No More Catfish in the Madeira?

Zachary Hurwitz
Fish are dying at an alarming rate because of the Santo Antônio Dam.
Fish are dying at an alarming rate because of the Santo Antônio Dam.
Instituto Rio Madeira Vivo

This blog in Brazil caught our eye recently: catfish are now disappearing at an alarming rate from the Madeira River, thanks to the reservoir of the Santo Antônio Dam.

When the environmental license for the Santo Antônio Dam was approved against the findings of fish experts, Lula controversially claimed that the dams would not be stopped because of "some catfish." Now, the catfish are disappearing. Don't say we didn't warn you. 

I'll let the blog spell it out (thanks for the translation by Meg Kidd):

A Folha de São Paulo report from January 8th revealed that the fishing of many genetic varieties of catfish, an economic activity which used to generate 29,000 metric tons of fish per year, has now become nonviable. It is these fish that have "disappeared" according to the account given by fishermen in the newspaper, ending this economic activity.

The federal government will say that no, this fishing has been temporarily reduced in some stretches of the river.  They will press forward on the dam, distracting journalists with improvised excuses while fishermen get accustomed to the absence of fish, accept official compensation, and line up another job. But the fact remains that the fish are gone.

With the creation of the large lake, the bottom of the reservoir receives no oxygen (due to depth) and therefore fish cannot survive. In addition, these fish swim upstream to spawn, and passage through the barrier of the hydroelectric dam becomes very difficult or impossible (as of this writing, the transposition ramp created to give the fish a chance to swim upriver is closed).  Fish larvae, once they are born, drift down the river, growing into food for other species in the lower half of the river. Yet when they meet the dams, the larvae have to go through the turbines of the hydroelectric plant, a large scale grinder. 

Rich Várzea soils are also disappearing thanks to the reservoir
Rich Várzea soils are also disappearing thanks to the reservoir

The news is especially troubling only a few years after 11 tons of fish were destroyed during construction of a coffer dam. Meanwhile, construction of the Jirau Dam continues farther upstream; and if the government's plans move forward to build a third dam on the Madeira River – the Ribeirão Dam – fish species may disappear from this majestic river at an even greater rate.  

Earlier this year, Congress unilaterally proclaimed the Ribeirão Dam a "national priority," despite the dam not appearing on any government plan. It is not mentioned in the Program to Accelerate Growth, nor in the Ten-Year Energy Plans for 2020, nor in the National Energy Plan for 2030. The project has not passed through the Ministry of Planning. And no economic feasibility study, no environmental impact assessment, and no indigenous action plan have ever been sent to IBAMA, and no prior consultations have ever been held. Every indication points to this third dam being a nice serving of pork barrel spending for the Raupp political family in Rondônia.

Will the catfish disappear entirely from the Madeira River? As long as Dilma's authoritarian dam-building in the Amazon continues, chances are only getting worse.