Guillermo Otta Parum has been fishing within the Bolivian Amazon his entire life, for greater than 50 years.

At first, Guillermo was catching native fish, comparable to the assorted sorts of catfish which inhabit the river.

However then a large freshwater fish arrived, recognized domestically as paiche or Arapaipma Gigas, to provide it its scientific title.

“I believed this creature was a water snake, that it will assault all the pieces, that consuming it will be unhealthy for you, that it is likely to be toxic,” he remembers.

In reality, it is without doubt one of the greatest freshwater fishes on the earth, rising as much as 4m in size and weighing 200kg (440lb) or extra.

Guillermo Otto Parum with a paiche

Guillermo Otta Parum has been a fisherman for 50 years

It’s estimated that yearly, the paiche spreads one other 40km deeper into the rivers of the Amazon basin.

Federico Moreno, director of the Beni Autonomous College’s Centre for Aquatic Sources Analysis, says its dimension and urge for food make it a critical risk to native fish shares.

“It’s a territorial fish, it takes over a physique of water and scares off the native species. [That] is without doubt one of the critical issues. The opposite species flee from the predator and enter different our bodies of water a lot additional away, extra distant and troublesome to entry.”

Nobody actually is aware of the precise yr that the paiche first appeared in Bolivia.

It’s usually believed its arrival was the results of a breach of a paiche fish farm in Peru, the place the fish are native. From there, they unfold into Bolivia’s rivers.

Fernando Carvajal

Biologist Fernando Carvajal has spent years learning the Paiche

Fernando Carvajal is a biologist and knowledgeable on the paiche. He says they’re a ravenous species.

“In the course of the first years of life, the paiche grows on the fee of 10kg a yr. Which means the paiche is consuming numerous fish.”

In contrast to different predatory fish like piranha, it solely has small, not notably sharp enamel.

However its lack of spectacular enamel doesn’t cease it from consuming piranha and a number of different fish, together with vegetation, molluscs and birds, all of which it hoovers up like a large vacuum cleaner.

It additionally frightens off any fish which tries to eat the paiche’s younger.

Fernando Carvajal says there is no such thing as a agency information concerning the affect of the paiche, however he says that anecdotally, fishermen are reporting that the numbers of some native species are dwindling.

“Within the subsequent one or twenty years, the paiche goes to unfold to all of the potential areas the place this species can dwell,” he warns.

“We all know that world wide, most invasive instances are unhealthy for nature. Invasive species are thought-about the second-biggest purpose for the lack of biodiversity after habitat destruction.”

Nevertheless, for native fishermen, the arrival of the paiche has been a boon. Having been initially afraid of it, it didn’t take lengthy for fishermen to comprehend its potential, says Guillermo Otta Parum.

Fishing boat on Yata River

Paiche fishing boat on the Yata River within the Bolivian Amazon

“Once I introduced the primary fish, I’d give the shoppers small items as a present for them to strive so they might get a style for it.”

Some fishermen even pretended it was a kind of catfish to beat folks’s suspicions about consuming such an enormous specimen.

Now paiche are eaten throughout Bolivia.

Edson Suzano runs a paiche-processing plant in Riberalta, a city in north-east Bolivia near the Brazilian border.

Edson Suzano at his paiche processing plant

Edson Suzano (left) says the paiche is inexpensive

“We promote it in every single place – supermarkets, markets. There are totally different cuts, so it’s inexpensive. We purchase and course of round 30,000kg per 30 days,” he says.

The problem for the fishermen is looking for the paiche within the enormous expanse of the Amazon.

The fish has a lung-like organ and has to come back up for air repeatedly to breathe and so likes calmer water. It prefers to dwell in lakes and lagoons, however migrates when it feels it’s at risk.

The Paiche swimming in the Amazon basin

The Paiche migrates when it feels it’s at risk

A lot of the fish Edson Silvano processes used to reach by boat.

Now the fishermen journey to ever extra distant areas to catch the paiche and must switch from boats to canoes, on journeys of as much as two weeks. That is placing them in battle with indigenous communities.

These communities have been given land titles to lots of the distant lagoons the place paiche are actually to be discovered and have themselves began fishing for and promoting the fish.

Fishmonger prepares Paiche

Paiche being ready on the market at Riberalta’s fish market

Now industrial fishermen must receive particular licences to work in these areas. However fishermen like Guillermo Otta Parum say that even once they have the right paperwork, they’re typically turned away.

The indigenous communities argue that they’re solely attempting to guard the sources which the Bolivian authorities has recognised they’ve a proper to manage.

Fisherman Juan Carlos Ortiz Chavez

Juan Carlos Ortiz Chavez is a paiche fisherman who belongs to the Alto Ivon Tco Chacobo indigenous neighborhood:

Juan Carlos Ortiz Chávez belongs to the Alto Ivon Tco Chacobo indigenous neighborhood.

He says that previously, indigenous folks have been scared of economic fishermen. “However this new technology of younger folks has modified, as a result of we’ve made our guidelines so that folks cannot come and take from us any extra,” he explains.

Scientists comparable to Federico Moreno hope that fishing usually, whoever is doing it, will maintain paiche numbers in examine.

“Maintain looking them, maintain fishing for them on a regular basis and that would maintain a steadiness between the totally different species.”

To listen to extra concerning the paiche, listen to Crossing Continents on the BBC World Service

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