Amazon Fishermen See Dolphins as Rivals & Kill Them for Bait


Photo: Jason Auch under a Creative Commons license.

It's a horrible example of killing two birds with one stone: in Igarapé do Costa, a fishing town in the Brazilian Amazon, local fishermen, tired of seeing their catches decimated by feeding pink dolphins, have turned to killing the dolphins and using them as bait to improve their hauls of catfish, which they sell in Brazil and Colombia. And the problem is not contained to this tiny village: research and government officials that as many as thousands of the region's 30,000 river dolphins are dying each year, the New York Times reported.But this is not an especially new trend: in 2007, a video surfaced of a crew of Brazilian fishermen killing 83 dolphins, and joking about it. Then, as now, killing dolphins in Brazil is illegal, and comes with a penalty of up to four years in prison. But IBAMA, Brazil's environmental protection agency, only has 1,300 agents in the entire country and cannot rigorously enforce those laws. It has acknowledged the problem, however, and promised to crack down.

The killed dolphins are used for a variety of purposes. They seem to be particularly effective bait: two dolphins' worth of meat can bring in up to $2,400 in catfish sales in a day. But dolphin parts are also sold on their own: their genitals are marketed as good luck charms, and oil made from their fat is sold as a cure for rheumatism.

But the problem goes beyond the abundant economic incentives, and comes partly from a lack of respect for the law and the dolphins, despite the animals' important place in local legend. Ronan Benício Rego, a fisherman in Igarapé do Costa, told the NYT, "I have harpooned some just to be mean." What remains to be seen is whether IBAMA can live up to its word and put a stop to the killing of the endangered animals, and help the dolphin population recover.

Via the New York Times
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