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In Peru, a move to get farmers to trade in fish rather than coca

04 January 2007

PERU - A new program aims to help coca growers raise paiche, a huge, endangered fish known for its flaky meat.

Teofilo Tapullima knows first hand the dangers that lurk beneath the muddy waters of Peru's Amazon jungle: Piranhas, fresh-water rays, and the giant paiche fish, to name a few.

He recently found out just how tricky a paiche can be when he had to net one at the research institute where he works outside Pucallpa, in northern Peru.

"It came flying at me and slammed into my forehead. It gave me a headache, but luckily it was a small fish. If it had been a big one, I probably would have been blinded," he says.

A throwback to prehistoric times, with armored scales and a flat head, the paiches must come to the surface to breathe, making them easy targets for harpoon fishermen. But overfishing to meet demand for their delicious, flaky, boneless meat is wiping out paiche populations, and is now spurring efforts to save the fish, including a fish-farm venture that aims to provide local coca leaf growers with an alternative livelihood that does not fuel the illicit drug trade.

"This fish will be history in 10 to 15 years, unless something is done," says Fausto Hinostroza, who runs the Research Institute of the Peruvian Amazon, where Mr. Tapullima works.

Mr. Hinostroza's center has partnered with the Ucayali state government to work on a fish-farming plan that would repopulate lakes with paiches, while creating opportunities to sell the fish for its meat.

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Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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