The Pirarucu (Arapaima Gigas), originally from the Amazonian hydrographical basin, has certain biological and ecological features which make it particularly attractive to local populations. It is an unusually large fish which can reach a length of up to three metres and weigh up to 250kg, and is known as the “Amazonian giant”. However, due to aggressive fishing its survival is threatened and its average size is falling, though there are still some specimens over two metres long and weighing over 125kg. Another unusual feature of this fish is its breathing apparatus: a natatory vesicle allows it to capture oxygen from the surface rather like a lung. This enables the Pirarucu to survive in the waters of the Amazonian basin, which are low in oxygen, but also makes it easy prey for fishermen. After laying eggs, the period spent caring for its young increases its vulnerability: the male helps the fry in the early weeks of their life, pushing up to the surface alongside them to facilitate breathing of air. The Pirarucu is a predatory fish whose origins date back to the Jurassic era and is the main source of protein for the local population, the mestizo riberinhos, who live along the river banks. In the last two decades the rapid urbanization process has changed the region and begun to destabilize the balance of the ecosystem of the lakes, and thus the traditional subsistence economy of the riberinhos who are not involved in commercial fishing activities. The process has also caused rapid depletion of natural Pirarucu stocks, making fishing restrictions necessary. Since 1991, therefore, fishing has been prohibited in the reproduction period (from December to March) and in 1993 the minimum permitted size of specimens for trade (1m50) was established to prevent fishing of young specimens which have not yet reproduced (the species reaches sexual maturity quite late). A sustainable management system to protect fishing stocks and biodiversity has been developed for the flooded areas of the Amazon basin according to which the lakes will be divided into three different areas, each with a particular use of resources (breeding zones, low impact fishing zones and intensive fishing zones). The Pirarucu is a traditional staple in the diet of the riberinhos and can be eaten fresh, dried and salted much like cod The flesh has practically no bones and is suitable for local dishes like “Pirarucu de casaca”. The ossified tongue of the Pirarucu is used to grate the hard guarana sticks while the skin is used to make local handmade items. When we talk about Amazonia we immediately think of Brazil, but the area covered by the Amazon forest actually touches nine different countries which all share in the problems linked to the “ mother forest”: deforestation, pollution of the water courses, breeding, physical and cultural extinction of native populations. Since the traditional trading system in this area has already been contaminated the only way to safeguard the forest at this stage seems to be to give an economic value to its protection. The Amazon Forest, known as the home of the world’s greatest biodiversity, mainly consists of dry land forests outside the direct influence of the rivers and not subject to flooding, grassy forests flooded by the muddy waters of the rivers in the wet season and with very rich soil, and those permanently flooded by the black river water. This particular ecosystem depends on plentiful rainfall at certain times of year, which causes the rivers to flood and completely submerge vast areas. This is a phenomenon of such vital importance and regularity that local language has names for the three different types of forest: tierrafirme are the permanently dry lands, the permanently swampy areas are called igapó and those periodically submerged are várzea. Thousands of endemic fish species which play an important role in the reproduction cycle of plants along the riverbanks are found in the countless large rivers of the Amazon river network. These bring muddy waters from intensely eroded areas, rich in dissolved minerals, neutral or slightly alkaline; black water (very high in acidity due to the leaking of acid components in the earth and the tannins produced by decomposed vegetation) and particularly clean and transparent clear water from the southern rivers. In the municipality of Silves, on an island in Lake Canaçari and 300km from Manaus, local communities have worked together to form the Silves Association for Environmental and Cultural Conservation (ASPAC), a non-governmental organization which has created one of the first protected areas for the sustainable management of the lake and its resources. The community project for environmental and cultural conservation was developed in the fishing community thanks to the support of public bodies for the protection of the region’s ecosystem. The Association is self-financing (through eco-tourism projects) and has activated several projects to protect native fish species with the help and consultancy of experts and researchers working with the communities. The rural fishing community of the riberinhos has obtained recognition from the Brazilian government to protect the local ecosystem from large-scale exploitation by fishing boats from Manaus coming up the Rio Urubù, which is plentiful in fish.
The traditional products, local breeds, and know-how collected by the Ark of Taste belong to the communities that have preserved them over time. They have been shared and described here thanks to the efforts of the network that that Slow Food has developed around the world, with the objective of preserving them and raising awareness. The text from these descriptions may be used, without modifications and citing the source, for non-commercial purposes in line with the Slow Food philosophy.