Arapaima, the appreciated red “giant fish” of the Amazon, had practically disappeared from the lakes of Fonte Boa, 600 km from Manaus, due to overfishing by commercial boats. In 2003, the Fundação Amazônia Sustentável (FAS) – Foundation For Amazon Sustainability – introduced a sustainable management program. Today, the arapaima is back, bringing income to the artisanal fishermen in the communities.
The lakes were protected, that is, they were free from fishing, for two to three years. Before that, “seeing two, three arapaimas was a lot”, recalls fisherman Raimundo Gomes, who lives in the Mamirauá, a sustainable development reserve. “On the first count, there were 270 large arapaimas. Since then, thank God, the lake’s product, income, has increased.” That’s happened in just one lake. The reserve has 350.
This is the keyword for the residents of the region: income. “Management, from my point of view, is a source of income for us”, says fisherman Joilson de Souza. “We spend the whole period of the year storing the fish. When September comes, until the end of November, we have an income from fish.”
Only adult arapaimas, that is, 1.5 meters or more, are captured. Fishing is selective, done with 3-meter harpoons or wide-mesh nets, which only catch the largest fish. The adult fish floats every 25 minutes to breathe, and at this point, the harpoons go to action. Standing in their canoes, fishermen identify the size of their prey with a naked eye.
Arapaima is sold to the market, with a seal of sustainability. Every restaurant and fish stall needs to make sure they are buying managed fish. Otherwise, the trade is illegal. Arapaima is protected by law as it’s on the list of endangered species. Management is combined with an inspection to prevent the entry of commercial vessels not registered in Fonte Boa. Local fishermen help with surveillance and alert authorities to invasions.
The action involves the Foundation For Amazon Sustainability, the Secretary of State for the Environment of Amazonas (Sema/AM), Ibama and the Association of Residents and Users of the Mamirauá Reserve (Amurmam).
This initiative is a clear example of how environmental protection does not conflict with income generation. Sustainable development is the result of State intervention, the action of civil society entities, such as FAS, and cooperation among local residents. And a dose of common sense.