What is Pirarucu?
Pirarucu is a fish that lives in the Amazon River and its tributaries, an area that covers Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, French Guiana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela. The name pirarucu comes from the indigenous language of the Kraho, who live in the areas south of the Araguacema and Couto regions in northeastern Brazil. In their language pira means fish, and urucu or red, as it usually has red stripes. The scientific name for pirarucu is Arapaima which comes from an erroneous understanding of warapaimo, from the the Macuxi indigenous people from Roraima in northeastern Brazil bordering Venezuela. In their language, warak means “fish”, and paimo means “very big.” (IAF)
Pirarucu can grow to as long as long as 15 feet and weigh as much as 440 pounds but most commonly it is 6 feet long and 220 lbs. It is one of the the largest freshwater fish in the world. Arapaimas don’t just grow big, they also exhibit the fastest known growth rates in any fish. This makes the arapaima an ideal species for farming. (National Geographic)
For centuries pirarucu has been an important source of protein for people that live along the Amazon River. Local people often salt and dry the meat, which can be stored without rotting, important in a region with little refrigeration.
Pirarucu must come up to the surface to breath air every 10 to 20 minutes. Their regular proximity to the water’s surface makes pirarucu vulnerable to human predators, who can easily target them with harpoons and spears. Their numbers declined dramatically throughout the region mainly because of overfishing. In recent years, new management practices involving local fishing communities in Brazil have boosted arapaima populations.
Operation Native Amazon (OPAN) initiated a sustainable fishing project for the pirarucu 20 years ago and since then, the fish population has soared, from more than 2,500 in 1999 to more than 190,000 last year. (Phys Org). The plan restricts the fishing season from July to November, the non-mating season and monitors pirarucu populations.
Agreements and plans bring together fishers, property owners, and municipal, state and federal governments to encourage more sustainable fishing in the region and ensure not only that the species survives, but to continue to be a source of food and income for the communities that depend on it. (IAF)
There is a growing industry culturing this species and many farms now exist along the Amazon.
The meat of this fish is considered a delicacy and now pirarucu is being served in some of the fanciest restaurants in Brazil as famous chefs have signed up to work with the indigenous communities , in particular the Paumari tribe, who implemented the sustainable farming practices.
An industry has also risen around turning the discarded fish skin into leather. Pirarucu skin is stronger than cow hide. The scales are so hard that they can be used as nail files. Rose Dias and her husband, engineer Aidson Ponciano, were pioneers in figuring out ways to use pirarucu skin. In 2000, they founded Green Obsession with the objective of making its chain of consumption more sustainable. Green Obsession recruits and trains workers from poorer regions of Manaus to work the leather. (CICB.org) The company is a partner of the National Research Institute of the Amazon (INPA), which has been seeking, since 1993, techniques for fish skin tanning with less environmental impact. (Revista) Oskar Metsavaht, founder of the Brazilian brand Osklen began developing the use of pirarucu skin in 2007 as wearable fish leather through Instituto-E, a nonprofit sustainable development organization supported by Osklen. Now local artisans turn the skin into usable leather and an industry has been created.
When compared to cattle farming, Pirarucu causes lower CO2 emissions and avoids deforestation of the Amazon and it has been found that farmers have achieved 40% higher productivity than raising cattle in the same plot of land. (Eco Age)
The skin is produced and manufactured in Brazil with little negative impact. The product lasts many years, is organic, and biodegradable without the use of heavy pollutants like Chromium. In addition, these fish are not killed to satisfy the fashion industries demands, they are primarily a food source. The reusing of their skin decreases the amount of biological waste in the environment while benefiting Brazil’s economy. The entire process is done in a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable way.Magnifeco
The Toronto based bag brand Piper + Skye sources their pirarucu from an award winning tannery in Brazil , Nova Kaeru where they use biodegradable tannins and chrome free tanning technologies, making beautiful, luxurious bags that are biodegradable and support local communities. Joanna MacDonald founded Piper + Skye in 2015. All the bags are made by an artisan in NYC.