What's Happening in Brazil

The following report has been reproduced with the kind permission of the German DATZ magazine. It details the current situation in Brazil and gives reasons as to why we are unlikely to see certain L Numbers being exported from there for quite some time.

What’s happening in Brazil?

For weeks now there have been rumours throughout the aquarist community: “there will be no more shipments of ornamental fish from Brazil”, “all plecos with L-numbers are forbidden from export” or “fish exporters in jail in Manaus” This is the word being spread via the internet and even in some magazines. So, what really is true in these stories and what can be expected for the future? To answer such questions I would like to give some information from two sources, firstly, that received from several members of the Brazilian export community themselves and secondly, what can partially be found on the internet. The latter mainly are Brazilian laws and fish lists which have been published under the cited addresses.

To give a clearer picture of the situation, I look back to 1989. Until this time the export of wild caught fish from Brazil was regulated by a negative list, published by the SUDEPE (Superintendência do Desenvolvimento da Pesca). This list included only those fish species that, as food-fish, were forbidden from export. . When the SUDEPE joined together with the IBDF (Instituto Brasileiro des Desenvolvimento Florestal) in the newly founded IBAMA (Instituto Brasileiro de Meio Ambiente e recursos Naturais Renováveis), the former, negative list was waived. In its place appeared positive list (Portaria no.1 dated 20. 12. 1989) containing 45 species plus largely all members of 5 genera (Ancistrus sp., Peckoltia sp., Corydoras sp., Otocinclus sp. and Hyphessobrycon sp.). A little later several additions brought the total to 79 species plus 7 genera (Portaria no. 477 dated 14.03.1990).

The recently valid list (Portaria no. 62N dated 10. 6. 1992) contained 172 and 3 genera, with a later addition of 2 species and one genus. That means that all together 174 fish species plus all members of 4 genera (Ancistrus, Peckoltia, Hyphessobrycon and Farlowella) are permitted for trade within, and for export from, Brazil. The list can be found on the internet under: www.petsite.com.br/pxlegisla4.asp .

When in 1986 the first beautiful plecos were found in the Rio Tocantins/Araguaia, Rio Negro, Rio Xingu and later on in the Rio Tapajós, aquarists worldwide soon coveted these spectacular animals. The German magazine Datz responded with the L-number system, which nowadays is well known in all countries where aquarists keep and breed these wonderful creatures.

In the early days no scientific names were available for the most of these armoured catfishes and we called them Ancistrus spp. or Peckoltia spp. That was acceptable within Brazilian regulation, as all members of the genera Ancistrus and Peckoltia were permitted for trade according to the IBAMA list of 1989 and its additions. But very soon there were several scientific descriptions of new genera. Scobinancistrus, Hopliancistrus and Leporacanthicus were described by Isbrücker & Nijssen (1989). Lucia Rapp Py-Daniel (1989) described Baryancistrus and Oligancistrus and again Isbrücker & Nijssen (1991) described the most magnificent zebra pleco in the new genus Hypancistrus. The taxonomic changes were amended in the respective IBAMA list and the plecos continued to be exported under their Brazilian names and genus names Ancistrus spp. or Peckoltia spp. To give some examples: Baryancistrus sp. (L 18, L 81 and L 177, the “Golden Nugget”) as “Amarelo” and Ancistrus spp. Hypancistrus spp. (L 4, L 28, L73) as “Picota” and Peckoltia spp.

In the year 2002, the newly elected Brazilian government decided, in accordance with the Rio 92 convention, to create committees that should examine (amongst others) the ornamental fish trade. The corresponding conference took place in October 2003 in the Brazilian capital Brasilia, where people of the IBAMA, ecologists, other scientists and some managers of export companies discussed the mater exhaustively. They came to the agreement that (in respect of the L-numbers) undescribed species could be legally traded under the names Ancistrus spp. and Peckoltia spp. for a period of three years (2006) until they were scientifically described. The Brazilian ministry of environment MMA (Ministerio de Meio Ambiente), the IBAMA and CEPNOR (Centro de Pesquisa e Gestao de recursos Pesqueiros do Litoral Norte) published this decision in a document entitled “Relatorio da Reunião Tecnica sobre a Pesquisa e Ordenamento da Pesca des Peixes Ornamentais na Região Norte do Brasil”. So, was everybody happy, or not?

Obviously not, for in November 2004 something quite spectacular happened in Manaus. The Brazilian federal police (Policia Federal) with the assistance of an “expert” (actually a junior student of the Universidade do Amazonas!) stopped the shipments of the three major export companies in Manaus, after these had been checked by the IBAMA officials and authorised for export. The policemen insisted that the shipment was illegal, as several fishes labelled as Ancistrus spp. or Peckoltia spp. were indeed members of Baryancistrus, Hypancistrus and so on. The entire shipments were brought to the research station of the INPA (Instituto Nacional de Pequisas da Amazonia) where an ichthyologist confirmed that these fishes were, in fact, members of Baryancistrus, Hypancistrus and so on. In due course, the owners of all three companies involved were imprisoned for 48 hours and received high penalties. TV and print media in Brazil made a big thing out of it, but unfortunately nobody mentioned the agreement of one year previous.

