Aquatic ecosystem and resources of the Amazon basin are the predominant basis of sustainability for the rainforest. Fishes are frequently overlooked in more publicized conservation or development projects in the Amazon despite the enormous diversity of fishes (over 3,000 species) and the socio-economic importance of the fisheries. Food fishes comprise the principal component of the Amazonian diet (67 kg/ capital/ year). The ornamental fish trade is also of economic importance to local fisherfolk and in the worldwide market.

More than 20 million live fishes are exported from the region annually for the Amazonas State economy and in excess of $100 million in worldwide retail value. The mid-Rio Negro basin is the primary fishing grounds and the municipality of Barcelos is the principal trading post where trade in ornamental fishes now contributes over 60% of the local revenue.

A single species, the cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi) constitutes over 80% of the total export from the Rio Negro basin. Natural fluctuations in fish populations, fish mortality rate during capture and transport, and market demand are the main constraints on the fisherfolk subsistence. As adaptation to the extreme fluctuations in Amazon ecology, many ornamental fishes have a short life cycle (1-2 years) and high fecundity that allow their populations to sustain the ornamental fishery.

Though the ornamental fish stocks are very they are sensitive to long term environmental disruptions. In order for the ornamental fishery to thrive, the entire aquatic ecosystem must be intact and functional. It may be possible through proper application of fishery management procedures to provide local people with incentive to preserve the integrity of their aquatic ecosystems and their cultural and terrestrial environment as well.

To develop an appropriate management strategy, a firm understanding of the ecosystems and sociocultural perspectives of the ornamental fishery are essential. It will also require that fisherfolk, exporters/importers, to the distributors and retailers to understand their place in this important industry. Furthermore, locally controlled ornamental fishery and trade practices are fundamental to the long-term sustainability of a quality livelihood in the region.

Since 1989, faculty and students of the Universidade do Amazonas (UA) and National Institute of Amazonia Research (INPA) have studied aquatic biodiversity, collected baseline data on ornamental fishery and socioeconomic aspects of riverine communities in the Rio Negro basin. We have concluded that the ornamental fishery in the region is manageable; it is the basis of protecting Amazon rainforest. We have already built sound scientific base and community network to implement an effective management of the fishery.

For the next phase of the Project Piaba, we intend to deepen the areas of research to include genetic diversity of fishes, habitat/stream gradient, ecosystem function, shipping and handling of live fish, fish pathology, and the trade processes. We have chosen the cardinal tetra as the principal indicator species for the Project. We will apply our research results to develop techniques for fish husbandry and help fisherfolk to produce quality fishes of the region. We will also expand our information database and make them accessible to broader user groups.

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