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Use of ichthyofauna by artisanal fishermen at two protected areas along the coast of Northeast Brazil



Fishing is one of the oldest human activities and constitutes a source of income and livelihood for millions of people, particularly in coastal regions. This study aimed to characterize the types of fish use and test whether there is a relationship between uses of fish in the communities studied.


This study was conducted during the months of January to October 2013, on the beaches of Tamandaré and Batoque, both located in Northeast Brazil. Information was collected through interviews with 75 artisanal marine fishermen on the fishes they knew and their forms of use.


The fishermen interviewed were male, between 22 and 84 years old, and they had been fishing for over 10 years and had a low educational level. Fishermen from Tamandaré mentioned 339 popular fish names, representing 222 taxa, while Batoque fishermen mentioned 305 popular fish names, representing 215 taxa. Six types of uses of fish were characterized: food, commercial, medicinal, handicrafts, spiritual-religious purposes and aquarium. It was found that there were multiple uses for fish and that there was a relationship between these different uses, reinforcing the importance that fish have on the culture and economic activities of fishing communities.


Artisanal fishing should be understood as a cultural activity, because the different and multiple uses fish make up the dynamics of fishing communities. Just as in the areas of this study, some of these communities are included in protected areas and, therefore, fishermen must be involved in the development and implementation of management plans of these units.


Archaeological, historical and ethnographic studies show that aquatic resources have been exploited as sources of products useful to humans since ancient times, highlighting the importance of fishing to humankind [1,2]. Such importance has been perpetuated throughout human history, and today, millions of people worldwide depend directly or indirectly on the fishing sector as a source of income and livelihood [3]. In Brazil alone, there are over a million fishermen located in the vicinity of marine and freshwater environments, from north to south [4].

However, like any other form of exploitation of natural resources, fishing causes pressure on the species caught, underscoring the urgent need to search for strategies for sustainable use of resources to enable the continuity of artisanal fisheries, the production of which in recent years has suffered a drastic decline [5]. This has caused a global crisis in the fisheries sector, strongly affecting the quality of life and sustainability of social and economic activities of people of the sea, mainly artisanal fishermen [6].

The uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources required conservation measures, which were proposed in 1992, in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) [7]. One of the actions for in situ conservation was proposed by the CBD to establish a system of protected areas or areas where special measures would be taken to conserve biological diversity [7]. Accordingly, the Brazilian government, by Law No. 9985/2000 establishing the National System of Conservation Units of Nature [8], initiated a process for the creation of conservation units in the country.

However, the implementation of these protected areas has caused environmental conflicts, especially in those areas where there is overlap with the territory of traditional communities. To minimize these conflicts, after the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2004, the Brazilian government created the National Plan for Protected Areas [9], which establishes guidelines for environmental conservation based on the involvement of the people in and around the Conservation Units.

One relevant aspect in the definition of traditional cultures, among them the culture of artisanal fishermen, is the existence of systems for the management of natural resources, marked by respect for natural cycles and their exploitation within the recovery capacity of species used [10]. In this sense, the integration of these cultures with the environment can be an efficient way of preserving the ecological system, since their interests rest on the maintenance of ecosystems from which they derive their daily livelihood [11].

Given the scenario described above, the analysis of interactions between humans and fish through ethnoichthyological studies, is essential to think about ways of sustainable use, allowing the preservation of ichthyofaunal resources and the maintenance of the fishing culture, especially in protected areas. Ethnoichthyology aims to describe the knowledge about fish of a particular social group [12], providing support for the conservation of fish populations, by recording, recognizing and appreciating the ecological knowledge of fishermen [13].

The usefulness of fisheries resources for humans is diverse, especially as a protein source. Nevertheless, fish are used for various purposes, including commercial, handicrafts and medicinal purposes [13-15]. Most ethnoichthyological studies in Brazil have focused on fish used for used for food [16-19], and there are few studies on other uses of fish.

The present study was conducted in two different fishing communities on the northeastern coast of Brazil, with the following aims: i) to document and compare the richness of fish species according to the ichthyological knowledge of fishermen in the areas surveyed; ii) to characterize the types of fish use; iii) to assess the conservation status of the species recorded; and iv) to test whether there is a relationship between uses of fish in the communities studied. It was expected that the main use of fish was for food, and that other uses (medicinal purposes, making crafts, magical-religious purposes and aquarium) were associated with the byproducts of those fish used for food.


