Study: Giant Amazon Fish That Breathes Air Is Close to Extinction

Aug 13, 2014 04:49 PM EDT | Jordan Ecarma

An enormous Amazon fish seems to be on the brink of extinction after overfishing.

Officially known as arapaima (Arapaima gigas) but commonly called pirarucu, the fish come in at about 10 feet long and weigh more than 400 pounds, Live Science reported. Their unique ability to breathe in the air as well as under water has unfortunately made the giant fish much easier to capture.

Researchers published their findings on the at-risk Amazon creature today in the journal Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

Possessing both a primitive lung and a system of gills, the fish regularly come to the surface to breathe in oxygen.

"Arapaima spawn on the edges of floodplain forests and come to the surface to breathe every 5 to 15 minutes, when they are easily located and harpooned by fishers using homemade canoes," said Caroline Arantes, study co-author and doctoral student in wildlife and fisheries science at Texas A&M University in College Station, as quoted by Live Science.

Already extinct in some portions of the Amazon basin, the arapaima has seen a reduced population elsewhere in the Amazon River; however, researchers additionally found that fishing regulations helped the fish to thrive.

Scientists know of five species of arapaima, all of which used to dominate Amazon River fisheries. Three of the species have not been seen in the wild for decades.

The study researchers say that the pirarucu can be spared from extinction even if local communities continue to catch and sell the commercial fish.

"Many previously overexploited arapaima populations are now booming due to good management," said study leader Leandro Castello, an assistant professor of fisheries at Virginia Tech's College of Natural Resources and Environment, as quoted by Live Science. "The time has come to apply fishers' ecological knowledge to assess populations, document practices and trends, and solve fisheries problems through user participation in management and conservation."

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