Ark of taste
Back to the archive >

Doncella is a species of fish belonging to the catfish family, which has lived in the waters of Chocó since ancient times, mainly in the Atrato and Tutunendo rivers. Adult specimens reach an average length of between 60 and 80 centimeters and a weigh between 5 and 8 kilos. It is a smooth fish with a large head and no scales. The basic color is white, with dark brown or other brightly colored stripes. It has a large mouth with no teeth, white flesh with few bones, and is very tasty. For that reason, doncella has been an important part of the local diet for several generations. It is eaten fresh or dried, in soups and in rice-based dishes, cooked in stews, fried or cooked with a local sauce.

Due to its biogeographical features, Colombia, and the Chocó region in particular, is rich in freshwater fish. Over time doncella has also come to take on a deep symbolic meaning as well as a prominent place in local food culture, thanks to its nutritional values. Of the 186 species of freshwater fish species identified in the region, around 50% are currently facing extinction. This includes doncella, which in the last 30 years has seen significantly less use in local food.

Doncella is facing extinction for a number of reasons. One is overfishing. Another is a particular technique, namely the use of trammel nets, special nets that are placed across the river Atrato from one bank to the other, including the marshy areas where the eggs and young of many species of fish are found. These nets capture fish of all species and sizes, thus disturbing and destroying reproductive cycles and threatening the survival of many species. In addition, the mining industry has had a severe environmental impact in the region, polluting the soil and the water. Thirty species of fish are currently at risk and they will soon be joined by another 63 species that are endemic to the region. In addition to doncella, these species include bocachico, guacuco, sábalo, dentón and catfish.

According to local fishermen, in the past it was possible to achieve a weekly doncella catch of between 1,000 and 20,000 arrobas (a local unit of measurement, equivalent to approximately 11 kg) when the fishing was good. Now that amount has significantly decreased and, though more is available in January and June, prices remain high, which further limits consumption of the fish.

Back to the archive >




Production area:Atrato and Tutunendo rivers