Study areas

The research was conducted with artisanal fishermen of Tamandaré Beach, in Pernambuco State, and Batoque Beach, in Ceará State, both on the coast of Northeast Brazil (Figure 1). Tamandaré Beach (8°45'10.81"S and 35°5'38.60"W) is located in the municipality of Tamandaré on the southern coast of Pernambuco, 110 km from the capital, Recife. The municipality of Tamandaré has 20,715 inhabitants [20] and is one of the major tourist centers of the Northeast, with infrastructure to meet the needs of natives, tourists and researchers. It is also harbors the Center for Research and Management of Fisheries Resources of the Northeast Coast (CEPENE), the Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the Coastal Reef Institute (linked to the Federal University of Pernambuco), which influence the development and oversight of local artisanal fisheries.

Figure 1
figure 1

Location beaches Tamandaré (PE) and Batoque (CE), on the coast of Northeast Brazil.

Tamandaré Beach is in two protected areas: Municipal Natural Park of Fort Tamandaré and Coral Coast Environmental Protected Area. The Coral Coast Environmental Protection Area is the first and largest federal conservation unit to protect part of the coastal reefs.

Batoque Beach (4°0’06.13”S and 38°13’52.07”W) is located in the municipality of Aquiraz, east coast of Ceará State, and is 54 km from the capital, Fortaleza. Aquiraz has a population of 72,628 inhabitants [20], and it is characterized by high real estate speculation and tourism on its beaches. However, Batoque is a small fishing village, part of the Extractive Reserve (RESEX) of Batoque, created by Presidential Decree of June 5, 2003. RESEX covers 601 hectares and has a population of approximately 460 inhabitants and a few commercial establishments.

The study areas were chosen because they are in protected areas and have artisanal fishing as one of the main economic activities. Furthermore, the two beaches show socioeconomic and environmental disparities, suggesting the existence of differences in fishing activity and ichthyological knowledge of the fishermen. According to information from the Z-5 colony of fishermen, there are 40 registered artisanal fishermen fishing at Tamandaré Beach in motor boats or rowboats. In Batoque, according to the Association of Fishermen and shellfish gatherers of the Batoque RESEX, there are 48 artisanal fishermen who fish primarily in sail boats, locally called “jangadas”. The study was conducted with 36 fishermen (90%) of Tamandaré Beach and 39 (81%) of Batoque Beach, totaling 75 artisanal marine fishermen, whose catch is mostly fish.

Data collection

The data related to socioeconomic information and knowledge about the ichthyofauna richness recognized and used locally were obtained using structured and semi-structured interviews, complemented by free interviews [21] and informal conversations with the fishermen. Before each interview, we explained the objectives and nature of the study and requested permission for the interviews. The study was approved by the Ethics Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects at the Federal University of Pernambuco (CAAE 05757512.5.0000.5208).

The first contacts with fishermen of Tamandaré and Batoque were through the aid of key informants [22] selected among all informants to cooperate more actively in research and to facilitate the contact with the community. Other respondents were indicated by the “snowball” technique [23], in a stratified sample that included only marine fishermen of each study location.

The interviews took place monthly from January to October 2013 and were conducted in the homes of the fishermen or on the beach and had an average duration of 40 minutes per respondent. To understand the socioeconomic context of the fishing activity, we initially determined the profile of the fishermen on the basis of structured forms with reference to the name, age, schooling and income of fishermen, economic activities developed by them, and also the time they practiced their fishing activity.

Fishermen were asked about the fish they knew and used or were aware of any type of use for the fish, through three supplementary interviewing techniques - Free listed items [24], Nonspecific prompting and Reading Back the list [25]. Direct observations and informal interviews with fishermen were conducted during the fish landing.

The identification of fish was performed using specimens as well as photographs and drawings shown to the fishermen, as proposed by Lopes, Silvano and Begossi [26]. The specimens were identified with the aid of information from the database of the Fisheries Statistics Project (ESTATPESCA) of FishBase ( and Coastal Reefs Institute, as well as research on fish populations in Northeast Brazil [27,28]. Cross identification was carried out, where fishermen identified specimens of fish previously identified by other respondents [29]. This technique was applied with three fishermen in each community, which demonstrated greater knowledge, from the number of citations and descriptions of fish in interviews.

