Ning Labbish Chao, PhD Universidade do Amazonas, Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gregory Prang, PhD Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA. e-mail: email@example.com
We would first of all like to thank all OFI members and officers for your continued support of Project Piaba,
and let you all know what we have accomplished since we began our
research on the ornamental fish trade. The principal objective of Project Piaba is
to determine whether the ornamental fisheries of the Rio Negro help to
conserve the floodplain and rainforest ecosystems, while providing a
viable economic alternative for rural Amazonians.
believe that a managed ornamental fishery in the region is one way to
ensure the survival of both the ecosystem and its human inhabitants.
Many forest fishes have a short life cycle (1-2 years), and fish
populations can be quickly replenished if the ecosystem is maintained
undisturbed and functioning in its pristine state. Thus, it may be
possible through proper management to protect the habitat from other
harmful use, while maintaining sustainable and 'bountiful' harvests.
Well-managed fisheries may also promote the reduction of
environmentally destructive economic practices, and prevent migration
to overcrowded urban areas.
Thus, 'Buy a fish, save a tree'
becomes our wishful slogan. After a decade of insisting this very goal,
have we been successful? Are the 'bottom up' doctrines of green
philosophy working? Have the appropriate scientific findings reached
the policy makers? Are the various needs and objectives of each of the
stakeholders along the supply chain understood by the others? These and
more questions, we have often asked ourselves, but the answers are not
straightforward and change over time.
History of Project Piaba
1989, researchers and students from the Universidade do Amazonas (UA)
and National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA) initiated an
ecological baseline study on floodplain fishes of mid-Rio Negro basin.
During this initial phase, we discovered the importance of the
ornamental fisheries for local livelihoods and wondered about the
environmental impact of fishing activity. Subsequently, we started Project Piaba
in 1991, with our first grant awarded by CNPq (National Research
Council of Brazil). We strengthened our roots in the municipality in
the January of 1994 when we inaugurated the 'Dr. H. R. Axelrod
Laboratory of Ornamental Fishes' during the first Ornamental Fish
Festival in Barcelos.
The mayor of Barcelos at the time,
Valdeci Raposo, provided us with a classroom. We built 20 aquariums
with local fishes on exhibit and a desk with stereo-microscopes donated
by a group of aquarium enthusiasts who are known as the 'gringos'
,'doidos', or 'crazy foreigners'. The small exhibition provided an
opportunity for the local, 'urban' children see the ornamental fishes
up close and through magnifying scopes.
In January 1997, we moved the
laboratory to the 'Center of Aquatic Conservation' during the 4th
Ornamental Fish Festival. Dr. Axelrod and TFH Publications were the
major donors to Project Piaba at the time. In the 'Center',
we greatly expanded our exhibition, and set up a laboratory/classroom
and dormitories. Since that time, we have provided scholarships for
several local youths to run the Center.
In 1999, ACEPOAM (Association of
Ornamental Fish Breeders and Exporters of Amazonas) implemented a levy
system to raise funds for research on ornamental fishes and the welfare
of fish collectors. Members of ACEPOAM collect $0.50/box of fish from
importers, and match these funds. The 'Center' is now maintained by
this fund through Project Piaba under an agreement between ACEPOAM and the Universidade do Amazonas.
In 2001, Project Piaba
received long-term funding from CNPq and now more than 20 Brazilian and
international researchers are involved in the project. This modest
research grant and other gifts received by Bio-Amazonia Conservation
International (a US-based NGO) have kept the research team together for
the time being. Other donations from the New England Aquarium, National
Aquarium in Baltimore, Ornamental Fish International and Thermo-Orion
Corp. also support the Project, providing us with much-needed equipment
and human resources. The Newport Aquarium and many hobbyist clubs from
Vancouver to Boston have also made fund-raising efforts to support Project Piaba.
An annual hobbyist expedition has helped us to make long-term
monitoring studies in the Rio Branco and in several forest streams.
For the next phase of the Project Piaba,
we intend to deepen the areas of research to include genetic diversity
of fish populations, habitat/stream gradients, ecosystem function,
mapping and characterising of production areas, shipping and handling
of live fish, fish pathology and the trade processes. We have started
to test new industrial products and are now using new techniques to
improve and identify water quality and fish health throughout the trade
chain. We are keen to develop techniques for fish husbandry and help
fisher folk to produce quality fishes of the region. We will also
expand our information database and make it accessible to broader user
groups. By providing a scientific basis for management, we will
contribute to the sustainable use of aquatic resources, and the
long-term conservation of the Amazon ecosystem.
What Progress has Project Piaba Made?
projects at the local level, especially those related to natural
resources that local people utilise for their livelihoods, are not
ornamental fishes provide instant revenue for fish collectors in the
Rio Negro basin. During 2000 and 2001, over 58 million fishes were
shipped from the port of Barcelos, creating nearly US $250,000 dollars
for the local economy. The value of these fish would be over $ 9
million (FOB $0.15/fish). More fishes exported means better income for
producers and exporters, and more tax revenue for government agencies
(18 types of taxes and fees per shipment from Manaus). However,
increasing production and export volumes may drive down the price for
producers and exporters. The sheer number of 60 million fishes
extracted from the wild may also 'scare' regulatory agencies and animal
and environmental rights organisations.
We have generated baseline data on the
aquatic resources and socio-cultural implications of the ornamental
fishery. Our research has demonstrated that producer exploitation has
frequently been overstated by outside observers of the ornamental
fishery of the Rio Negro basin, and that over-fishing does not seem to
have been a major issue for the fishery that has continued to be an
important source of income for local people since 1960. Additionally, a
revised list of exportable fish species has been elaborated for IBAMA
(Brazilian super-agency on all renewable natural resources and
environmental issues) to protect vulnerable species and to enhance the
economic viability of the region; this list was well received by the
industry (OFI Journal, No24, May 1998).
