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Piranha-eating Paiche fish that starved Bolivian Amazon fishermen catches karma

Byusanewscart.com

Dec 28, 2023

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Growing up to 4 meters in length and weighing over 200kg, paiche poses a threat to native fish stocks

A port worker carries a paiche, the largest freshwater fish in South America, after 66 of the fish were confiscated from poachers transporting them to a market in Manaus, Brazil, on Sept. 17, 2008.—Reuters
A port worker carries a paiche, the largest freshwater fish in South America, after 66 of the fish were confiscated from poachers transporting them to a market in Manaus, Brazil, on Sept. 17, 2008.—Reuters

Guillermo Otta Parum, a Bolivian fisherman with over 50 years of experience in the Amazon, recounts the arrival of the paiche or Arapaima gigas, a colossal freshwater fish disrupting the region’s ecological balance. 

Growing up to 4 meters in length and weighing over 200 kilograms, the paiche poses a serious threat to native fish stocks as it extends its territory by approximately 40 kilometres each year.

Guillermo Otta Parum has been a fisherman for 50 years.—BBC
Guillermo Otta Parum has been a fisherman for 50 years.—BBC

Federico Moreno, Director of the Beni Autonomous University’s Centre for Aquatic Resources Research, highlights the paiche’s territorial nature, displacing native species and prompting migration to more remote and inaccessible water bodies. The origin of the paiche in Bolivia is believed to be a breach in a Peruvian paiche fish farm, leading to its spread into Bolivian rivers.

Biologist Fernando Carvajal has spent years studying the Paiche.—BBC
Biologist Fernando Carvajal has spent years studying the Paiche.—BBC

Biologist Fernando Carvajal describes the paiche as a voracious species, consuming various fish, plants, molluscsz, and even birds with its vacuum-like feeding habits. Despite lacking sharp teeth, the paiche intimidates potential predators and safeguards its young, impacting the population of native species.

Paiche fishing boat on the Yata River in the Bolivian Amazon.—BBC
Paiche fishing boat on the Yata River in the Bolivian Amazon.—BBC

While the paiche’s invasion raises concerns about biodiversity loss, local fishermen have found economic opportunities in its presence. Initially feared, the paiche has become a valuable catch, contributing to the livelihoods of Bolivian fishermen. Edson Suzano, who operates a panache-processing plant, notes the fish’s popularity, with around 30,000 kilograms processed monthly.

Edson Suzano (left) says the paiche is affordable.—BBC
Edson Suzano (left) says the paiche is affordable.—BBC

However, the surge in paiche fishing has led to conflicts with indigenous communities. Indigenous groups granted land titles to remote lagoons where paiche thrives, and now assert control over the resources. Commercial fishermen face challenges obtaining permits to operate in these areas, as indigenous communities aim to protect their recognised rights.

Paiche being prepared for sale at Riberaltas fish market.—BBC
Paiche being prepared for sale at Riberalta’s fish market.—BBC

Juan Carlos Ortiz Chávez, representing the Alto Ivon Tco Chacobo indigenous community, emphasises the shift in attitude among the younger generation, implementing rules to safeguard their resources.

Scientists, including Federico Moreno, advocate for sustainable fishing practices to maintain a balance between species, emphasising the importance of regulating paiche hunting to preserve the Amazon’s delicate ecosystem.

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