Data analysis

Analyses of species richness were performed using Primer 6.1 software. The chi-square test (α = 5%), using BioEstat 5.3 software, was performed to determine any differences between the two fishing communities in richness of the fish fauna. The use value (UV) was determined for each species recorded [30], which allowed us to demonstrate the relative importance of the species known locally, regardless of the opinion of the researcher. UV was calculated using the following formula: UV = ΣU/n, where U = number of citations per species and n = number of informants.

Additionally, we checked the conservation status of the species recorded in accordance with the list of endangered species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2014 [31], the 2008 red list of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources [32], and the 2004 national list of species of aquatic invertebrates and fish overexploited or threatened overexploitation [33].

In cross-identification, the number of matches between the identifications of fishermen was considered. The fish that showed disagreements in identification were later identified by the consensus of a group of three to five fishermen.

In order to verify the similarity of the types of uses of fish, using Primer 6.1 software, it was performed cluster analysis with Euclidean Distance, represented by horizontal dendograms. The vertical lines represent the groups attached in descending order of similarity, while the horizontal lines indicate the distances between groups that were formed. The lower the value of the Euclidean Distance, the greater is the similarity between clusters.


Socioeconomic profile of fishermen

The fishermen interviewed (n = 75) were male and aged between 22 and 84 years, with an average of 55 and 50 years in Tamandaré at Batoque, respectively. Some factors, according to the fishermen, explained why the disinterest of the younger men with fishing and the search for new employment opportunities, such as: 1) lack of government investment and subsidies for the storage, processing and selling of local fish; 2) the low market value of local fish, and 3) the weak supervision of illegal and commercial fishing.

Only six fishermen were less than 30 years old and fishing in the Batoque Beach, where there are few employment opportunities in comparison with the Tamandaré Beach. The average monthly income of fishermen is R$ 326 for Tamandaré and R$ 530 for Batoque. According to the fishermen, income depends on the amount and quality of fish, as well as weather and sea, which influence fishing. Of the total respondents, 88% work exclusively in fishing, and 12% work in other activities such as masons, carpenters, sailors, merchants or home custodians (people who are in charge of taking care of a house belonging to people who do not live in the community). Among the interviewed fishermen, 11 fished less than 20 years and 64 fished for over 20 years.

With regard to education, 15 Tamandaré fishermen were illiterate and 21 did not complete elementary school. In Batoque, 17 fishermen were illiterate, 20 did not complete primary school, and two did not complete high school.

Fishermen’s knowledge of the fish community richness

Fishermen Tamandaré mentioned 339 popular names of fish, representing 222 taxa (202 species and 20 identified at the genus level). Batoque fishermen mentioned 305 popular names of fish, representing 215 taxa (194 species and 21 identified at the genus level). There was no statistically significant difference (p = 0.737) between the two communities with regard to fish community richness. In short, the fish that had 100% confirmation by fishermen in the cross-identification technique were recorded at the species level, whereas fish that had divergent identifications were recorded at the genus level.

Additionally, it was not possible to identify 24 fish cited by the Tamandaré fishermen and 18 fish cited by the Batoque fishermen, due to the difficulty they had in identifying fish through photographs and drawings, and also because it was not possible to collect them. There were cases where a popular name of a fish corresponded to one species and where a single species corresponded to several common names.

Types of uses of fish

Fishermen mentioned six types of uses of fish: food, commercial, medicinal, handicrafts, spiritual-religious purposes and aquarium. It is noteworthy that the fishermen cited commercial use only directed at fish for food consumption.

There were 207 species with use citations in Tamandaré and 209 in Batoque (Tables 1 and 2). The general use value (considering all the citations for different uses) of these species ranged from 0.02 to 1.94 in Tamandaré, and 0.02 to 1.92 in Batoque.

Table 1 Fish species recorded through interviews with marine artisanal fishermen of Tamandaré Beach, Pernambuco, Brazil
Table 2 Fish species recorded through interviews with marine artisanal fishermen of the Extractive Reserve Batoque, Ceará, Brazil

The fishermen cited 13 fish without current use, although some of these had had past use (Tables 1 and 2). One example is the “cação-espadarte” (Pristis sp.). According to the reports of the Batoque fishermen, this fish has not been found in the region for more than 40 years, although it used to be caught in large numbers and sold for food and handicraft purposes. Currently, the conservation status of this species is categorized as critical by the IUCN [31].

