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Potential Fish Species in Amazonia for National Aquaculture

Amazonian fish resources are a huge source of food for inhabitants of the basin and some commercial species have shown a potential of developing sustainable aquaculture systems, writes Luis Gabriel Quintero Pinto1Laboratorio de Ictiologa, FMVZ- UN Colombia.

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There are currently two main issues affecting the biodiversity of fish in Amazonia:

  1. Identifying, stocking and studying the fish resources, which is an issue that affects humanity food security in the coming years.
  2. The critical problem of preserving this biodiversity, which is about handling those resources and it is strictly related to aquaculture.


Out of the estimated 2,000 species in the basin, 10 per cent of them could be caught at the moment, either as food or as ornamental products.

Among the most important species fished in the basin, characins or characiformes are highlighted (43 per cent out of total catches, fished in Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela) and siluridae or siluriformes (39 per cent out of total catches, fished in Brasil, Colombia and Venezuela).

Percomorphs and osteoglossiformes are also important.

The most important species in commercial terms, among characins in the region, are Colossoma macropomum (tambaqui), Piaractus brachypomus (freshwater pompano), Prochilodus spp. and Brycon spp. (shads), among other species.

Catfish fishing takes place throughout the year, with some seasonal variations related to species behaviour and water cycles. Flooding is the main factor affecting biology and ecology in the Amazonian system.

Fourteen migratory catfish species are caught. By countries, the prevalence is:

• Brazil: Kumakuma (B. filamentosum) and gilded catfish (B. flavicans).
• Colombia: Barred sorubim (P. fasciatum) and tiger sorubim (P.tigrinum)
• Peru: gilded catfish (B. flavicans), tiger sorubim (P.tigrinum) and barred sorubim (P. fasciatum).

In addition, young catfish are caught in Bolivia and Peru as ornamental products to be exported. This could negatively affect the sustainability of these resources.

More than 30,000 MT of catfish are reported to be fished annually in Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

However, this figure could be three times bigger if non-registered catches were included along with those catches aimed for self-consumption by the riverside inhabitants. Both, industrial and artisanal ships are used to fish.

Other species in the region are pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) and tucanare peacock bass (Cichla monoculus) . Catching reports are uncertain for those species.

Production Systems

The Amazon species potential to be produced in aquaculture systems need to be determined.

Characins are mainly produced in the Amazonian region of the neighbouring countries. Therefore, a similar production system to those can be found in the Orinoquia region. The systems are based on technology packets developed in other areas in the country so the only technology requirement to use them is to adapt those packets to the conditions in the Amazon area.

In addition, some siluridae species also awake interest in the Iquitos area, where IIAP researchers (IIAP, Research Institute for Peruvian Amazonia) helped by Hungarian experts managed to breed tiger sorubim, gillbacker sea catfish and gilded catfish under captivity conditions.

Pirarucu shows signs to potentially be the most promising species for Amazonian aquaculture as it has an annual 10-kg average size per fish and high quality fillets.

Brazilian Amazonia

Farming system:
extensive (27 per cent) and semi-intensive (73 per cent).

Farming type:
Mixed farming (frequency: 85.7 per cent)
Single species farming: (f: 28.6 per cent)

Associate: (f: 9.5 per cent)

Farming fish species:

  • Tambaqui (Colossoma macropumum) 95.2
  • Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) 38.1
  • Matrinxã (Brycon cephalus) 38.1
  • Jaraqui (Semaprochilodus ssp.) 33.3
  • Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) 33.3
  • Carp (Cyprinus carpio) 19.0
  • Tucunare (Cichla spp) 14.3
  • Black prochilodus (Prochilodus nigricans) 9.5
  • Oscar (Astronatus ocellattus) 9.5
  • South American silver croaker (Plagioscion squamosissimus) 4.8

Bolivian Amazonia

This basin is comprised by the water springs in the following departments: La Paz, Cochabamba, Potosí, Oruro, Chuquisaca. Also, in the Eastern plains (Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Beni and Pando).

The main rivers are Beni and Mamoré.

Aquaculture has barely been developed in this area in spite of having a large space to do it and an ideal climate.

Fish species adapted to farming in the Amazonian basin are tipalia (Oreochromis niloticus) and its hybrids tambaqui (Colossoma macropomun) and freshwater pompano (Piaractus brachypomus).

This basin has two fish farming locations: “El Prado”, belonging to Gabriel René Moreno University and “Pirahíba”, belonging to San Simón Higher University.

The first one produces 300,000 fish fry every year (tilapia, tambaqui and freshwater pompano). The second one produces 400,000 annually (tilapia) and it is starting to breed tambaqui and freshwater pompano).

Peruvian Amazonia

Farming species:

  • Tambaqui(Colossoma macropumum)
  • Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus)
  • Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
  • Shad (Brycon sp.)
  • Black prochilodus (Prochilodus nigricans)
  • Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas)
  • Tucunare (Cichla spp)

Extensive farming: 1 fish/10 m2

Semi-intensive farming: 1 fish/5 m2 + fertilization

Intensive farming: 1 fish / m2 (10,000 / ha)

Colombian Amazonia:

In Putumayo department, tilapias, carps, shads, tambaquis and bocachicos (Prochilodus spp.) are farmed. Recently, a pirarucu was experimentally introduced.

In Caquetá department, there is more technical fish farming. Tilapia, carps, tambaquis, yamús (Brycon amazonicus), bocachicos and pirarucus are farmed.

In Amazonas department, fish farming operations had been organised and promoted by CORPOAMAZONAS. The farmed species for consumption here are: tambaqui (Colossoma macropomum), shad (Brycon spp.), Black prochilodus (Prochilodus nigricans), Oscar (Astronatus ocellattus) and pirarucu (Arapaima gigas).

Pirarucu Farming

In the Amazonian region, the species had been farmed in different ways in order to produce them.

The extensive farming system was used in Brazil and Peru. Semi-intensive farming was used in the Peruvian Sea Institute (Iquitos, Peru), using chicken manure as feed. This was followed by feeding the animals with fodder fish (Ciclassoma bimaculatum or C. amazonarum).

In the Amazonian Experimental Centre in Leticia (Colombia), this farming system has also been used.

In intensive farming, fish density is higher and feed is given on a daily basis (either live or dead fish). Fish or chicken guts are also used as feed.

Cage farming systems have been experimentally used in San Martin (Peru) and INPA (Brazil).


Amazonian fish resources are a huge food source for the basin inhabitants. Some commercial species have shown a potential of developing sustainable aquaculture systems.

Currently, there are technologies for all Amazonian species that are produced in Amazonia.

Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas) is one of the most important native species in the basin (in ecological and cultural terms). It has been shown that it could be commercially produced in Amazonia.

It is essential to develop production systems that guarantee the biological security of production facilities in order to implement them for other Amazonian species in other areas of Colombia.

Developing and strengthening the aquaculture production chain could be beneficial for sustainable and competitive development of all players involved in the process. It would provide chances of promoting domestic consumption of native fish species while it would also create exporting possibilities.

January 2014