Understanding causes of population decline is essential to inform effective conservation of endangered species, but attention must also be given to the social and economic context of the system in which the species exists to ensure successful, integrated interventions. In many rapidly developing countries however, awareness lags behind development and sufficient data to inform effective conservation is not available, causing problems and delays in implementation. This can be made even more difficult by the typical involvement of multiple stakeholders, who can hold differing objectives or conservation values.
Asian freshwater cetaceans are amongst the most threatened large mammal taxa(1). The Critically Endangered Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis ssp. asiaeorientalis) is a unique freshwater cetacean endemic to the middle-lower reaches of the Yangtze River, eastern China. As their range is restricted to the heavily industrialised Yangtze River, their habitat is concurrent with a high level of anthropogenic habitat modification and direct and indirect environmental threats. Heavy extraction from this system has led to severe fish stock decline; this has reduced prey availability for the porpoise but also threatened livelihoods and sustainability of food resources for local communities, some of whom have been severely restricted by government-led fishing limitations. There’s very little understanding of how to effectively mitigate the local fishing industry whilst also conserving livelihoods and protecting communities reliant on the Yangtze as a source of income and food.
To address this issue, an extensive interview survey of fishing communities aimed to detail local fishing habits, quantify porpoise bycatch, and assess the success of mitigation schemes around the key habitat of Poyang Lake and an adjacent section of Yangtze mainstem. The comprehensive interview was designed to gain better understanding of the factors needed for sucessful livelihood replacement, effective reimbursement schemes, and other factors that may affect the success of conservation measures. By incorporating the socio-economic implications noted in this study, current and possible future interventions to conserve both the porpoise and other local species will be more likely to result in long-term sustainability through community support whilst also ensuring the future of local livelihoods.
(1) Reeves, R. R., Smith, B. D. and Kasuya, T. (2000) Biology and Conservation of Freshwater Cetaceans in Asia. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.