Breaking: Heiko Bleher released

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Heiko Bleher, the famous ichthyological explorer who was arrested in Brazil with photographer Natasha Khardina for alleged fish smuggling, has been released from prison, Practical Fishkeeping can exclusively reveal.

According to IBAMA, the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, Bleher attempted to board a flight with a co-passenger while carrying preserved fish tissues in alcohol and formalin without authorisation. (See Heiko Bleher arrested in Manaus for alleged fish smuggling, News, 2 September, 2008.)

Bleher contacted Practical Fishkeeping this afternoon to confirm that the pair had been released from prison after three and a half days behind bars in what he described as "the worst prison on the planet."

IBAMA said that the arrest came after a year-long investigation by IBAMA and the Federal Police who suspected that Bleher was exporting material in this manner.

Bleher said that there were no restrictions under Brazilian environmental law regarding the transport of dead, preserved fishes, particularly not aquarium fishes.

He claims that someone jealous of his work informed the Federal Police, and that IBAMA were not involved, as they had stated in their release covering his arrest.

Bleher said that references to IBAMA were "lies and inventions" so someone there could "get a medal."

Speaking on the fishkeeping forum rainbowfish.info, Bleher said: "IBAMA has known me and my work for decades. Their president has dined with me and travelled in my chartered plane, free of charge, has many of my publications. Suddenly they have been searching for me since last year. What a joke and a lie.

"In addition they make statements without having verified facts, like that there are new species, but they have no capacity to examine the specimens therefore gave them now to the INPA for them to do the work. Quite strange.

"In addition they know very well that a dead small fish does not and cannot be of any economic value to anyone - it only serves the purpose of identification/classification so we know more about the biodiversity of our planet."

Bleher also clarified that he was travelling to Milan from Manaus with Khardina, not Miami as stated in some Brazilian newspaper reports.