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Arapaima Pond Culture by the Small-Scale Fish Producers of the Peruvian Amazon

by Fernando Alcantara and Salvador Tello, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana, and Christopher C. Kohler, Susan T. Kohler, and William Camargo N., Southern Illinois University, Carbondale

nown as paiche in Peru and pirarucu in Brazil and Colombia, Arapaima gigas (Osteoglossidae) is one of the major scaled fishes in the Amazon and Orinoco watershed systems (Luling, 1969). It lives in lagoons and in the large rivers of the vast Amazon region in water with slightly acid pH that is typically black in color (owing to the presence of abundant decomposing plant material). In its natural environment, A. gigas reaches lengths from two to three meters and can weigh up to 200 kg (Saint-Paul, 1986), feeding mainly on live fish (Fontenele, 1942; Sánchez, 1961). The meat lacks intermuscular bones or spines, and each fish has a dressout yield of 57% (Imbirirba, 1986). The fillet is of excellent quality and is a highly prized favorite among the consumer of the Amazonian region.

Biologist Palmira Padilla from IIAP (right) handing one of the six Arapaima juveniles given to a beneficiary.

Photo By: Pedro Icomedes

A drastic population decrease in A. gigas is the result of intense capture pressure that the species has been under in its natural habitat. According to Guerra (1996), statistics on landings in the Department of Loreto, Peru, show that during high season A. gigas comprised 10% of the total fish capture from 1980 to 1992 but declined thereafter. The fishing pressure has placed the species at risk from a conservation and sustainable usage perspective; in fact, A. gigas is listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade of Wild Fauna and Flora Species.

A. gigas has been able to reproduce naturally in medium-size ponds (Alcántara, 1990) and large water enclosures, feeding on small cultured forage fish (Bard et al., 1975; Alcántara & Guerra, 1992; Rebaza, 1998; Imbiriba, 2001) and cultivated with simple technologies that can readily be incorporated by the private sector. Furthermore, A. gigas under cultivation conditions accepts alternative foods, such as chicken embryos, pelletized feed (De Souza et al. 1986; Aldea, 2002; Village, 2002 unpublished; Sagratzki-Cavero et al., in press) and, in extreme conditions, bread and crackers (Rebaza et al., 1999).

Earlier this year, a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that has been working in the area of Iquitos, Peru, took cultured A. gigas products to the International Fair of Bremen, Germany, where the NGO determined demand in that market alone for A. gigas fillet to be around 60 tonnes per month.

Arapaima Culture Program
Two years ago IIAP and Terra Nuova, an Italian NGO, joined together to initiate an A. gigas cultivation program that includes several small-scale producer ponds.

In this article we report the progress of the program, as well as the methodology used.

Objectives of the program are to:

- Develop the natural (non-induced) production of A. gigas (paiche) fingerlings from broodstock in the ponds of the small-scale fish producers along the Iquitos-Nauta Road in Loreto.
- Augment the supply of paiche fillets by producing diverse value-added products aimed at the growing international market.
- Enhance fingerling supply.
- Diminish A. gigas fishing pressure in its natural habitat.
- Contribute to A. gigas conservation.
- Assist with the diversification of productive activities and living conditions of the Peruvian Amazon inhabitants.

The program anticipates the following results:

- Provide six A. gigas juveniles to each of 93 small-scale producers (currently 31 producers received six juveniles each) along the Iquitos-Nauta Road, as an initial phase of the program.
- Incorporate A. gigas culture as a productive activity in the Amazon region.
- Create awareness among the Amazon inhabitants in general (e.g., fish producers, fishermen) in the practice of A. gigas cultivation.
- Increase the diversity of A. gigas products offered.
- Decrease A. gigas fishing pressure in its natural habitats.
- Develop a broodstock batch managed by the small-scale producers to increase fingerling supply.

IIAP/CRSP Extensionist Carlos Chávez holding an Arapaima juvenile.

Photo By: Pedro Icomedes

Activities and Methodology

Breeding A. gigas juveniles
The A. gigas juveniles (25 cm average total length) are coming from the natural reproduction of pond-raised broodstock held in IIAP Quistacocha and Pucallpa facilities, Peru.

Identification of Beneficiaries
The beneficiaries of the program were identified based on the following criteria: 1) Readiness and suitability of their pond(s); 2) Degree to which A. gigas broodstock security could be guaranteed; and 3) Interest of the producer to conduct A. gigas cultivation.

