Heiko Bleher arrested in Manaus for alleged fish smuggling

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Heiko Bleher, the world-famous ichthyological explorer, has been arrested in Brazil for attempting to export fishes without a license.

Bleher, who runs the ichthyological publishing company Aquapress and writes the Bleher's Biotopes series in Practical Fishkeeping magazine, was arrested on Friday at Eduardo Gomes airport in Manaus, Amazonas, when attempting to board a flight to Milan.

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.

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 and his female companion, believed to be 29-year-old Natasha Khardina, are reportedly being held at the Federal Police station in Manaus.

Matt Clarke speaks to world-famous ichthyological explorer Heiko Bleher at Interzoo 2008.

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Preserved fish tissuesIn a statement, IBAMA said that it knew Bleher would be leaving the country and waited at the airport with the Federal Police.

Reports from the Brazilian newspaper Jornal Do Brasil state that Bleher and Khardina, who is from Uzbekistan, were apprehended after airport officials at Manaus spotted the fish in their luggage when it was x-rayed.

Bleher and Khardina were then taken to the Federal Police headquarters where their luggage was searched. Preserved fishes, photographic equipment and fish collecting gear were found inside.

Jornal Do Brasil says that the explorers had no official permission to search for and capture animals, other than a photocopy of a document provided by the Brazilian Institute of Environment (IBAMA).

Warning to researchersAccording to environmental analyst James Bessa, the specimens seized have been sent to INPA, the National Institute for Research of the Amazon, to be identified.

Bessa said that the material Bleher was attempting to export were collected this month in the Rio Araca, Rio Demini, Rio Jutai, Rio Negro and upper Solimoes and believed that some of the fish are currently unknown to science.

Bessa said that IBAMA was awaiting the outcome of a report investigating the transportation of wildlife material without a license and attempting to leave the country with unapproved genetic material.

He warned foreign researchers that they needed to obtain a licence from the National Research Council (CNPQ) of the Ministry of Science and Technology in order to export material.

Heiko Bleher has just started a new series of Bleher's Biotopes for Practical Fishkeeping.

Heiko BleherBleher, 64, was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but moved to Brazil with his mother in 1959. He spent several years of his childhood living in the jungles of South America with indigenous tribes and has been active in the fish collecting industry since the 1960s.

In 1964 Bleher started a commercial operation collecting and exporting fishes out of Brazil for the aquarium trade, and introduced a number of new species including the Brilliant rummynose tetra, which was named Hemigrammus bleheri in his honour. The species is now a popular aquarium fish and is farmed worldwide.

Bleher has subsequently travelled around the world in search of new fish species and has had a number of species named in his honour after providing specimens to the ichthyologists who described them.

Khardina also had a fish named after her recently. German scientist Axel Zarske named the Brazilian rosy tetra relative Hyphessobrycon khardinae in her honour after she collected the species with Bleher during an expedition to eastern Brazil.

Breaking News: Heiko Bleher released