Amazon Fish trade


The modern history of the Amazon is one of extraction and depletion. 100 years ago the rubber boom that caused a war between Colombia and Peru and enslaved many indigenous people, it slovenly ended after Henry Wickham smuggled 70.000 seeds out of Brazil.

The live animal and animal skin trade the wood trade, deforestation for soya and cattle, coca and cocaine, and the gold boom. Now it’s the oil boom and gold boom again. Huge infrastructure projects are underway some of them completed like the intraoceanic road linking Brazil to the Peruvian pacific coast and the Asian markets. Others are in the making like the controversial USD 16 Billion electricity dam across the Xingu River in Brazil.

At the lower end of the extraction there is the business of catching exotic fishes for the worlds aquariums. In the town of Iquitos Peru roughly 3600km upstream from the Atlantic Ocean, Francisco Pin Lombardi a former banker from Lima has turned exotic fish trader ten years ago.

Francisco’s company Stingray aquarium is the biggest in the country it exports more then one million live fishes per year from 300 to 400 different species (of the approximately 2100 scientifically described spices known to populate the Amazon) for a turnover of 2 million dollars. With the small fishes like the Arahuana (that ships just weeks after it is born still with a nutrient bag attached to its body), it is a numbers game the more fish you can place in a standard size polystyrene box that has a fixed shipping cost the more money you’ll make. Between 2% to 5% of Arahuanas die during the journey this is due to stress, lack of oxygen and poison. Compared with the up to 50% death rate for the salt water fishes. This high death rate is mainly due to the fact that the fishes feces mixed with salt water produces a cocktail of much higher toxicity.

Then there is the expensive rare fish trade that involves the strangest of creatures some looking more like armoured carriers then fishes, some are transparent, others like the Acanthicus Adonis that came to Stingray aquarium from the Ucayali river are albinos it sold for 4.200 USD in Singapore. Its mostly Asians that associate rare fishes with luck, prosperity, health and are willing to pay as much as 400.000 USD for a single fish that in another country may have ended on the grill. With European and American aquarium holders (the other two big markets) nostalgia for the summer during the winter months seems to be the underlying driving force.

According to Francisco Pin Lombardi the Peruvian Exotic fish business totals around 5 million dollars per year and involves about 30 exporters from Iquitos and countless fishermen that work on the Amazon and its tributaries. Within the known species in Peru there is also a list of 42 fishes that are banned for export these are mainly the fishes that are eaten but there is an illegal market crated mainly by Asian clients, and many exporters are willing to trade with the export-banned species. It is not uncommon for Francisco to receive fishes that he has never seen in this case he photographs them and sends the pictures to his clients to see if there could be a market for them. On an environmental level the impact seems to be bearable. The demand for fishes from the Amazon is much smaller then for Marine aquarium fishes, many of the popular sweet water aquarium species can bee reproduced in captivity, it is estimated that only about 10% are cached. Also breeding periods for the Amazon species coincide with the rainy season from December to May. The flooding of vast tracks of rainforest gives the fish much more living space and makes the fishermen’s work more difficult those reducing the pressure on the fish during its reproduction period. Critique on the Amazon aquarium fish trade is focused on improving living conditions for the fishermen and their communities, there have been unsuccessful attempts to make a fair trade label that would guarantee a better income for the fishermen and their communities as well as keep track of the fish’s origin, quantity and species. In Peru there is talk of introducing a ban for the Arahuana the most popular aquarium fish from the Amazon.

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