Fisherman with the arapaima, the largest freshwater fish species in South America, on the Solimoes River in Brazil. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Due to heavy fishing and a lack of local regulation, the largest fish in the Amazon River basin is close to extinct, according to a journal published this month titled Aquatic Conservation: Freshwater and Marine Ecosystems.

The species is called “arapaima” — or, in Brazil, “pirarucu.” The fish are behemoths, as long as 10 feet and weighing up to 440 pounds. Arapaima are carnivorous, feeding primarily on smaller fish and occasionally birds, according to National Geographic.

Unlike many other species of fish, the arapaima are able to breathe air through a primitive lung as well as gills. They swim to the surface fairly often, making them vulnerable to local fishermen.

According to the study, the arapaima is already extinct in 19 percent of the 81 communities surveyed.


Fisherman with arapaima. (Bruno Kelly/ Reuters)

Leandro Castello, an assistant professor of fisheries at Virginia Tech who led the research, criticized the Brazilian government’s assertion that scarcity would drive up the cost of fishing arapaima, helping save the depleted species. As Castello pointed out, “If that prediction were true, extinctions induced by fishing would not exist, but that is not what has happened.”

There is still some hope that the fish could avoid extinction. Although only 27 percent of the communities surveyed regulate arapaima fishing, the fish are reportedly surviving in those areas.

h/t LiveScience

Villagers from the Rumao Island community paddle past a line of arapaima. (Bruno Kelly/ Reuters)