Amazon dolphins as fish bait: Brazil introduces a moratorium on piracatinga fishing

After a decade of battles and warnings, the Brazil government has finally recognized the dire threat to Amazon river dolphin (boto) Inia geoffrensis populations posed by the ongoing illegal hunt to obtain fish bait. Both botos and caimans are hunted for bait to catch catfish Calophysus macropterus, known in  Brazil as piracatinga.  During International Biodiversity Day on 22 May  2014, the Minister of the Environment Izabella Teixeira, and the Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Eduardo Benedito Lopes jointly announced  their intention to establish  a nation-wide 5-year moratorium  on the fishing and commercialization of piracatinga. However, the Ministry of Fisheries delayed implementation on the grounds that more information was necessary to protect the rights of the fishermen involved. The decision was formally published and officially recognized on 18 July 2014 (see http://www.in.gov.br/autenticidade.html under the code 10002014071800013) although the moratorium will not take effect until the first of January 2015, allowing another season of hunting and the likely deaths of thousands more botos.

The main points of the moratorium are that:

  • It is forbidden to catch, hold on board, transship, disembark, store, transport, process or sell piracatinga.
  • The Ministries of Fisheries and Environment will be responsible for conducting studies to find less environmentally damaging alternatives to the current piracatinga fishery.
  • The  Ministry of the Environment will evaluate the effects of the moratorium on populations of botos, tucuxis (Sotalia fluviatilis) and caimans.

The moratorium does not apply to scientific catches or those defined as being for subsistence (no more than 5kg of fish per day, to be consumed by the fisherman and his family).

A new campaign to prevent boto killing was launched on 20 July. Called Red Alert and run by AMPA, a Brazilian NGO, it will raise money on an online platform (HotSite) in Portuguese and English to help monitor the effectiveness of the moratorium and stop the killing of botos in the Brazilian Amazon (www.alertavermelho.org.br).

Though an indirect and imperfect means of reducing the vast number of botos killed for bait in several countries across the Amazon basin, the moratorium on the Piracatinga fishery in Brazil will be a major step forward if it is adequately enforced. Hopefully it will inspire or embarrass other nations involved in killing Amazon dolphins for bait, notably Colombia, to enact legislation to bring this obviously inhumane and illegal hunt to an end.

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