Photo via Flickr
The bizarre-looking arapaima is the world's largest scaled freshwater fish. Colloquially known as the pirarucu or paiche, it lives in the Amazon river where can grow to be over 9 feet long. Though few arapaima ever grow to that size anymore: the species has sadly become a victim to overfishing. As such, this strange creature is now threatened with extinction.
Due to its impressive size, and the fact that it must rise to the river's surface for air, the arapaima is an easy target for net or spear fishing. And while indigenous peoples have long hunted the fish, commercial fishing and a growing population of fishermen have forced the arapaima's numbers into a sharp decline. For those curious as to what it looks like when someone fishes such a huge beast, here's a video.
What's more, it's now thought that a classification error is partly to blame for the lack of restrictions on fishing the arapaima. Recent studies have revealed that there may be as many as four different species of fish all currently known as the arapaima that deserve their own indivudual classification. Unfortunately, it may be too late to save some of the distinct species now--they're already headed for extinction by overfishing. If they had been classified separately, each species could have had regulations tailored to protect its population.
The same sort of mix-up appears to have played a role in dooming a species of European skate to extinction just last year, when two different species were classified as one, and both were allowed to be fished--though one was far less resilient and was in severe danger of dying out.
The BBC reports that the arapaima's best chance at survival rests in community-managed fisheries, with aid from local governments. Some schemes have seen populations of arapaima increase by 50%, while areas without such programs have seen them all but vanish. So there's hope yet for at least some of the subspecies of the mighty arapaima--let's hope we can keep one of the world's largest fishes around a while longer yet.
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