In light of the uncertain situation, Manaus export companies decided to immediately halt all shipments of undescribed L-numbers that were not members of the genera Ancistrus or Peckoltia. But companies in other parts of Brazil (Belem, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Recife, etc.) were unaffected and continued to export the plecos legally.

However the saga continues. On 28th May 2004 the MMA published a list of Brazilian invertebrates and fishes threatened by extinction. This list consists of 156 fish species that are forbidden from being caught, traded or even bred in captivity (the only exception is for scientific studies) from the 1st July 2004. Since the 1st December 2004 these fishes are explicitly excluded from the trade, even though mentioned on the IBAMA positive list. Amongst many others the best known is Hypancistrus zebra, the zebra pleco. But also other, mainly endemic loricariids, Scleromystax (Corydoras) macropterus and the well-known Mimagoniates spp. as well as some other characids are listed. Marine aquarists can also forget about Gramma brasiliensis and Elacatinus figaro, two very well known species. All those fishes are forbidden for export from Brazil and they will not appear again unless removed from this list. Aquarists now have the responsibility to keep stock alive and to go on breeding these fish in their aquaria. The complete list is available under: www.ibama.gov.br/pescaamadora/legislacao/visualiza.php?id_arg=104.

In Brazil the discussion about a stricter regulation of the ornamental fish trade and catching of wild animals has come up yet again. Marine fish are already traded much more strictly now according to a positive list, allowing only allocations of 500 or 1000 specimens per species and company. Voices are being raised to totally forbid, or at the very least, radically restrict trade in freshwater fishes, too. At the present time (end of December 2004) the IBAMA is undecided and is still considering whether to establish a negative list (favoured by the trade) or a larger, positive list of almost 800 species. The trade meanwhile united its forces and founded the ABREA (Associação Brasileira das Empresas de Aquariofilia) to secure a better and more powerful position in discussion with officialdom.

I find it highly problematic to blame fish collecting alone for the extinction of certain fish species, especially in the Amazon. This might be possible with some endemic fish species in small areas, but must be proven by intensive fieldwork. Thousands of Brazilians make a living from collecting cardinals and suchlike. What will these people do, if they are forbidden to catch fish? Former experiences have already shown that these people turn instead to exploit the forest, burn it for cattle grazing, or digging for gold. They have no choice. For nature, however, this would be fatal. Instead, it has to be considered that people will actively protect the rivers, if they want to go on collecting the fishes in years to come, and rely on it for their continued livelihood. (I attempted to highlight this by reporting an example in the Brazilian state of Rondônia, see Evers 2002).

At present it seems as if the Brazilian government is working hard to legislate against fish collecting. But where is the wider engagement to protect against the destruction of such natural resources and habitats? Are they really doing enough in this regard? We all remember well that the Brazilian oil company Petrobras paid only relatively small fines after crude oil polluted the Guanabara bay in Rio de Janeiro. It is easy to damn a fisherman collecting Hypancistrus in the rapids of the Rio Xingu, but who is fighting the plans of Eletronorte (North Brazilian Electric Energy Company) to create a huge dam at Altamira, potentially killing millions of fishes and bringing to near extinction the highly specialised loricariids in the rapids? We have witnessed this already in the Rio Tocantins, where the Tucurui damn was built years ago. Many fish species from there are now mentioned in the MMA list.

I believe that every aquarist should be aware of this problem. Speaking for myself, I would be happy to pay more for a wild caught fish if people, who are not as lucky as we in the so called first world are, can manage to feed their families and raise their children. I keep my fingers crossed that the Brazilian government will find an appropriate solution for all parties concerned.


Literature cited:

Evers, H.-G. (2002): Naturschutz mit und für den Menschen: Das Projeto Reservas Extrativistas in Brasilien. Aquaristik Fachmagazin 163: 50-56.
Isbrücker, I. J. H., & H. Nijssen (1989): Diagnose dreier neuer Harnischwelsgattungen mit fünf neuen Arten aus Brasilien (Pisces, Siluriformes, Loricariidae). D. Aqu. Terr. Z. DATZ 49 (9): 541-547.
- & - (1991): Hypancistrus zebra, a new genus and species of uniquely pigmented ancistrine loricariid fish from the Rio Xingu, Brazil (Pisces: Siluriformes: Loricariidae). Ichthyol. Explor. Freshwaters 1 (4): 345-350.
Rapp Py-Daniel, L. (1989): Redescription of Parancistrus aurantiacus (Castelnau, 1855) and preliminary establishment of two new genera: Baryancistrus and Oligancistrus (Siluriformes, Loricariidae). Cybium 13 (3): 235-246.

Author:Hans-Georg Evers

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