Citations of uses for food involved 92% of the species recorded in Tamandaré and 96% of species in Batoque. While for commercial purposes, 85% of the recorded species were cited by the Tamandaré fishermen and 92% by the Batoque fishermen. These data reveal that in Batoque, fishermen use a more diverse number of fish for food and selling than in Tamandaré where food consumption and trade are more centered on certain species.

In Tamandaré, fish with more citations for food and commercial use were “arabaiana”, also called locally “gurubatã” or “peixe-rei” (Elagatis bipinnulata) (n = 35), “dourado” (Coryphaena sp.) (N = 33) and “piraúna” (Cephalopholis fulva) (n = 33). In Batoque, the fish with the most citations for food and commercial use were the marine “bagre-giriaçu” (Genidens genidens) (n = 38), “sardinha-da-noite” (Pellona harroweri) (n = 36), “cioba” (Lutjanus analis) (n = 34), “biquara” (Haemulon plumierii) (n = 34) and “serra” (Scomberomorus sp.) (n = 34).

Some of the species recorded for commercial purposes are classified as vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered according to the IUCN Red List [31] (Figure 2). Among the fish sold, the Batoque fishermen cited the “mero” (Epinephelus itajara), which has a conservation status of critical [31].

Figure 2
figure 2

Conservation status according to IUCN, fish commercialized in Tamandaré (PE) and Batoque (CE). Legend: NE – Not Evaluated; DD – Data Deficient; LC – Least Concern; NT – Near Threatened; VU – Vulnerable; EN – Endangered; CR – Critically Endangered.

The specie Lutjanus analis, known locally as “cioba”, is one of the main commercial fish at Batoque Beach and is classified as vulnerable [31]. The “cação-lixa” (Ginglymostoma cirratum), an elasmobranch used for food and sold by the fishermen in both areas is categorized as data deficient by the IUCN [31] and is classified as vulnerable on the IBAMA national red list [32]. It was also found that nine species with commercial use in both areas surveyed (Tables 1 and 2) are present on the national list of species of aquatic invertebrates and overexploited fish or fish threatened by overexploitation [33].

In Tamandaré, some fishermen mentioned that currently the fishing of “mero” (Epinephelus itajara) is prohibited, although it was very common more than 10 years. In Batoque, fishermen were unaware that “mero” was a nationally protected fish, as established by IBAMA Ordinance No. 121 of September 20, 2002 [34], regulated by the “Instrução Normativa Interministerial” No. 13, dated October 16, 2012 [35],which prohibits for a period of three years the capture in Brazilian waters of E. itajara, popularly known as “mero”, “canapu", “bodete”, “badejão”, “merete” and “merote”.

The fact that the Tamandaré fishermen stated that “mero” fishing was prohibited was explained by the actions of the federal agency Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) and Mere Project in Brazil, both based in the city. This project develops conservation policies for the “mero” fish (E. itajara) and associated marine environments in several areas on the Brazilian coast, through a network of institutions. At Batoque Beach, ignorance of the law was due to the lack of supervision on site and of any campaign to raise awareness about the ban on fishing of “mero”. It is noteworthy that the capture of this fish, when it occurs at Batoque, is accidental, according to the fishermen.

Regarding fish used for medicinal purposes, six species were recorded in Tamandaré and 26 in Batoque. The fishermen described different ways of preparing fish for medicinal purposes according to the disease being treated (Table 3). Among the fish with the highest number of citations for that purpose, in both communities, was the “baiacu-espinho” (Chilomycterus antillarum) and “cavalo-marinho” (Hippocampus reidi).

Table 3 Fish used for medicinal purposes by fishermen Beach Tamandaré (PE) and Batoque (CE)

Another mode of use of the fish fauna recorded is related to making crafts (Table 4), for which three species were recorded in Tamandaré and 13 in Batoque, among which the “camurupim” (Megalops atlanticus) (Figure 3a) showed a higher number of citations (n = 10). Fishermen acknowledged the use of the scales of this fish to make earrings, curtains and decorative objects, but they claimed that they did not do those themselves. In some cases, the whole fish was used for crafts, such as the “cavalo-marinho” (H. reidi), which was killed by asphyxiation, sun-dried and used for decoration, as pendant (Figure 3b) or keychain. The “baiacu-caixão” (Lactophrys trigonus), also used whole for making crafts, was killed by asphyxiation and then taxidermied, where the internal organs were removed and the body cleaned with water and internally stuffed with paper or foam. Finally, the fish was sewn and sun-dried, and later, it could be painted and used for decoration (Figure 3c).

