Breathing space for Amazon river dolphins

Posted on June, 23 2020

Brazil extends moratorium on fishing for piracatinga, which are often caught using river dolphins as bait

River dolphins across Brazil have a little extra breathing space after the government suddenly extended a moratorium on fishing for piracatinga for another year.

The ban was imposed in 2015 to help halt the decline of Amazon river dolphins, since these iconic animals have often been captured and used as bait to catch piracatinga - a species of catfish that is attracted to rotting carcases.

The moratorium lapsed in January 2020 despite calls to extend it. But now it has surprisingly been reinstated. It will now resume on July 1st and run for a year.

This unexpected decision represents real cause for cheer for the South American River Dolhin Initiative (SARDI), which is working to reverse the decline in the population of these endangered cetaceans. Catching river dolphins for bait is one of the key factors in the ongoing decline of river dolphin numbers across the Amazon and Orinocco rivers.

“For so many reasons, we need to conserve river dolphins,” said Fernando Trujillo, scientific director of the Fundacion Omacha. “Living dolphins can produce more money than dead ones for local communities through ecotourism.”

Along with the new moratorium in Brazil, Colombia maintains a ban on the piracatinga trade  because of high levels of mercury contamination in the fish. Mercury is widely used by artisanal and small-scale gold miners.

Eventually, the hope is that all river dolphin range states in South America will align their laws to restrict trade in piracatinga - to help reduce the impact on river dolphin populations.

Amazon river dolphins in Bolivia
© Jaime Rojo / WWF-UK
Amazon river dolphin, pink river dolphin or boto (Inia geoffrensis) Rio Negro, Brazil (Amazon) - wild animal breaching Threatened species (IUCN Red List)
© / Mark Carwardine / WWF