Small-scale inland fisheries (SSIF) are a livelihood opportunity for millions of people in developing countries. Understanding the economic, ecological, political and social impacts fishers are coping with can clarify weaknesses and challenges in the fishery management. Using the SSIF at Lake Alaotra, Madagascar, as an example, we analyzed the development and fishers’ perception of, and adaptation strategies to, change. We surveyed fish catches to assess the state of fish stocks and conducted interviews to understand fishers’ livelihood, problems, behavior and attitudes. Our results show that the fishery sector of Lake Alaotra has grown dramatically although fish catches have fallen sharply. Changes in species composition and low reproduction rates reflect the fishing pressure. A point of no return seems near, as decreasing agricultural yields force farmers to enter the fishery sector as a form of livelihood diversification. Lake Alaotra reflects an alarming trend which can already be seen in many regions of the world and may affect a growing number in the near future. The Alaotran fisheries demonstrate that SSIF’s ability to provide livelihood alternatives under conditions of insecurity will become increasingly important. It further highlights that the identification of ongoing livelihood dynamics in order to disclose possible poverty trap mechanisms and to understand fisheries’ current function is essential for sustainable management.
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