Forage fish (prey) culture and A. gigas stocking
The small-scale producer ponds are fertilized and initially stocked a few weeks before stocking with A. gigas juveniles, with bujurqui (Cichlasoma amazonarum) and/or mojarra (Gymnocorymbus thayeri and Tetragonopterus sp.) at stocking densities from 20,000 to 30,000 fish/pond, to secure a forage base.

The monitoring of the performance of the A. gigas is conducted by two CRSP extensionists who carry out periodic visits to the A. gigas producers to monitor growth, sanitary state, survival, and yield (kg ha-1 yr-1). The monitoring will be conducted for a year, and the data will be collected and analyzed to determine A. gigas performance in culture ponds.


Alcántara, F., 1990. Observaciones sobre comportamiento reproductivo de paiche, Arapaima gigas, en cautiverio. Folia Amazónica, 2: 4.
Alcántara, F., and H. Guerra, 1992. Cultivo de paiche, Arapaima gigas, utilizando bujurqui, Cichlassoma bimaculatum, como presa. Folia Amazónica, 4 (1): 129–139.
Aldea, M., 2002. Cultivo de paiche Arapaima gigas con dietas artificiales en jaulas flotantes. B.S. thesis, Universidad Nacional de la Amazonia Peruana, Iquitos, Perú.
Bard, J., P. De Kimpe, J. Lemasson, and P. Lessent, 1975. Manual de piscicultura destinado a la América tropical. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical. Minis-terio de Asuntos Extranjeros, Francia. Revisado por Christian Berger. Second ed. 104 pp.
De Souza, J.E., J.M. Junqueira, and P.S. Ceccarelli, 1986. Monocultivo de pacu, Colossoma mitrei em gaiolas. Síntese dos Trabalhos Realizados con Especies do Género Colossoma. Centro de Pesquisa e Treinamento em Aquicultura. Ministerio de Agricultura. Superintendencia do Desenvolvimento da Pesca Centro de Investigaçao para o Desenvolvimento. 23pp.
Fontenele, O., 1942. Contribuição para o conhecimento da biologia de pirarucu Arapaima gigas (Cuvier), em cativeiro: (Actinoptrygii, Osteoglossidae). DNOCS. Coletânea de trabalhos Técnicos. Série I-C.
Guerra, H., 1996. Notas sobre el paiche en la Amazonía Peruana. Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana, Iquitos, Peru. Informe interno. 3 pp.
Imbiriba, E.P., 2001. Potencial de Criação de pirarucu em cativeiro. Acta Amazonica 31(2): 299–316.
Luling, K.H., 1969. Das laichverhalten der vewetreter der familie Osteoglossidae (Versuch einer Ubersicht). Bonn. Zool. Beitr., 20(1/3): 228–243.
Rebaza, M., 1998. Crianza de Paiche, Arapaima gigas, en cautiverio, Centro Regional de Investigaciones de Ucayali, Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana, Iquitos, Peru. Informe Interno, 5 pp.
Rebaza, M.A., F. Alcántara, and G.M. Valdivieso, 1999. Manual de Piscicultura del paiche Arapaima gigas. Editorial Manatí Gráfico S.A. Caracas-Venezuela. 72 pp.
Sanchez, J., 1961. El paiche. Aspectos de su historia natural, ecología y aprovechamiento. Servicio de Pesquería del Ministerio de Pesquería. Lima, Peru. 48 pp.
Saint-Paul, U., 1986. Potential for aquaculture of South American freshwater fishes; a review. Aquaculture 54: 205–240.
Sagratzki-Cavero, B.A., M. Pereira-Filho, R. Roubach, R.D. Ituassú, A. Lima Gandra, and R. Crescêncio, In press. Stocking density effect on growth homogeneity of juvenile pirarucu in confined environments. Pesquisas Agropecuária Brasileira. In Portuguese with English abstract.

ARAPAIMA Culture Program Collaborators

~ Iquitos, Loreto ~

Fernando Alcántara, Palmira Padilla, Rosa Ismiño, and CRSP extensionists Luciano Rodríguez and Carlos Chávez

~ Pucallpa, Ucayali ~

Mariano Rebaza, Carmela Rebaza, and Sonia Deza

~ Tarapoto, San Martin ~

Humberto Guerra, Gilberto Ascón, and Jorge Iberico

~ Southern Illinois University Carbondale ~

Christopher C. Kohler, Susan T. Kohler, and William Camargo

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