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Impacts of fishing by dewatering on fish assemblages of tropical floodplain wetlands: A matter of frequency and context

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  • S.M. Martin
  • K. Lorenzen
  • R.I. Arthur
  • P. Kaisone
  • K. Souvannalangsy
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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/01/2011
<mark>Journal</mark>Biological Conservation
Issue number1
Volume144
Number of pages8
Pages (from-to)633-640
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date7/12/10
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Tropical floodplain wetlands and the fish communities they support are subject to great pressure from human demands for water and aquatic living resources. In densely populated agricultural areas where such pressures are greatest, floodplain wetlands may be dewatered for the dual purpose of crop irrigation and fish harvesting. Viewed as highly destructive to fish communities, the practice is widely discouraged but remains common. We investigated the impacts of dewatering on fish abundance and assemblage structure in permanent floodplain wetlands of the lower Mekong region. Draining was carried out only in wetlands where access for fishing and water withdrawal was exclusive to individual households or groups, and where fishing was restricted to draining events. Subsequently, the impacts of draining were found to be equivalent to those of intensive fishing, rather than entirely catastrophic. Many wetlands were drained and fished repeatedly in a single dry season, with catches declining by 72% on average between consecutive events. Species richness and mean length of fish also declined with consecutive dewatering events. Fish biomass was higher in drained wetlands prior to the first and second draining events than in open access, non-drained wetlands. These surprising results suggest that draining of floodplain wetlands is not as fundamentally destructive to fish populations as is often assumed. Where fishing pressure under open access conditions is high, allocation of exclusive rights to fish and dewater wetlands can aid fish conservation as long as dewatering is carried out only once.