Text and photos by Walter M. Wust
(LIP-jl) — Aiming to save the paiche, the biggest freshwater fish in the world, a small group of local fishermen from Loreto decided to work for their conservation. The result was a successful example of how resource management is beginning to bear fruit.
If Brazil has the Pantanal and Botswana the Okavango Delta, then Peru should feel proud to count Pacaya-Samiria among its protected natural areas.
More than two million hectares of lakes, swamps and wetlands form this corner of the Amazon forest, creating a true magnet for wildlife.
It is, without doubt, the kingdom of aquatic species, among which the gigantic paiche stands out. Weighing in at up to 300 kilos and measuring some 3 meters, it is the biggest freshwater fish in the world.
In the heart of Pacaya-Samiria lies El Dorado Lake, a remote place of incomparable beauty. Here, among the ancient forests and rivers that resemble mirrors, nature seems to have been protected since the beginning of time.
But it wasn’t always like this. Even out here, many days from Iquitos, the hand of man was about to end the existence of one of the forest’s most valuable resources.
Attracted by the abundance of different species, fishermen came to El Dorado in even greater numbers. The fishing was good, and the boats returned with full cargos to the markets of Iquitos and Belén.
The bonanza lasted for a few years, and then the paiche became scarcer. Each time the fishermen went out they had to go further into the network of rivers and lakes to find fish of a reasonable size.
The forest fell silent. The loud cries of the giant of the jungle were no longer heard. The paiche was on the verge of extinction.