We have defined issues that are
necessary for community-based management strategies by recognising the
informal nature of the trade and the role of patronage in procuring
community support. We have obtained federal fishing licenses for more
than 250 ornamental fish collectors, guaranteeing their eligibility for
government-sponsored rural retirement. We have stimulated fish folk to
form an association in 2001.
Currently, we are working in a new
licensing system, which would provide unemployment benefit to fish folk
during the low fishing season. We now also sponsor a local radio
programme to provide important information for ornamental fishing
communities. We have worked long and hard to establish an ongoing
dialogue with regulatory agencies to promote environmentally-friendly
policies which least punish trade chain stakeholders.
Worldwide, wild-caught freshwater
fishes constitute a small portion of aquarium fish market (5-10%).
Locally, a single species, the Cardinal Tetra, constitutes 80-90% of
total catch; the fluctuation in quantity and quality of catch and
shifting market interest are the main constraints on the further
development of the ornamental fishery. If commercial fish breeders
outside the region are successful in producing Cardinal Tetras in large
quantities that are more competitive in the international marketplace,
the ornamental fishery and the socio-economic base of the Rio Negro
basin may collapse.
Some green organisations have
advocated a total ban of the wild-caught ornamental fish trade in fear
of the extinction of wild fishes due to over-exploitation, or on issues
of animal welfare rights. If any of these scenarios become true, local
people will be forced to seek alternative means for their sustenance.
Unfortunately, most of the available alternatives are not sustainable
and are more damaging to the environment.
July of 1998, our field team has started to collect data on fishes
shipped every week on every transport boat leaving Barcelos. Our
statistics have shown that the exports are much higher than exporters
would like to admit. Even so, taking the Cardinal Tetra as an indicator
species (over 85% of total catch), each weighs less than 0.2 g and 50
million Cardinal Tetras would weigh less than 10 tons. The biomass
extracted from such a large area is negligible (two municipalities,
185,000 km2 x 2% floodplain = 3,700 km2; that is, 3.7 million hectares
or 9.14 million acres; an average 180 tons of plants and animals/acre
of rainforest). In spite of inflation and the US dollar exchange rate,
the price of Cardinal Tetras bought from producers has remained at
$4-5.00 per thousand since the beginning of Project Piaba.
The ornamental fishery of the Rio
Negro basin does not seem to have an immediate problem that may
threaten either the livelihood of rural Amazonians, or cause an
ecological disaster. The fishery has sustained many local people since
the 1960s and exports have remained steady at 20 million fishes for
over two decades. The sharp drop in exports in 1983-84 coincided with
the strongest El Niño of the 20th century (or inaccurate statistics),
but the production recovered soon after. Unexpectedly, export volumes
increased after the strong El Niño of 1997 to 1998.
Finally, we have demonstrated that
fish mortality is related to water quality, yet mortality while fish
are in the possession of fish collectors and in exporters' facilities
in Barcelos and Manaus, is negligible. Mortality is generally no higher
than 2-3% in the fisheries (although variation is prevalent), constant
water changes are made during fishing trips, storage netting and tubs
are regularly cleaned, and the fish are well fed. Transportation from
the middle Rio Negro to Manaus and handling practices from exporter to
retailer/hobbyist must be more profoundly understood.
Importance of the Ornamental Fishery for the Local Economy and Society
fishes are principally collected from two municipalities: Barcelos and
Santa Isabel do Rio Negro (or Tapuruquara) in the Rio Negro basin. As
the largest numbers of fish exports from Brazil originate in Barcelos,
it is the self-proclaimed 'capital of ornamental fish.' Barcelos is
also home to the largest archipelago in the world, Mariu - the original
name of the city before becoming the first capital of Amazonas - with
more than 700 islands; this is the principal feature of the largest
municipal ecological reserve in Latin America. Below are some basic
facts about the fisheries of the Rio Negro and global trade in
Municipalities of Barcelos and Santa Isabel do Rio Negro (Tapuruquara):
Area: 185,000 km2; population 34.000;
30-50 millions ornamental fishes extracted per year; ~ 60% of income
revenue for rural communities; >80% of all fish captures are
Cardinal Tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi).
Kinship, family, marriage and
compadrio relations (created in the Catholic ritual of baptism) mediate
the organisation of production. Marriage alliances increase the density
of kinship relationships; 17 of the 60 - 70 intermediaries are linked
through kinship and marriage. This core group of intermediaries makes
up roughly 30% of the total number of patrons and 15 of the
intermediaries are the sons of current or former intermediaries.
Although some collectors and
intermediaries lament that it now takes a week to capture the same
number of fish that once took one day about thirty years ago, the
number of collectors has grown considerably in the last twenty years
due to the lack of economic alternatives in the Rio Negro basin. In
fact, as the table below demonstrates, the population of Barcelos has
more than doubled since 1991. The effect has been to swell the number
of potential and actual producers.
In 1999, the FAO stated that the
export value of ornamental fish and invertebrates was over US$200
million. More than 60% of that money, some US$130 million, went into
the economies of developing countries. The international trade in
aquatic organisms for ornamental purposes has been increasing at an
average rate of 14% annually since 1984. Although organisms caught in
the wild represent only a small percentage of the ornamental trade, it
is this aspect of the industry that is most likely to directly affect
fishing communities in developing countries.