Unsustainable fishing practices are a key issue in the Indian Brahmaputra river system and threaten the local population of Endangered Ganges River Dolphins, now reduced to just 300 remaining individuals.
For Dr. Abdul Wakid, project leader for SOS grantee Aaranyak and member of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, “the restrictive regulations enforced by the State Fishery Department are instrumental in preventing over-fishing. The seasonal ban in particular gives fish more time to grow rather than be caught at a sub-optimal size. Such measures are highly beneficial to the Ganges River Dolphins, who primarily feed on fish, but they are also essential to ensure the sustainability of fisheries. However, we quickly realised that local fishermen felt undermined by these regulations, which they did not understand and perceived as detrimental to their own interests.”
For the project team, the next step was clear: they had to educate local communities on the motives behind the seasonal fishing ban and other such measures, explaining how sustainable fishing practices would not benefit the dolphins only, but also the fishermen themselves and their children.
In collaboration with the Assam Fishery Department, the project team conducted, in June and July 2013, an extensive fish and fishery conservation awareness campaign among local communities in 28 areas important for dolphin conservation, covering 13 districts. Almost 2,000 community members, most of them fishermen, participated in interactive talks held by fishery officials on the topics of illegal and unsustainable fishing. A leaflet in Assamese providing details on the fishing ban season regulations was also distributed to reinforce awareness on the legislation and link it to the messages promoted in the campaign. Fishermen are more likely to respect the ban regulations if they understand the reasons for their existence, explained Wakid.
The campaign was very well-received by participants, with 90% of those surveyed describing the meetings as relevant and informative, and a similar percentage strongly agreeing on the need to sustainably manage fisheries. In general the fishermen like the dolphins and that makes it more likely that they will respect the fishing ban according to Wakid.
Reflecting on the campaign’s outcomes, Dr Abdul Wakid appears satisfied: “the message is getting out there and people are taking ownership of it. Since the campaign, several communities took steps to prevent unsustainable fishing in their local area, leading to fewer reports of unsustainable fishing practices.”