Brazil Goes After Poachers and Illegal Traders of Protected Amazon Fish

In the latest crackdown on illegal fishing, Brazil’s environmental agency (Ibama) seized nearly one tonne of the protected arapaima fish - one the world’s largest freshwater species. During raids of a local market and several fishing boats, officers also found at least 800 kilos of seafood and 11 Amazon River turtles.

Ibama Brazil AmazonBrazil cracks down on illegal fishing in the Javari valley. (Photo: Government of Brazil/Ibama, License)Authorities targeted poaching on waterways and illegal wildlife trading at local markets in the Amazon.

The operation targeting poachers and illegal arapaima trade was carried out in the Javari valley - Brazil’s second largest Indigenous territory - where indigenous activist Bruno Pereira and British journalist Dom Phillips were ambushed and shot dead last June.

Pereira served as coordinator with the Brazilian National Indian Foundation (Funai) and had made many enemies because of his strong stand against environmental crime groups in Indigenous lands. He ordered the destruction of about 60 ferries connected to illegal mining in the Amazon. Phillips was writing a book on how to save the Amazon.

Their deaths drew attention to the links between deadly criminal groups and environmental crime in the Amazon. A man suspected of being involved in the killing allegedly led and financed an armed criminal group in the Javari valley that was dedicated to catching and selling turtles and the arapaima fish, known locally as the Pirarucu.

According to experts who spoke to the BBC, the arapaima has “the curse of being tasty and of having to breathe air.” Because of its huge size and habit of coming to the surface, it has long been a favored fish to catch. The giant fish can reach three meters in length and weigh over 200 kilos, and can be found within the Amazon basin, which covers nearly 45% of South America.

Due to overfishing concerns, which puts pressure on stocks, the arapaima is protected under the CITES, the global wildlife trade convention. In addition, the Ibama imposed a six-month fishing season and a minimum permitted size for trade in 2004.

Despite these moves, the arapaima “cannot naturally reproduce at sufficient speed and quantity to meet consumer’s demand,” according to authorities.

This year, Brazilian media reported repeated seizures. In August, police seized more than 21 tonnes of illegally caught arapaima on two vessels traveling in a tributary of the Amazon river.

During the operation, nine offenders were fined and taken to a local police station. Also, an employee at a mayor’s office who was responsible for a local market was caught for alleged omission in the face of illegal wildlife trading.