative occupation.

It is true that irrigation development may draw some labor away from fishing because in comparison to rain-fed farming, the demand for labor in irrigated agriculture will usually be higher, less variable, and for a greater proportion of the year. On the other hand, poor households without access to the benefits of irrigation, and perhaps economically and socially marginalized by its development, may be driven to rely more heavily on fishing as one element of a usually diversified livelihood strategy. For responsible planning and management, decision-makers need accurate information on the role fisheries play in a community and potential impacts on stakeholders. If the importance of fisheries is not recognized, irrigation development may actually increase poverty and food insecurity among certain stakeholder groups.

Incorporating fisheries into planning and impact assessment Considering biodiversity is not enough

Environmental impact assessments, while useful for addressing biodiversity and ecological integrity issues, do not generally capture productivity and livelihood issues. And while biodiversity may be linked to livelihoods and productivity in some cases, in others it is not. The loss of certain habitat types or habitat connectivity may cause a loss in biodiversity without affecting overall fish production levels, while loss of the extent of the habitat may cause a decline in fish



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