Why the Amazon's biggest fish is quickly going extinct

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Why The Amazon's Biggest Fish Is Quickly Going Extinct

A massive species of fish that used to dominate the Amazon river is quickly dying out in several areas.

A recent study of fishing communities in the state of Amazonas, Brazil found the giant arapaima (air-ah-pie-ma) is already extinct in some parts of the Amazon basin.

The BBC notes, "of the 41 communities researchers studied, arapaima populations were extinct in eight of them."

And the giant fish, which typically weighs in at more than 400 pounds, is rapidly disappearing in other parts of the Amazon.

So what's the reason behind the arapaima's rapid extinction? Scientists have a simple answer: overfishing.

LiveScience quotes a researcher involved in the study, who says the arapaima is just too easy to catch.
Why the Amazon's biggest fish is quickly going extinct
Pirarucu (Arapaima gigas)
SINGAPORE - MAY 25: Author and television presenter of River Monsters series, Jeremy Wade feeds the manatees and arapaimas during the Jeremy Wade's exclusive showcase at River Safari on May 25, 2014 in Singapore (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
SINGAPORE - MAY 25: Author and television presenter of River Monsters series, Jeremy Wade feeds the arapaimas during the Jeremy Wade's exclusive showcase at River Safari on May 25, 2014 in Singapore (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)
A farm-raised Pirarucu, one of the biggest fish in the fresh water, is presented for tourists in the Negro river in Manaus, state of Amazonas, Brazil, on November 23, 2013. Manaus will host 4 matches during the FIFA World Cup 2014. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
A farm-raised Pirarucu, one of the biggest fish in the fresh water, is presented for tourists in the Negro river in Manaus, state of Amazonas, Brazil, on November 23, 2013. Manaus will host 4 matches during the FIFA World Cup 2014. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
A farm-raised Pirarucu, one of the biggest fish in the fresh water, is presented for tourists in the Negro river in Manaus, state of Amazonas, Brazil, on November 23, 2013. Manaus will host 4 matches during the FIFA World Cup 2014. AFP PHOTO / YASUYOSHI CHIBA (Photo credit should read YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)
People stand next to a picture of a man carrying a 'paiche', a jungle river fish, during the gastronomic fair of Mistura, the largest in Latin America, which opened doors next to the Pacific Ocean on September 12, 2013 in Lima. The fair showcases about 130 restaurants and expects to attract over half a million visitors in the ten days it will run, aiming to promote food as a tool for sustainable development, social inclusion and cultural identity. The Peruvian food industry could generate income for the country by about 7,000 million dollars in 2013, according to the Chamber of Commerce of Lima. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Closeup of scales of 'paiche', a jungle river fish, seen at the gastronomic fair of Mistura, the largest in Latin America, which opened doors next to the Pacific Ocean on September 12, 2013 in Lima. The fair showcases about 130 restaurants and expects to attract over half a million visitors in the ten days it will run, aiming to promote food as a tool for sustainable development, social inclusion and cultural identity. The Peruvian food industry could generate income for the country by about 7,000 million dollars in 2013, according to the Chamber of Commerce of Lima. AFP PHOTO/ERNESTO BENAVIDES (Photo credit should read ERNESTO BENAVIDES/AFP/Getty Images)
Japan, Hokkaido, Kitami, Pirarucu fish in aquarium. (Photo by: JTB Photo/UIG via Getty Images)
TOCACHE, PERU - November 03: Workers of a fish farm, here they breed the largest freshwater fish , called Paiche. (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)
A Chinese child views Catfish, Red Bellied Pacu and Pirarucu at the Beijing Aquarium on January 21, 2013. The aquarium, the largest in China and shaped like a huge conch shell, houses more than 1,000 marine species and freshwater fish, was named by state media a 'Beijing civilized tourist scenic spot'. AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
'TOCHACE, PERU - November 03: German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Dirk Niebel, Member of the Free Democratic Party of Germany, visited a fish farm, where they breed the largest freshwater fish , called Paiche, here Niebel holds a Paiche fish together with the President of the Regional Government of San Martin , Cesar Villanueva . (Photo by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images)
Visitors to the Blue Zoo Aquarium in Beijing on August 3, 2010 view the South American tropical freshwater fish Arapaima, a living fossil and one of the largest freshwater fishes in the world. First openend in 1997, the walk-through aquarium remains an ever popular tourist attraction with more than a million visitors over the year and especially with students during their summer holidays. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY A 'Pirarucu' Arapaima gigas fish is seen at the aquarium at Explora Park on December 31, 2008, in Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia. AFP PHOTO/Fredy AMARILES (Photo credit should read FREDY AMARILES/AFP/Getty Images)
FE24FDZOO_CM16 Alex Saunders feeds the fresh water fish, arapaima, some mackerel in the Tropical Discovery exhibit area of the Denver Zoo on Tuesday, Decemer 2, 2008. Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post (Photo By Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
An expedition scout holding an arapaima (or pirarucu) fish in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, 2002. He and the two scouts of the Matis people behind him are taking part in an expedition led by Brazilian explorer, social activist and ethnographer Sydney Possuelo. (Photo by Scott Wallace/Getty Images)
AMAZON FISHING: In the Bannibas village along the Orinoco River a woman prepares Casaba from Manioc, which is a staple of the indigenous people along the Amazon basin December 12, 1998. (photo by Tim Chapman)
BRAZIL - CIRCA 1970: A Cajaro Indian boy kneels next to a pirarucu caught in Brazil circa 1970. (Photo by AJ McClane/International Game Fish Association via Getty Images)
Arapaima (Arapaima gigas)
An arapaima
110lb Arapaima
River Safari-54
large Arapaima in the Amazon under water
Antique illustration of arapaima, pirarucu, or paiche (Arapaima gigas)
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"Arapaima spawn on the edges of floodplain forests and come to the surface to breathe every 5 to 15 minutes, when they are easily located and harpooned by fishers using homemade canoes."

And with populations growing and the fishing industry finally reaching Amazon villages, the research says these massive fish don't stand a chance.

See, there were two competing theories the researchers explored: The first is essentially the idea that overfishing can't cause extinction because fishermen have to move on when supply starts dwindling. The second theory is basically the opposite: That fishing can drive a population to extinction.

One of the study's authors said in a statement, "Bioeconomic thinking has predicted that scarcity would drive up fishing costs, which would increase price and help save depleted species. If that prediction were true, extinctions induced by fishing would not exist, but that is not what has happened."

The arapaima isn't the only aquatic creature in the Amazon to recently fall victim to local fishermen.

Brazil's Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry announced in June it is in the process of outlawing the fishing of a certain breed of catfish to protect the Pink Amazon River Dolphin, whose flesh is often used as bait for the catfish.

But there was also some good news that came out of the arapaima study. In communities where arapaima fishing is regulated, the species is actually doing pretty well, giving scientists hope that the species could be spared.

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