Table 4 Fish used for making handicrafts by fishermen Beach Tamandaré (PE) and Batoque (CE)
Figure 3
figure 3

Fish that provide products with potential use for craft purposes. a) Fisherman’s Beach Batoque with “camurupim” (Megalops atlanticus), whose scales are used to make earrings, curtains and decorative objects. b) “Cavalo-marinho” (Hippocampus reidi) used with pendant. c) “Baiacu-caixão” (Lactophrys trigonus) used as a decorative object.

In addition, the fishermen of the two areas studied mentioned the use of “cavalo-marinho” (H. reidi) for magical-religious purposes, where they were sun-dried and used whole as a pendant or kept in the pants pocket. In Tamandaré, one fisherman kept in a small pouch the bony structures from inside the head of the “cavala” (Acanthocybium solandri), called “pebbles” (otoliths), which he took while fishing. According to the fishermen, these fish are used as amulets because they bring good luck and good fishing.

The fishermen interviewed acknowledged the use of fish for the aquarium trade, but they did not make that kind of use. The “cavalo-marinho” (H. reidi) and species Abudefduf saxatilis, called “saberé” by the Tamandaré fishermen and “zefinha” by the Batoque fishermen, were cited as having potential aquarium use.

When evaluating the relationship between the types of use of fish cited by the Tamandaré and Batoque fishermen (Figures 4 and 5), there was a cluster of a greater number of species used for food and trade, to the detriment of species used for other purposes. It was found that this difference in grouping was mainly in the Batoque, where the Euclidean distance was 35 (Figure 5), while in Tamandaré, it was less than 30 (Figure4). This fact is probably due to the greater use of different species in Batoque for food and trade.

Figure 4
figure 4

Dendogram using the Euclidean distance, developed from 207 species listed by fishermen Beach Tamandaré (PE) for each category of use.

Figure 5
figure 5

Dendogram using the Euclidean distance, developed from 209 species listed by fishermen Beach Batoque (CE) for each category of use.

In summary, the use of fish cited by fishermen was according to the following standards: i) the fishermen had multiple uses for fish; ii) the primary use was for food; iii) relationships existed between different uses, but the fish used for medicinal purposes, handicrafts, magical-religious purposes and aquariums were not necessarily those used for food and trade.


Socioeconomic data of the fishermen in the areas surveyed were similar to those that have been recorded in other coastal areas of the world and Brazil, where artisanal fishermen are predominantly male, are generally older, and have low levels of education and income [36].

The small number of fishermen under 30 years of age is a trend observed throughout Brazil, where only 22% of the fishermen are under 30 years of age [36]. This may be indicative of young men’s lack of interest [14,37]. On the other hand, many fishermen have been fishing for more than 10 years, highlighting the economic and social importance of this activity, especially in communities with low social indicators, as the case in the study areas. A similar situation was reported elsewhere among the fishermen of Pernambuco State [38] as well as in other fishing communities in Brazil [39-41].

The low level of education among the fishermen interviewed corroborates the numbers from the Registrar General for Fisheries (RGP) of the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture in Brazil [4], which show that 8.1% of registered fishermen are illiterate and that most Brazilian fishermen (75.51%) have only finished elementary school. The results of this research suggest that fishermen who dedicated less of their life to fishing had more opportunities to study, perhaps due to access to schools, which has recently been improved in the areas surveyed. One of the main reasons for dropping out of school may be the need to help support the family, and the lack of incentive to continue studies [42], which directly affects the ability of this working class in social organization.

Although they have low educational level, several studies emphasize that fishermen have ichthyological knowledge [13,14,43]. In this study, we demonstrated the high richness of fish known by the Tamandaré (222 taxa) and Batoque (215 taxa) fishermen, consistent with what has been found in zoological and ethnozoological research conducted in the areas surveyed or in nearby areas. According to the study of marine fish fauna of the Coral Coast Environmental Protected Area, 185 species [44] have been identified. In Ceará, in an ethnotaxonomic study with fishermen of Redonda Beach, at the eastern end of Ceará, 290 species of fish [45] have been identified.

