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Kukama Kukamiria Indigenous people committed to the rescue of Paiche fish

It is the largest freshwater fish in the world and lives in the Peruvian Amazon

The Kukama Kukamiria people live along the Marañon, Tigre, Urituyacu, Ucayali and Huallaga rivers in the northern Peruvian Amazonia. They have an officially recognized population of almost 11 thousand habitants (2017 National Census) and live in 307 native communities, protecting more than 4 million hectares of forest. Due to their geographical location, fishing is one of their main activities and represents an important source of food and economic income.

For that reason, the Kukama Kukamiria Communities near to the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, seeing how the fish populations in their oxbow lakes were decreasing, set out on the great challenge of rescuing them in 2017. They were mainly concerned about the conservation of the world's largest water fish, the paiche (Arapaima gigas).

In response to this need, WWF Peru has supported technically and financially in the process of breeding, sustainable use, and commercialization of the paiche. Looking to safeguard food security and improve the economic income of seven native Kukama Kukamiria communities. In addition, it contributes to the conservation of this species in its natural habitat.

After 5 years of uninterrupted actions, this initiative shows several achievements. For example, there is an association that brings together the Kukama communities, called the Asociación Social de Pescadores Artesanales de Paiche "Putsatawarakana kukama" (ASPAPPUKU). Commercial activities are carried out under national environmental standards and they have recently implemented a processing plant. But, undoubtedly, one of the most relevant actions has been the construction of floating cages in their lakes, a solution to raise paiche and give the ecosystem a rest.

"To carry out the construction of the floating cages, WWF Peru proposed and supported the exchange of experiences with the Callería Native Community of the Shipibo Conibo indigenous people in Ucayali. This community has developed the floating cages technique as part of its ancestral knowledge, has been supported by institutions such as TNC and AIDER, and stood out as a food security initiative within the framework of the MDE Saweto Peru project. It is now an example for other communities", said Alipse Valera, WWF-Peru's Forestry and Indigenous Affairs Specialist.

This exchange of experiences was the beginning of a positive learning experience, the seven Kukama Kukamiria communities decided to undertake the construction of floating cages with their own hands. They discovered that it was easy to adapt to their flooded territories, did not require the entry of heavy machinery into their territory and the technique was resistant to periods of flooding. Another aspect in consideration of this technique is that it allows the paiche that inhabits its oxbow lakes to be repopulated naturally since it is not hunted for commercialization.

A continuous learning process

The last two years of this initiative has not been without learning for ASPAPPUKU, the indigenous organizations CORPI SL, FEDECOCA, and even the Government. "The initiative opened a precedent in the region, during the process of formalization of raising paiche in floating cages installed in the oxbow lakes, the Regional Directorate of Production (DIREPRO) recognized that it was the first time that this ancestral fishing technique was used in Loreto. We worked together to develop regulatory measures to ensure the correct handling of the cages", mentioned Alipse Valera.

Thanks to this project, today the seven Kukama Kukamiria Kukama communities are seeing the regeneration of their fishing grounds. On the other hand, the informal fishermen, who used to fish indiscriminately, have moved away due to the constant vigilance and attendance of the community members in the floating cages. This has given the ecosystem a break and has resulted in an increase in the population of paiche and other species.
The cultivation of paiche in floating cages and the decrease in indiscriminate fishing bring hope to the Kukama Kuakamiria. It also feeds their hope that new generations will see with their own eyes the largest fish in the world swimming majestically in their lakes.