Tag Archives: dolphins

Fishermen versus Dolphins in the Amazon: implementing environmental law

[F}or Ronan Benício Rego, a fisherman…pink dolphins are both rival — and prey.  Standing on the muddy banks of the river here recently, he said he had killed river dolphins many times before, to use as bait to catch a catfish that is sold to unknowing consumers in Brazil and Colombia.  “We want to make money,” said Mr. Rego, 43, the president of the community here. Two dead dolphins could yield about $2,400 in catfish sales in a single day of fishing, he said.  But bait is not the only objective. Though the pink dolphins are protected by law, the fishermen see them as nettlesome competitors for the catches that feed their families, and their frustration sometimes boils over…

The illegal slaughtering of dolphins is on the rise here, threatening one of the storied symbols of the Amazon and illustrating the challenge of policing environmental law in such a vast territory, researchers and government officials say. Hundreds, if not thousands, of the estimated 30,000 river dolphins plying the Amazon region are dying every year, they say.

Miguel Miguéis, 41, a Portuguese researcher from the Federal University of Western Pará who studies river dolphin populations around the city of Santarém, said the high rate of killings could lead to their extinction. “They are killing their culture, their folklore,” Dr. Miguéis said. “They are killing the Amazon.”  Several hours upriver from here, in the biological reserve of Rio Trombetas, where river dolphins swim in an Amazon tributary teeming with piranhas and crocodiles, Dr. Miguéis said he had seen the dolphin population fall to a little over 50 earlier this year from about 250 in 2009…

Brazil’s environmental laws strictly prohibit the killing of dolphins and many other wild animals. Violators could face up to four years in prison. But enforcement in the vast Amazon is a huge challenge for Ibama, the Brazilian environmental protection agency, which has 1,300 agents covering the entire country. The Brazilian Amazon alone is larger than India.  Fishermen in Igarapé, about three hours by boat from Santarém, said agents from Ibama had never visited their community of about 350 people…In the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, many people are indifferent about the killings. At an open-air market in Santarém, vendors sell genitals removed from dead dolphins as good luck charms for sex and love. Jars of oil from river dolphin fat sit alongside oil from anacondas and crocodiles. The dolphin oil potion, which sells for about $25 a small bottle, is used to treat rheumatism, a saleswoman explained.  At a Santarém fish market, customers said they had no idea fishermen were using dolphins to catch the catfish, known as piracatinga in Brazil. Still, they said protecting dolphins was not a priority.  [T]he slaughtering of Amazonian dolphins has become a serious concern for Brazilian officials. Mr. Evaristo said Ibama planned to investigate the possibility that Brazilian fishermen were involved in an organized criminal operation with ties to Colombia.

Excerpts from ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, Fishermen in Amazon See a Rival in Dolphins, NY Times, April 16, 2011.