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Guyana Tries To Save Arapaima Fish

November 21, 1998

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) _ The arapaima is a fish so strong it can jump out of rivers and snatch small birds off tree branches. It is so fast it can chase down almost any prey. And at 14 feet long and up to 440 pounds, it is so big that only humans threaten it.

Arapaima are fast disappearing in Guyana, where people have been bow hunting them more and more since tough economic times stemming from last year’s drought. Within a year, officials fear the fish could vanish from the South American nation’s rivers.

Indigenous farmers who lost their cassava and cashew crops turned to hunting arapaima. The meat sells for $5 a pound in an area where the average income is only about $2 a day.

Collectors are another threat. A Florida man pleaded guilty in July to trying to smuggle eight arapaima into the United States for an aquarium shop dealing in endangered species.

Law enforcement officers are hard pressed to stop poachers in Guyana’s vast jungle interior.

The government is training a group of rangers to go after poachers, but has yet to come up with the money to equip them. Officials also are considering public education and trying to rear arapaima on commercial farms to supply food and restock the rivers.

``We are seeing some positive things in terms of people in the communities beginning to accept that it is illegal to trade in the arapaima,″ said Chief Fisheries Officer Reuben Charles.

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