The Amazon Basin is the largest and more pristine watershed in Brazil with the highest freshwater fish diversity in the world and sustaining widespread small-scale fisheries. Although large tracts of the Amazon remain in good ecological condition, excessive fishing pressure had decreased the size and abundance of some large commercial fishes.


In the last decades, several locally based and bottom-up co-management systems emerged in the Brazilian Amazon, on which local communities manage fishing territories (usually floodplain lakes), by excluding outsiders that do not follow management rules, such as fishing restrictions or no-take areas. Co-management may improve fishing yields and increase fish abundance in the more productive white water floodplains.


Quick Facts:


Area:  5.5 Million km2

Population:  Estimated 30 million people, nine different political systems (see below). The Amazon basin is home to 350 ethnic groups, 60 of which remain almost completely isolated.

Jurisdictions:  Brazil (64%), Peru (10%), Colombia (6.2%), Bolivia (6.2%), Ecuador (1.5%), Venezuela (5.8%), Others – Guyana, Surinam and French Guiana (5.9%)

Ecology: The Amazon is typically warm all year round with temperatures from 22-43 degrees Celsius, there is also high humidity. Due to the size and variety of habitats, the Amazon basin is the most ecologically diverse place on Earth. The Amazon basin “houses at least 10% of the world’s known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flora and fauna, and it’s river accounts for 15-16%of the world’s total river discharge into the oceans” (WWF, 2019). The Amazon river itself is over 6600 km long, has hundreds of tributaries and streams and contains the most diverse and largest amount of freshwater fish species in the world (WWF, 2019).

  • Average temperature of the Amazon is between 22-34 degrees C with high humidity.
  • Most ecologically diverse place on Earth, housing at least 10% of the worlds known biodiversity, including endemic and endangered flor and fauna.
  • Amazon river accounts for 15-16% of the worlds total discharge into the oceans
  • The Amazonian biome is two times the size of India
  • The Amazon river is over 6600 km long – contains most diverse/largest amount of freshwater species in the world.

Development:  Forestry and large scale agricultural development.  Currently, land clearing (through fire!) is significantly reducing forest canopy which may have a impact on the quality of water in amazonian rivers.  “The Amazon has lost at least 17% of its forest cover, its connectivity has been in has been increasingly disrupted, and numerous endemic species have been subjected to waves of resource exploitation” (WWF, 2019).

  • 17% of the forest cover has been lost in the last 50 years.
  • Currently, land conversion and deforestation in the Amazon releases up to 0.5 billion metric tons of carbon per year, not including emissions from forest fires
  • Most important international concern is the deforestation

The Tracking Changes Project funded by SSHRC is working primarily with local peoples from the ribeirinhos or caboclos cultural groups.  The project is looking at the use of natural resources and fishers in several Amazonian rivers including the Negro River, which has black water, the Toncantins River, which has clear water, and the Tapajos River.  There is also some work being done in the white water Solimões and Lower Amazon rivers.


The work in the Amazon Basin is being primarily coordinated by Dr. Renato Silvano from the  Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul and Dr. Priscilla Lopes from the  Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte. A number of graduate students have supported the project.


Caboclos people are descendants of indigenous people and Portuguese colonizers, plus people from African descent, but more recently there has been immigration of people from the Northeastern Brazil. They live along the floodplains of the large Amazonian rivers and have a mixed economy based mainly on small-scale agriculture (cassava, to produce flour), fisheries and cattle ranching. Such economic activities are closely dependent on the water cycle, marked by a low and high water season. Fisheries done by caboclos are usually artisanal. In some areas the main fishing vessels are still paddled canoes, while in others low power motorized canoes predominate. In general, fishing is done with multiple types of gear (handline, harpoons, and castnets), but the most widely used are gillnets. Fishers are usually low income people with low political power, although some communities have organized themselves to get exclusive rights to certain fishing grounds through co-management systems, fishing accords or extractive or sustainable reserves.


These riverine populations could be considered as being vulnerable, especially those from the Tapajos River, which has waters that are less productive and have lower fish biomass and lower availability of large sized commercial fish. Furthermore, these people rely mostly on fish as a source of animal protein, and are therefore more vulnerable to environmental or anthropogenic changes that could affect fish ecology and fish abundance, such as long and unusual periods of drought (climatic changes), dams, mining and excessive fishing pressure.


The occurrence and efficacy of local co-management initiatives to promote biodiversity conservation or sustainable use of natural resources are largely unknown for most of the Brazilian Amazon, especially in the less productive black and clear water rivers. The Tracking Change research project is focused on this topic and is centered on the Tapajós River.


Renato Silvano

Universidade Federal Do Rio Grande Do Sul

Priscila Lopes

Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte
Graduate Students

Anne Runde

M.Sc. Graduate at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Supervisor:  Renato Silvano

Research Topic: Fishers’ knowledge identifies potential socio-ecological impacts downstream of proposed dams in a tropical river 

Brazil’s hydroelectricity sector is rapidly expanding with several planned dams in Amazonian rivers. While the impacts of dam development on fisheries located upstream from dams have been acknowledged, impacts on fisheries downstream have largely been overlooked by impact assessments. The goal of this study is to analyse fishery baseline data to estimate the socio-ecological vulnerability of small-scale fisheries located downstream from a proposed dam in the Tapajos River, Brazilian Amazon. Data were gathered from interviews with 171 fishers in 16 communities along a ~275 km stretch of river downstream from the proposed dam. The interviews were based on fishers’ socio-economic situation and the fishery resources they depend upon. A scenario was created that highlights the fishers’ vulnerability to damming based on the susceptibility to damming of the fish that the fishers exploit. The results indicate that fishing is an important activity, constituting a key source of food and income for the fishers and their communities. The scenario shows that the impact of the dam on fisheries potentially extends to the mouth of the river. Therefore, the impoundment is expected to affect the socio-economic and emotional well-being of all fishers, putting their livelihoods and those of their families at risk. The results suggest that, by ignoring the effects of dams on downstream communities, impact assessments severely underestimate the area and thus the number of people who would be affected by the dam. It is concluded that a thorough evaluation of all the downstream fishers needs to be included in official impact assessments before river impoundment is allowed, and that development plans should consider these findings.