Farming the world's largest freshwater fish - an alternative to deforestation
Declining fisheries force Amazonians into fish farming
May 19, 2005
The Arapaima (Arapaima gigas), also known as the Pirarucú or Paiche, is the world's largest freshwater fish. It can reach lengths of up to 14.75 feet (4.5 m) and weigh up to 440 lbs (200 kg). Because of it's size and tastey meat -- the Arapaima has a mild sweet flavor -- the Arapaima is one of the most sought after fish species in the Amazon. Today it is rare to find large Arapaima. At 1.3 meters (4 feet), the average length of individuals havested from the wild is below the average length of sexual mature fish (1.5 meters - 5 feet).
Today Arapaima are increasingly raised on fish-farms as part of integrated conservation and development projects or stand alone commerical operations. According to Dr. Marco Lima of the INPA Amazon Research Institute Manaus, about 15% of the 50-60 tons of Pirarucú consumed monthly in the Brazilian Amazon city of Manaus comes from local fish farms.
"These farms offer fresh fish at lower prices," says Dr. Lima. "One kilo costs around $5."
The Arapaima offers a number of characteristics that make it a valuable species for integrated aquaculture. According to the National Fisheries Institute of the Amazon, the Arapaima:
Increasingly, development organizations are encouraging aquaculture as a means for local people to earn a living while minimizing their impact on the Amazon ecosystem. Unlike subsistence agriculture and cattle grazing which require forest clearing and usually generate little revenue for poor farmers, aquaculture offers a sustainable income with low start up costs. And, by using native species, there is no risk of introducing non-native fish species into local river systems while helping to maintain native Amazonian fish populations. Further, there is a reduced need for farmers to clear additional rainforest for farming purposes.
The annual yield from such techniques can be quite high. Studies show that a single hectare (2.5 acres) pond can generate 500-600 kg (11,000 to 13,000 pounds) of fish per year. The ongoing nature of aquaculture means that fish farmers can count on this food and income source year round -- a critical feature in an environment where natural fish populations become widely dispersed during the high water season.