Mamiraua Project will supply sustainable aquarium fish to UK trade

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A project which aims to provide sustainably managed ornamental fish from the Amazon basin directly to the UK has just been launched.

Project Mamiraua was set up in the 1990s as the largest area of protected flooded forest and the first sustainable development reserve in Brazil.

The Project has worked in conjunction with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), funded by Defra, over a three year period focusing on the feasibility of setting up a sustainable ornamental fish management scheme.

Historically, there was a fishery in the area, but this failed in the 1980s, possibly due to over-exploitation. This new project has investigated the ecology of the fish as well as researching the social and economic factors of a sustainably-managed ornamental fishery.

Sustainable tradeTogether with the local communities it has put in place a Collection Area Management Plan which will allow a sustainable trade in freshwater ornamental fish and that will ultimately contribute to conserving the important biodiversity of an area of the Brazilian Amazon.

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At present it is estimated that Brazil exports around $3 million worth of ornamental fish every year. The introduction of the Mamiraua Project means that the local communities will get direct economic benefit which can act as alternative or additional sources of income to the traditional economy, which can be detrimental to the forest.

This monetary value will in turn ensure the long-term protection of fish diversity within the reserve by encouraging the local communities to act as 'custodians of the forest'.

Limited number of speciesThe Project will only be viable on a small scale from a few artisanal fisheries with a limited number of species involved.

These species include the Discus, Symphysodon aequifasciata, various cichlids including Satanoperca and Aequidens, hatchet fishes, tetras and pencilfishes.

In addition, the Project is also setting up a traceability scheme. This means that fish bought in the UK will have a unique code assigned to them.

TraceabilityThe purchaser will be able to enter this code onto the Project Mamiraua website and find out who the fisherman was, where and when the fish was caught and even what the water conditions were like at the time.

Ultimately, the Project hopes that this will aid fishkeepers in that not only will they know that their fish has come from a sustainable source, but they could also be given advice on how to match water quality and conditions.

The ZSL's Marine and Freshwater Conservation Programme Manager, Alison Debney is keen to point out that this does not mean all wild caught fish are good but told Practical Fishkeeping:

"What we would like people to realise is that 'wild caught' doesn't necessarily mean bad, as long as people ask questions and take care in selecting sustainably caught fish they can actively benefit the communities that they come from; ultimately contributing to the conservation of the environment."

It is hoped that fish from Project Mamiraua fisheries will be available in the UK later this year.