“If you wait until you can do everything for everybody, instead of something for somebody, you’ll end up not doing nothing for nobody.” ~ Malcom Bane
We take so much from the Amazon region in the hobby, materially, biologically, and creatively. Over our "fishy career", the habitats and fishes of this region have brought so much enjoyment and fascination to us.
We felt that it was time to give a little back to both the people and the environment of this region which has given us so much over the years. We at Tannin Aquatics, being inspired greatly by this amazing region of the world, want to do something, and we're hoping you'll support our efforts.
You may have not known this, but the indigenous peoples who populate the Amazon region in the municipality of Barcelos (Amazonas state, Brazil), earn most of their income from the home aquarium fishery! In fact, the trade in home aquarium fish now contributes at least 60% of the income revenues in the municipality.
The annually inundated forest areas- such as the igapos- provide a huge bounty of fishes during productive years, and during these periods of inundation, the local fishers intensify their collection efforts for the aquarium trade. As we've discussed before, many forest fishes have a short wild life cycle (less than 2 years), and fish populations can be quickly replenished. It may, therefore, be possible, through proper management, to protect the habitat from degradation, while maintaining “bountiful” harvests at the same time.
There is sort of a double-edged sword in the aquatics industry: On one hand, we've gotten pretty good at commercially breeding many species of fishes found in this region. Advancements in aquaculture technology have enabled fish farmers to propagate dozens of species of fishes, and farmed stocks are replacing wild-caught fishes. In fact, it's estimated that about 90% of all home aquarium fishes are from farmed sources, and these are often not based in the countries of origin.
On the other hand, although captive commercial propagation is very important, it also denies the indigenous people the benefits of the biodiversity from the region that they inhabit. To support their families, they would typically turn to logging and other potentially environmentally destructive industries to make ends meet.
When fishers are asked what they would do if they could not sell fish, the most common answers are: timber harvest, cattle ranching, gold mining, or even urban migration. Was there a "happy medium" somewhere?
It turns out, there is.
In 1989, researchers and students from the Universidade do Amazonas (UA) and National Institute of Amazon Research (INPA) initiated an ecological baseline study on floodplain fishes of mid-Rio Negro basin. Researchers discovered the importance of the home aquarium fisheries for local livelihoods and speculated about the environmental impact of fishing activity. Very early on it was discovered that the home aquarium fishery was not only sustainable, but it was the principal driver for creating value for the environment.
Two years later, in 1991, Project Piaba was founded with a grant awarded by CNPq (National Research Council of Brazil). The ultimate goal of Project Piaba is to promote the collection of wild Amazonian fishes at commercially and ecologically sustainable levels, and to help to reduce environmentally destructive land use and rural-to-urban migration in the Rio Negro basin of the Amazon rainforest.
The mission: "The Mission of Project Piaba is to increase the environmental, animal welfare, and social sustainability of the Amazonian aquarium fish trade, to develop and incorporate metrics through which this progress can be assessed, and to provide mechanisms to promote this industry."
The organization's slogan,"Buy a Fish, Save a Tree" communicates precisely the aim and benefit here.
Project Piaba aims to generate data relating to a wide range of issues, ranging from population of species diversity, to the function and structure of the ecosystem. In addition, they seek to developing measures that will help improve the livelihood of the riverine people of Barcelos, Brazil.
For more nearly 25 years, Project Piaba has been researching the home aquarium fishery of the Rio Negro. The organization trains and works with existing fisherfolk organizations and community groups on information exchange and efforts to alleviate poverty through a strong fish trade with benefits for local communities. In addition, working with the fishers, the organization has helped create "Best Handling Practices" protocols for fisherfolk to maximize animal welfare and trade value of fishes.
Project Piaba also works to inform and network with key groups that influence the aquarium trade, including the mainstream conservation community (e.g., Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Conservation International, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, etc), aquarium fish trade groups, large retailers, In-situ and Ex-situ trade regulators, and the hobbyist community.
As lovers of the Amazonian aquatic environment, we are completely supportive of the mission and goals of Project Piaba. We gain so much from this amazing place, and we consider it an honor to support efforts to protect and preserve this precious habitat and the livelihood of the peoples who live and work there. With its focus on creating sustainable economic stability for the local people and protecting the environment, supporting Project Piaba was a true "no brainer" for us!
How are we going to do it?
Well, to being with, we are going to be offering several cool new variety packs of botanicals, inspired by the region, from which a percentage of the profits will be donated directly to Project Piaba. The first pack, "Bela Igapo" , is available now, and we will be adding several more packs and items at various price points, from which donations will be made. Our goal is to ultimately have an entire section of our website devoted to items which will benefit Project Piaba; we'll be gradually rolling them out in the coming months!
Another exciting item we'll be offering are some hand-carved wooden art pieces, made by the fisherfolk themselves, representing the fauna of the region. Some will be sold separately, and others will be included with some of the botanical packs we'll be offering! By purchasing these unique art pieces for yourself or as gifts, you'll be supporting the continuous efforts of Project Piaba to create a lasting and sustainable fishery for the indigenous fisherfolk of Amazonia.
And, farther down the line, there just might be some more very exciting offerings from Tannin that will support this awesome organization! You'll just have to stay tuned! In the mean time, I hope you join me in supporting a very worthwhile cause, which will have lasting positive impact on the environment, our hobby, the people of Amazonia, and most important, the fishes.
Stay involved. Stay engaged. Stay supportive.
And Stay Wet.
(Special thanks to Mike Tuccinardi for his pics, and Deb Joyce of Project Piaba for her enthusiastic support of our efforts!)