Amazon’s Largest Fish Makes A Comeback – Sustainable Fishing Gets The Credit

They are called arapaima and are the largest of about 3,000 species of fish in the Amazon Basin. Arapaima are also a symbol of conservation success.

The fish are huge – the biggest are 10 feet long and 440 pounds – enough to feed a few people. Also, the scales are also popular as jewelry once the fish is harpooned. Furthermore, The fish is said to taste like halibut or sea bass.

Arapaima gigas (Arapaima)
Up to 10 feet long and 440 pounds arapaima are a valuable resource. Correct management appears to be balancing human and animal needs

They were so popular that they were in significant danger of extinction. However they are becoming a success story. In 1999 they were severely depleted but community based fishing and legislation have made a big impact.

The Weather Channel said a 1999 survey of 10 areas in the basin showed about 2,500 of the fish. A more recent recount instead showed the numbers were up to over 190,000 in the same areas.

According to the Weather Channel (links in the original story)

“The Arapaima gigas is the world’s largest scaled freshwater fish and its numbers within lakes in Brazil had previously been depleted. However, the species’ population has made a dramatic rebound thanks to community-based management of its habitat, according to a study conducted by University of East Anglia professor Carlos Peres and University of Rio Grande do Norte’ Dr. João Campos-Silva. 

“Our analysis showed that community-based management of freshwater lakes can have profound impacts on conservation and local engagement,” said Peres in a release. “Local stewardship, in situ surveillance, full-time enforcement of resource access rights, and management of high-value fish stocks were the most important factors in boosting arapaima populations across a wide range of lakes, especially in close proximity to communities. “

people riding a boat on body of water
The vast Amazon River and its basin are home to2,300 types of fish. The arapaima is the very largest of these fish. Photo by Jeff Stapleton on

The arapaima has been the object of rescue efforts for some time.

According to an abstract of a 2016 paper (link in 3rd paragraph)

“Arapaima management is a superb window of opportunity in harmonizing the co-delivery of sustainable resource management and poverty alleviation. We show that arapaima management deserves greater attention from policy makers across Amazonian countries, and highlight the need to include local stakeholders in conservation planning of Amazonian floodplains.”

The authors likenened the arapaima recovery plan to a successful investment strategy in which investing in proper management of the fish resulted in strong dividends for local populations who depend on fish for a living.

Conservation efforts for many species are now working to include human needs in their planning. Because Eco-tourism is a growing industry conservation of land based wildlife now seeks to show locals the value of wildlife to human communities, often impoverished.

Tigers are a prime example of the new paradigm in action. They are of the species most in need of rescue. There are perhaps 5,000 tigers left in the wild on Earth. The dozen or so countries hosting them pledged to double their numbers. India was one of the most successful in meeting that ambitious goal. But critics said the “tiger-centric” approach is actually a mistake. Moving villages, relandscaping tiger habitat and other drastic methods worked – but reduced the numbers of leopards and other beleaguered animals.

tiger in lake water
A 400 pound fish? Where? Lions and Tigers don’t swim the Amazon but conservation methods applied to the arapaima are also being applied to tiger survival and mahy apply to other cats as well. Photo by Jeffry Surianto on

So the World Wildlife Federation is now proposing a “people-centric” approach to tiger management. To be saved locals must see tigers as a valuable resource and benefit from their presence. That presence can be in the form of eco-tourism or other direct benefits to the locals who must have good reason to accept and protect wildlife.


Published by ursusrising

long time writer and editor living in Los Angeles

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