Terrestrial waters provide multiple goods and services to human kind, but they have been severely diminished by increasing human exploitation of water and the landscapes surrounding aquatic communities. This research illuminates such dynamics in the recent history of exploitation of the Lake Bam fishery in Burkina Faso. To do so, from 2009 to 2015 we collected data on the ecology, exploitation and governance of the Lake Bam fishery. Direct sampling of fish documented the erosion of fish diversity and the reduction of fish size and the number of landings. Interviews with leaders of riverside community suggest a halting and uncertain transition in the governance of natural aquatic resources from the traditional (pre-colonial) approach to a republican (European democratic) one. The number of fishermen exceeds the fishery’s carrying capacity, but the number of fishermen continues to rise, driven by the low level of opportunities in alternative livelihoods. National and international awareness regarding the lake’s ecological and socio-economic importance has driven restoration projects that can benefit from these findings.
Key words: Water, fishery, sahel, ecological awareness, exploitation, governance.
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