When it comes to fish, the arapaima is quite extraordinary. Found in the Amazon River basin, it is one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, capable of growing three meters long and weighing 200 kilograms.
It breathes air, which allows it to live in water with little oxygen and survive a day without water completely.
It feeds on fish, but also birds, lizards and small mammals, crushing its prey with its toothy tongue.
This evolutionary masterpiece has an even bigger trick: Its scales, which researchers have compared to a bulletproof vest, protect it from piranha attacks.
Tough yet flexible, its properties have even attracted the attention of the US Air Force.
The arapaima is a Terminator of the animal kingdom, but it has a fatal flaw: it is good to eat.
Locally called pirarucu, it is also known as “the Amazon cod,” by virtue of its firm white meat and minimal bones.
Fish is an important food source for local communities, but it is also appreciated by the most demanding diners in some of the largest cities in Brazil.
Overfishing led to a decline in the population, and in the 1990s steps were taken to ban fishing for arapaima. However, illegal fishing continued, causing the species to disappear from parts of the Amazon.
But thanks to two decades of work by conservationists and local communities, that is no longer the case.
Also, the arapaima has not disappeared from the dishes.
In fact, consumption is crucial to the conservation model, which means that Brazilians can have their fish and eat it.
Today, arapaima fishing is prohibited in Brazil unless it is within areas with community management agreements, explains João Campos-Silva, a Brazilian ecologist.
Campos-Silva is part of Institutio Juruá, one of several organizations that work with communities and fishermen in grassroots programs to sustainably cultivate and ultimately revive the species.
The arapaima spend the rainy season navigating the flooded forest where they breed and return to the lakes when water levels drop.
Focusing on the Juruá River and surrounding lakes in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas, a program implemented by Institutio Juruá more than a decade ago introduced an annual population census and calculates sustainable use quotas for each lake during the year. next (no more than 30% of adults). fish, according to government guidelines).
Local communities monitor the lake entrances throughout the year to ward off illegal fishermen who come from outside the protected area.
Harvesting is only allowed between August and November, and any fish less than 1.55 meters long are returned to the water.
Francisco das Chagas Melo de Araújo, also known as Seu Preto, is a community leader from Xibauazinho, a community in the state of Amazonas and one of the first places to start the program.
“Before the arapaima management … we had no rights to take care of these lakes. Commercial fishermen carried out predatory fishing, where (they) used to harvest as much as they could,” he explains.
“Our lakes were severely depleted and overfished and the arapaima was practically non-existent.”