João Campos-SilvaProtect a giant fish for the Amazon
The giant arapaima, the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world, is headed for extinction – unless the peoples of the Amazon rally to rescue it. João Campos-Silva, a young Brazilian conservationist, in a close partnership with local associations and fishing leaders, is determined to save not only the arapaima but, along with it, the livelihoods, food supply and culture of rural communities in Amazonia who depend on the region’s rivers for their survival.
“The arapaima is a fantastic fish. It’s very large – up to 3 metres – and can reach 200 kg [in weight]. It has played a central role in feeding Amazonian people since the development of the first human society in the region,” says Campos-Silva.
Due to overfishing, habitat fragmentation and other human impacts, wild populations of arapaima have been decimated, almost to the point of extinction in many localities.
Campos-Silva, a fisheries biologist, has already helped to prove the arapaima can be saved. On the Juruá River in the western Amazon, closing small, river-connected lakes to fishing, combined with careful fishery management by local people, has resulted in a spectacular 30-fold recovery in arapaima numbers.
His plan now is to take this local experiment to the next level, extending the conservation plan to 60 communities comprising 1,200 people living across 2,000 km of the Juruá River, consolidating a model of local development that supports biodiversity conservation and the people’s well-being. His goal: to increase arapaima populations fourfold in three years.
It is not only the arapaima that stands to benefit. Closing lakes to hunting and fishing has brought back other threatened species from near-collapse, including manatees, giant otters, giant turtles and black caiman, he says.
The recovery in fish numbers has improved catches, so that each lake now potentially yields an average of US$9,000 in extra annual income for local communities, enhancing community life and prosperity, and providing schools, healthcare and jobs; for the first time women can earn a living from professional fishing. Campos-Silva believes saving the fish is an antidote to poverty. “I believe that community-based management of arapaima is the most powerful tool that we have to ensure a sustainable future for the Amazon floodplains.”
Campos-Silva has started to study the movement, ecology and population dynamics of the giant fish across the landscape by tagging and radio tracking 30 specimens. He will also train 40 fishermen and women in poacher surveillance and arapaima census techniques so they can manage their fish populations and lakes.
He and his team aim to spread the word through environmental education workshops, recruiting local teachers to promote arapaima protection among 400 young people. They will also help to empower women as income-earning fishers and fisheries managers, and work with government stakeholders and other conservation organizations to share the project’s lessons throughout the Amazon basin.
Over time, Campos-Silva hopes, the example of saving wildlife – and in turn, human communities – will spread around the planet.
3 meters & 200kg
Arapaima, the largest scaled freshwater fish in the world
recovery in local arapaima numbers