The results of this study indicated that the primary use of the fish fauna recognized by fishermen matches is food, a situation recorded in most ethnoichthyological studies [37,40,46], which are generally aimed at investigating this form of ichthyofauna use. Nevertheless, the products derived from the fish mentioned are also used for other purposes, mainly for commercial food purposes.

Similar to what has been recorded in the fishing communities of North and Northeast Brazil [47], some of the fish fauna of the study areas (30 species) are a source of products used in the preparation of traditional medicines. The number of fish species used in traditional medicine is not surprising, considering their availability and ease of access to freshwater and coastal areas [47,48]. Furthermore, the representativeness of the fish used in traditional medicine has been remarkable, as evidenced by recent reviews on the topic. In Latin America, for example, where at least 584 animals are used for medicinal purposes, 110 are fish species [49]. For this type of use, 93 fish species have been recorded in Brazil [50], of which 58 were recorded in the Northeast region [51].

There was the contrast in the number of medicinal species between the two studies areas, which can be explained by the greater ease of access to conventional medicines in Tamandaré compared to Batoque. This can lead to the replacement of traditional medicine with conventional medicine. However, the common situation in folk medicine was still found to be evident, that is, the overlap between food and medicinal uses. Many fish are consumed for health reasons to prevent or treat illnesses. In a recent review, Alves et al. [50] found that animals are used in Brazil as a source of protein and medicine simultaneously and recorded a total of 77 fish species that fit this context.

Products derived from fish populations are also utilized for making handicrafts in the areas surveyed. This practice has been reported in other places in Brazil, where products from marine animals are used for this purpose, in some cases generating income for many people [52,53]. The use of various animal taxa for handicrafts is widespread worldwide practice, which includes about 5,000 species of molluscs, 40 species of coral and unknown numbers of sponges, echinoderms and fish that are part of the global trade in marine souvenirs [54].

In the study areas, the fish fauna also featured magical-religious use. This type of use, although little studied, is widespread in Brazil [55,56]. Magical-religious use involves different animal taxa, as pointed out in recent studies, which revealed that approximately 100 species of animals are used for this purpose in Brazil [50,51,55], including 19 species of fish [50]. Since ancient times, human cultures attributed magical and religious significance to wild and domesticated animals [55-57].

Some products of magical-religious use recorded in the areas surveyed, such as “cavala” (Acanthocybium solandri) otoliths, called “pebbles” and used as amulets by fishermen, are similar to those reported elsewhere in the world. According to a study conducted in Baía de Cádiz, Spain, “the bearer of otoliths considers the amulet as a talisman that has properties to ward off evil and curses” [58]. The author also notes that, formerly, the otoliths of the meagre (Argyrosomus regius) were carried in cloth bags or loose in pockets as an amulet and that they are currently marketed in the form of rings, earrings and pendants.

The use of fish for the aquarium was also noted by the fishermen, which is not surprising, since the aquarium hobby is enjoyed in many places around the world [59]. In the last two decades, the million-dollar market of ornamental fish showed great expansion [60], and Brazil stands out as one of the five major exporters of tropical fish for aquariums in the world. Although there are no official statistics on the marine ornamental trade, it is estimated that in Brazil, 75 fish species are caught for the aquarium trade, with 26 being endemic [61]. Among the species cited by fishermen in the present study, seahorses were distinguished by their wide use for aquarium purposes, as recorded in other places in Brazil [62]. In addition, H. reidi was noted primarily for its multiple use in various locations around the country [39,40,51].

The multiple use of fish in fishing communities is common, as was recorded in the study areas and in various fishing communities [39,40,45-47]. The diversity of uses of ichthyofauna reinforces the importance of fish in the culture, livelihood and economic activities of fishing communities where artisanal fishermen catch fish for different purposes. Understanding these different uses and also the meanings that fish possess within a social context is of utmost importance for the formulation of conservation measures consistent with local realities.

Implications for conservation

The information obtained from this research can contribute to the preparation of conservation measures directed at endangered species as well as for the creation of marine part of the Extractive Reserve of Batoque and overhaul of the management and administration of fisheries resources of the Coral Coast Environmental Protected Area.

