Species introduction, combined with changing access rules, increasing demand, and new road and dam infrastructure, are contributing to remarkable changes in Bolivian Amazon fisheries. This paper examines community responses to the appearance of a commercially valuable introduced fish species, Arapaima cf. gigas (“paiche”) in the Bolivian Amazon. Until the end of the 20th century, fisheries in this region were relatively low intensity, focused in rivers on a small number of native large-sized species by an urban-based commercial fishing fleet, and in floodplain lakes on a high diversity of native medium-sized species for subsistence by rural indigenous communities. In the seventies, Arapaima cf. gigas was introduced from Peru and has since invaded a significant portion of the Madre de Dios and Beni basins in northern Bolivia. This species now represents up to 80 % of commercial catches for the region. Occupying primarily floodplain lakes, many of which are located within indigenous territories, it has created economic opportunities and stimulated conflicts.
The evolution of fisheries in one indigenous Tacana community is described, and the perspectives of local fishers are explored. Results suggest that while the new resource has strengthened incipient community-level organization, the current capture strategies and management mechanisms may not be conducive to sustainability or equitable distribution of returns. Commercial fisheries targeting a set of native species have been replaced by a single-species fishery in this community, raising questions about how the changes both in the resource-base and associated livelihood strategies are impacting system resilience. Ecosystem impacts of the introduction remain unclear. Paiche is viewed both as a potential threat and an opportunity by indigenous fishers.
The management of this introduced species for a maximum social benefit and minimal environmental damage are topical concerns for communities and government actors and should be treated carefully considering local and broader, regional-scale implications.