Fish Tales: Community Fish Farms Preserve Wild Fish Diversity In Southeastern Peru

In one of the most diverse regions on the planet, Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) has partnered with the Institute for Peruvian   Amazon Studies (IIAP, in Spanish) to support local aquaculture and agroforestry ventures. As part of this project, we are working with several communities along the Interoceanic Highway in the southeastern Peruvian department of Madre de Dios to develop cooperative associations engaged in a number of conservation-friendly microenterprises, including aquaculture. By developing small-scale aquaculture enterprises, ACA is working to protect wild fish populations from overfishing, maintain biodiversity and promote sustainable livelihoods for local residents. 

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, approximately 80,000 tons of fish are consumed annually [1] in the Peruvian Amazon, making fish a key protein source for local communities and maintaining an important source of employment for local fishing communities. The region’s abundant water supply, fish biodiversity, and appropriate climate make the Amazonian lowlands well-suited to aquaculture development, allowing small family farms to produce a highly marketable source of protein and improve their own food security. Not only does farming of native river species reduce pressure on wild fish populations, but it provides small farmers with a sustainable, profitable alternative to slash-and-burn farming or gold mining. 

The high aquatic diversity of Madre de Dios is heavily relied upon by local communities’ cultures and economies, yet it is increasingly vulnerable to rises in demand.  In 2009, individuals in certain communities in the Amazon were found to be eating approximately 325 lbs of fish a year [2]. As locals in Madre de Dios fish more to keep up with increasing demand, biodiversity comes under considerable pressure. For example, the paiche fish, seen to the left, is an Amazonian freshwater fish that can reach approximately eight feet in length and provide up to 150 pounds worth of meat, but it is highly vulnerable to overexploitation. Fortunately, aquaculture of Amazonian fish can decrease pressure on already scarce but highly important wild fish species like the paiche. The local market and growing national demand present important opportunities for aquaculture activities. By supporting small scale aquaculture projects in the Amazon, ACA hopes to provide a new sustainable livelihood alternative for these communities.  

In addition to the pressures of overexploitation of native fish species, the recent rise in illegal gold mining in Madre de Dios has caused an increase in the contamination of river fish by mercury, a potent neurotoxin used to extract gold. A study sponsored by ACA found that popular Amazon fish have been found to have high levels of mercury well above the standards set forth by the World Health Organization. Exposure to these toxins further diminished the health and well-being of families that are already vulnerable to diseases from unclean drinking water. Fish farms provide integral benefits to the surrounding communities by supplying safe, affordable fish.

 Together, ACA, IIAP and regional authorities are developing local technical expertise and improving links to locally sourced fish food and hatchery ponds, which represent considerable costs for small-scale fish farmers. 

Birders Give a Hoot! ACA’s First Birdathon Protects Critical Habitat Along Peru’s Manu Road

BirdwatchersFrom August 11th to the 22nd of 2011, the Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) hosted its first-ever Birdathon to raise awareness about the diversity of bird species found in Peru and to help protect their imperiled habitat around Manu National Park.

Every year, millions of birds make the long journey from Wisconsin to their wintering grounds in the Amazon. This year, 13 bird lovers made the same journey, led by life-long conservationist and avid birder, Craig Thompson. With the goal of spotting as many species as possible during their trip, participants set out for the Wayqecha Cloud Forest and the Villa Carmen biological stations, both located alongside Manu and managed by ACA’s Peruvian sister organization, ACCA.

Travelling from Wayqecha to Villa Carmen, the climate changes dramatically as the landscape sweeps from snow-capped mountains to the treeless plains and dry valleys of the altiplano before making a sudden descent into steep cloud forests and the broad expanse of the low-lying Amazon floodplain. This topographic complexity has resulted in an exceptional array of habitats that sustain a vast number of bird species. According to Craig Thompson, “It was the greatest adventure weve had, nothing short of mind-boggling” and “a colossal hoot.” Birdwatcher Group

During this year’s Birdathon, Craig and his group saw a combined total of 348 species– not a bad number for less than two weeks! (In comparison, only 409 bird species have ever been seen in Wisconsin.) Moreover, the enthusiastic group helped raise more than $16,800 to support ACA’s work to protect bird habitat in this critical region. Watch a video of Craig Thompson talking about the Birdathon at Wayqecha here.

 We at ACA are working tirelessly to protect these valuable habitats through a variety of efforts, including sustainable livelihood and conservation initiatives with local communities, creation of new conservation areas, and conservation-focused research at our biological stations.  Over the next two years, we aim to protect another 476,000 acres of forest in this region.

“We were grateful for the opportunity to experience ACA’s project sites and meet the people making it happen. We’re also eager to continue to help save ‘the greatest rainforest on Earth.'” – Birdathon 2011 participant