Most fish cited by fishermen for commercial purposes were not evaluated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), showing a significant gap related to the conservation of fish species that suffer intense fishing pressure. It is recommended to pay special attention to species of the subclass Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays) and families Serranidae (sawfishes and mackerel) and Lutjanidae (snappers), due to the large number of species that are traded and on lists of threatened species. Also, seahorses (H. reidi) deserve conservationist attention, because they are listed as data deficient by the IUCN and have been exploited for a variety of uses, which causes strong pressure on the populations of the species.

We emphasize the need for discussion between environmental agencies and fishermen on the conservation status of fish, because conservation measures that aim to ban the fishing of some species, such as the “mero” (E. itajara), or the imposition of no fishing in marine areas, has not proven effective, causing conflicts between social and environmental aspects that involve fishing.

The results presented, as well as other ethnoichthyological studies point to the need for greater involvement of fishermen in decisions about the management of fisheries resources, it is increasingly evident that the ecological knowledge of fishermen is critical to the implementation of management plans. Even greater control of illegal fishing and industrial fishing is recommended, since such activities have a known impact on marine fish populations, and have affected artisanal fishing, as pointed out by the fishermen themselves. It is believed that actions considering such recommendations can contribute to the sustainable management of fisheries resources, aimed at the conservation of exploited fishes, as well as the maintenance of coastal artisanal fishing.

As the study sites are inserted in protected areas, it is believed that the actions for the conservation of fishery resources can be more efficient. However, for this to happen, it is necessary a joint action between environmental agencies, governments, researchers and the local community.


Our results evidence the importance of including artisanal fishermen in pursuit of effectiveness and fishery resources conservation strategies. These workers and their families depend directly on fishing for their social, economic and cultural development. Therefore, the fishing communities have an intrinsic interest in the preservation of the resources they exploit. Many of these communities are included in protected areas and, therefore, fishermen must be involved in the development and implementation of management plans and management of these areas, especially when considering that there are many examples of inefficiency in these management plans and in the conservation of protected areas in Brazil.

The ethnoichthyological studies are useful for understanding the relationship between fishermen and fish as they contain important information for managers of protected areas. Information about the most exploited species, types of uses, overfishing and population decline are essential when searching ways of sustainable management. In areas of this study, for example, we emphasize the need for adjustments in the management of certain species. As for examples, have been the “mero” (E. itajara) and the “cavalo-marinho” (H. reidi). Beyond these species, ichthyofauna of the groups that deserve conservation attention of management and environmental agencies, sharks and rays are included and also species of Serranidae and Lutjanidae families.

The use and/or the recognition of different fish used by fishermen emphasize the importance of these animals to the culture of fishing communities. Fish are not used by artisanal fishermen and their families only for food consumption and trade, they are also important for medical purposes, for making handicrafts and magic-religious purposes. For this reason, artisanal fishing should not be understood only as a subsistence activity and commercial purposes, but also as a cultural activity. The fish used for aquarium purposes deserve also conservation attention because the aquarium is a commercial practice and that usually involves species that are most vulnerable.


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The authors are thankful to the following: the key informants, Aldênia, Antônio Luiz and Selado; all fishermen of Tamandaré and Batoque Beaches; friends Rodrigo Lima, Manuel Pedrosa, Dona Raimunda and Seu Nego, who contributed accommodations and food in the communities; those who helped in data analysis, Jones Santander, João Lucas and Leonardo Peres; managers of the conservation units, Coral Coast Environmental Protected Area and RESEX do Batoque; the federal agency Chico Mendes Institute for Conservation of Biodiversity (ICMBio) for permission to conduct the study; and “Fundação de Amparo à Ciência e Tecnologia do Estado de Pernambuco” - FACEPE, for the study scholarship granted. The last author acknowledges CNPq for awarding Productivity in Research scholarship. Dr. A. Leyva helped with the English translation and editing of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Marcia Freire Pinto.

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MFP, JSM and RRNA - Analysis of taxonomic aspects, writing of the manuscript, literature survey and interpretation. MFP - Ethnozoological data collection. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Pinto, M.F., Mourão, J.S. & Alves, R.R.N. Use of ichthyofauna by artisanal fishermen at two protected areas along the coast of Northeast Brazil. J Ethnobiology Ethnomedicine 11, 20 (2015).

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