Arapaima gigas

Common Name(s)

Arapaima, Pirarucu

Low Risk

Certified to a third party environmental sustainability standard OR Stable and productive low impact fishery with precautionary management, proven effectiveness and confidence that the status will be maintained or further improved. If the stock is data deficient with stable catches.


巨巴西骨舌魚 ("Kuk Ba Sai Gwunk Sit Yu")




Pirarucu, Bodeco, Pirosca

Date of Assessments

October 2021

Peer Reviewer

Joao Campos-Silva, Instituto Juruá, Brazil

Assessment Organisation

The University of Hong Kong


Frozen fish are available for Arapaima fillets and therefore the species is possibly available throughout the year, despite the restricted catch season (ban on fishing between November to January the next year to coincide with spawning season).



  • Arapaima (Arapaima gigas) is one of the largest freshwater fish species. It can grow to 3m TL and 200kg. It is endemic to the Amazon River Basin in South America.
  • Arapaima can live up to 20 years. The species has late maturity at about three to five years old with average body size of 157 to 164cm TL. The species is vulnerable to targeted fishing for juveniles, which are caught before sexual maturation in which case they do not reproduce to contribute to population replenishment. Fishing on Fishing of juvenile fish smaller than 155 cm TL are commonly observed outside areas with proper management.
  • Spawning of Arapaima occurs when rising river waters enter floodplains. The water dynamics can differ among river basins but despite water dynamic variations spawning occurs between October and February in all areas. Spawning individuals form nests and provide parental care to eggs and juveniles for several weeks. Spawning and nest-guarding individuals are particularly vulnerable to fishing with predictable occurrence time and area around the margins of floodplain forests.
  • Arapaima are obligate air breathers that breathe in air at the water surface with a distinctive noisy gulp. This breathing behaviour allows fishermen to discover and target Arapaima individuals easily.
  • It is assumed that all fish are wild-sourced since there is currently no commercial hatchery production.
  • Arapaima is a highly prized species in the international wildlife trade for its meat, leather products and for the ornamental live fish trade.
  • Financial information on the trade of Arapaima (live and products including meat, garments and leather products) was available from 2005 to 2014, estimated to be about USD 1 million per year under CITES records reported by exporters. Brazil is one of the major exporters of Arapaima with estimated value of about USD 0.4 million per year (Sinovas et al, 2017). Arapaima is not currently exported to Hong Kong.
  • Updated and comprehensive fishery and international trade data from Brazil are lacking or considered unreliable outside areas with proper community-based management.
  • The species is easy to catch particularly when trapped in lakes at low waters and when it comes to surface for air, when it gulps and is highly visible.
  • Capture rates are increasing and there are no stock assessments of the species yet available, but these are currently underway in community-based management areas.
  • Arapaima was listed in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Appendix II in 1975. International trade of the species is under the management of CITES and valid permits are required for exports and imports of the species. Exports of Arapaima have been continually occurring since its CITES listing.
  • Community-based management has become a major source and is considered a sustainable fishery for Arapaima. Recovery of populations and sustainable rate of exploitation were recorded in fishing areas with appropriate community-based management. There are no exports of Arapaima from managed areas yet.
  • Illegal fishing remains a great threat to wild populations of Arapaima outside areas with community-based management. Official CITES permits are key evidence of legally traded Arapaima products.

Gillnet (Arapaima)

Arapaima are mostly caught by fishermen using gillnets. This method is used selectively for Arapaima under community-based management and therefore bycatch is negligible during the fishing process. Impacts on surrounding habitats are also likely to be negligible.

  • The Latin species name
  • Evidence of the country of origin, vessel flag, community of origin and capture method
  • Is the fishery in a fishery improvement project?
  • Evidence that the species is caught according to national guidelines (e.g. compliant with minimum sizes, etc.) and regulations for the species, for example CITES permits and traceability tags from fishery improvement projects.
  • Evidence that the Hong Kong importer has complied with trade regulations
  • Evidence of compliance with the CITES regulations throughout the trade, for example necessary trade permits and records.
  • Is there a traceability scheme in place to track to the origin of the fish-ideally to identify community-managed sources?
  • Blueyou is the prospective trader of this product; there is no export supply as of now. https://www.blueyou.com/page/Contact


Traceability improvement projects to support Arapaima products from community-based managed areas will be implemented in partnership with the Brazilian government. Each exported product (e.g. meat) under legal CITES export quotas and managed sources will be tagged. The tags can be used to identify the harvesting area, the lake, and the community responsible for the harvesting, with a bar code and an QR code.

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  • Arapaima from Brazil’s community-based management areas can be considered low risk. However, as there are other fisheries that are illegal in the country for the species, low risk is limited to products with evidence indicating they were sourced from community-based management areas with clear traceability and compliance of CITES regulations.
  • Arapaima are mostly fished with gillnets that poses negligible impacts on bycatch and surrounding habitats with proper management.
  • Biological characteristics of large body size and late maturity make the species highly vulnerable to overfishing if not effectively managed. Wild population collapse of the species was recorded in areas without proper community-based management since early 1990s. Continued decline in landings and body size of captures were reflected by local fishermen in the 2000s and early 2010s.
  • National management of fishing of Arapaima in Brazil includes a closed season (which coincides with the spawning season of the species), catch size limits and harvest quotas. However, implementation effectiveness is highly variable among states, overall considered to be poor, and illegal fishing is common outside managed areas.
  • Community-based management, developed over the last 15 years, has become an important method of development of a sustainable fishery for the Arapaima. Significant recovery of populations has been recorded in some areas with proper management.
  • CITES permits are only given to legally sourced fish. Non-detriment finding (NDF) assessment under CITES was conducted in 2008. However, it was considered insufficient to ensure sustainability of species from Brazil, hence the importance of traceability back to community-based management areas.
  • Stocks of juvenile and adult Arapaima are monitored annually in lakes within managed areas. Annual fish quota for each lake is set up to 30% of the adult numbers.
  • In Jurua river, including surrounding areas outside the formal protected areas, the Arapaima population increased 397% in five years. On average 425.2% population growth was recorded within protected (community-based management) areas in 11 years, 76% annually, since its implementation.
  • Tagging of every piece of meat sourced from legal and managed sources will be implemented to indicate the harvesting area, the lake, and the community responsible for the harvesting.
  • However, there are not yet any food products from managed areas being exported. Methods to ensure traceability and CITES compliance of Arapaima products are under development for the community-based management areas.