The Arapaima population in the north Rupununi has dropped by 31%, according to preliminary results of a survey and there is concern that sport fishing has led to the decline of the endangered species.
“We just did a survey and it’s just under 5,000,” Chief Executive Officer of the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) Ivor Marslow told a stakeholders’ meeting on the organisation’s Community Monitoring, Reporting & Verification (CMRV) project at Cara Lodge last Friday. Over the past two years, the 16 communities of the north Rupununi have been implementing the first CMRV project in Guyana.
Concern was expressed by several speakers that a new sport fishing initiative among three communities in the North Rupununi with Arapaima as one of the main attractions will negatively affect the fish. Sport fishing has also been increasing in the area.
The NRDDB has been conducting a survey on the fish and according to information, from a count of 5,853 in 2011, the Arapaima stock has dropped to 4,022.
The enormous Arapaima (Arapaima gigas) is a highly endangered and poorly understood species that has been subject to extreme overfishing in neighbouring countries. Since the 1960s, concerns have been expressed about the fate of the fish, and the need for it to be protected. During that time, it was disclosed that the Arapaima, which inhabits the Rupununi River, was being ruthlessly harvested and sold across the border in Brazil.
The NRDDB conducted the survey under a grant for environmental and livelihood benefits to communities under the UNDP/Global Environment Facility (GEF), Small Grants Programme (SGP). The NRDDB received the sum of $9.8 million to strengthen the capacities of its 16 Amerindian communities to manage the Arapaima fish and fisheries of the North Rupununi wetlands through capacity building, surveys, conservation education and awareness, consultations, and development of management plans.
With the drop in the population of the fish, it does not take much to realise that “commercial fishing of Arapaima is taking place in the Essequibo River,” conservationist Major General (retd) Joe Singh said.
Marslow also told Stabroek News that there are persons undertaking sport fishing in the Rupununi with permission from the authorities. Others were concerned at the potential impacts which they said should be examined closely.
Following concerns about the depletion of the Arapaima population several years ago, an Arapaima Management Plan was officially launched on April 20, 2007. It was designed with various objectives including increasing the local Arapaima population, improving fishing income and advancing local institutions. The Plan also includes population counts, sharing an annual harvestable quota and has a guiding philosophy to conserve an economically important natural resource. Management rules also specify that Arapaimas should not be harvested unless the procedure is conducted within the confines of the Plan, with the two most important rules stipulating that only adults are harvested and that the harvesting is done only during the non-reproductive cycle.