Blue Justice Alert: The indigenous communities in the Orinoquía region, Colombia

A 'Blue Justice Alert' story*

Written By Rocío Lancheros-Neva
Tuparro river, located at eastern Colombia in the Orinoquía region – © Rocío Lancheros-Neva

Situated in the eastern plains of Colombia, the Orinoquía region has been inhabited by a number of Indigenous communities, such as the Piaroa, Curripaco, Amorua, Sikuani, and Puinave, among others. Historically, clans or smaller groups from these communities moved through the land and water in search of resources that would sustain them. Such free exploration was possible as no one owned the territory – they had a complete freedom of movement. Through the establishment of the territory ownership model, many of these nomadic groups had to settle in specific areas and form communities, which brought significant changes to their relationship with the inland ecosystems. Essentially, they established conucos (cultivation areas) to grow key food products (e.g., cassava, plantain, chili) and adapted their fishing methods. The sedentary lifestyle required the identification of stable extraction zones and a recognition of the temporality of fishing resources due to the high hydroclimatic variability of the region. It also meant they were now facing territorial barriers and segregation that limited their access to resources.

Over the years, fishing has become one of the main subsistence and economic drivers for these local communities — fish represents a primary source of protein and income. Selling fish takes place during the subienda season (when fish migrate to reproduce in specific sites within the river) that occurs in the Tomo, Tuparro, and Orinoco rivers, especially between the months of May to August.

Tuparro river, located at eastern Colombia in the Orinoquía region – © Rocío Lancheros-Neva

Local communities have identified three factors that impact freshwater fish stocks and, thus, their livelihoods. First, the number of communities and inhabitants in the area has been increasing as a result of the mass migration following Venezuela’s economic crisis. Therefore, more actors are relying on fishing resources for their survival and wellbeing. Secondly, sport fishing has become popular. Given that most of the tourists are foreigners, this recreational activity is considered an important source of income for various local and national tour operators that were established in the region. Similar to the migration-related concern, local fishers worry that sport fishing is keeping the fish away and is reducing its availability because it is a practice commonly conducted in their prime fishing areas. Thirdly, fishing gears such as the chinchorro seine net is now a widespread technique, used on a daily basis, which leads to a larger-scale extraction of fishery resources since species are being caught irrespective of their sizes. This greatly disadvantages local fishers who are still implementing traditional arts of fishing (boya, tarraya), which allow for a more sustainable fishing practice in the region.

When talking to the fishing communities located on the banks of the Orinoco river, it is not uncommon to hear that the availability of fish has decreased or that now they must spend extra hours navigating greater distances in their boats to obtain the minimum amount of resource for their consumption and commercialization. To address this ongoing issue, their request is clear: it is vital that the government entities in the area guarantee a greater control and surveillance of the use of natural resources. However, many of the fishing areas are located in zones that are distant from the municipal centers, where the presence of patrolling entities is already reduced due to a lack of national budget to establish control and governmental institutions. Given this, it is time for a paradigm shift: a call for all Indigenous groups, state actors, tourism agencies, and other stakeholders to work together to achieve sustainable fisheries within the territories. 



Rocío Lancheros-Neva 

is a biologist from the University of Tolima, researcher for the NGO Fundación Macuáticos Colombia, and a professional at the El Tuparro National Natural Park. She is involved in natural resource management in the Amazon and Orinoquia regions.

*Contribute your Blue Justice Alert Story!

We are inviting small-scale fishers and the wider small-scale fisheries community to send short stories depicting current challenges affecting small-scale fisheries, with a particular focus on social injustice and inequity issues. These stories will be posted online as part of the TBTI newest project 'Blue Justice Alert: An Interactive Platform for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries’.