River Restoration

River Fisheries of the Gangetic Basin, India


The primer describes the river fisheries in the Gangetic basin as a system responding and adapting to constant change, operating through seasonal flooding pulses, channel course changes, hydrological connectivity and nutrient redistribution across the floodplains. The diversity of fishing habitats and fish species of coldwater streams, lowland/floodplain rivers and estuarine ecosystems is described in detail.

A checklist of important fish species to the fisheries has been presented with a description of fish ecology, breeding biology, population dynamics and habitat preferences. Threats to all fish species have been described in relation to the altered flow regimes and hydrology of the Gangetic river system. Flow regulation and alteration by dams, barrages and hydropower projects have affected fisheries across all habitats through blocking migration routes and destruction of fish breeding habitats. The socio-political side of the fisheries problem has also been discussed in depth, through an investigation into the political history, economy and social background of the Gangetic fisher communities. Fishing communities belonging to many traditional castes have been facing economic and social deprivation even until the present day, which has led to their impoverishment over and above the collapse in fish resource availability. Despite these serious problems endangering the fishers’ livelihood security, widespread policy neglect has led to continued devaluation and downgrading of fisheries.

The final part documents how most mitigation measures proposed for the revival of fisheries are likely to have failed. Cooperative fisheries management appears to have been run down by elite capture or governmental corruption in most places. Conflicts between fisheries and other interests (especially irrigation, waterfront development and infrastructure) have been rising. Technological measures such as fish ladders and hatcheries have also been inadequate because of poor environmental flows and improper water management schemes. Fisheries also interact with riverine species and biodiversity regularly, and opportunities exist in the protection of both fisheries and wildlife by maintaining ecological flow regimes in rivers, to safeguard fish resources along with biodiversity through compliance from both groups. Alternative livelihoods for fishers, community-based management of common property fishery resources and their critical dependence on ecological restoration of riverine fish stocks have been evaluated in the final section. The primer culminates in a 12-point plan for conservation, restoration and management of river fisheries prepared in consultation with over 300 fishers across the Gangetic basin.

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