Amazonian fish arrives in U.S. market


April Forristall, assistant editor

Published on
October 31, 2010

There’s a new sustainable fish coming to American dinner plates.

After five years of research and development, one company has found a way to successfully farm paiche, an endangered Amazonian species, in Peru.

“When we started the paiche project, so little was known about the fish that our marine biologists couldn’t even tell the difference between males and females,” Adrian Burstein, CEO and founder of Florida-based ArtisanFish, the exclusive supplier of paiche to the North American market, told SeafoodSource. “It took five years to find a way to reproduce it in captivity and fine-tune all the operations and logistics.”

Due to overfishing by local fishermen, paiche is endangered and protected under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). But it’s the goal of Amazone, the farm which produces the species, to save paiche.

“[Paiche] is emblematic and well known in Peru. We chose to actually bring it back and to help mend a little of the damage being made on the Amazon region,” said Burstein.

Burstein said the species’ potential commercial value also played a role in its selection for the aquaculture project.

Paiche’s introduction to the North American market comes a few months after its launch into the European market, where the response has been extremely positive. The species has been well received, said Burstein, because it’s a sustainable alternative to large white-fleshed fish like Chilean sea bass, a species that is prone to poaching and overfishing.

ArtisanFish will target high-end restaurants and retailers committed to sustainability, said Burstein.

Paiche can grow up to 500 pounds but is harvested at 22 to 25 pounds. The meat is mildly sweet with white flesh and a firm texture and lends itself to almost any preparation method, allowing the U.S. chefs to be creative.

There has already been a lot of excitement among chefs ArtisanFish has sent samples of the fish to, and once more restaurants are on board the company will launch a more aggressive marketing campaign, said Burstein.

“Many retailers and restaurants say they want to commit to sustainability, but when it comes down to really making it happen there’s a lot of reluctance because of the price,” said Burstein. “Everyone wants a low price, but that contradicts the extra efforts to make something truly sustainable. We are not hurting anyone by bringing the species back. I hope buyers will appreciate that and see the hidden investment.”

(Acuícola Los Paiches of Peru is also selling farmed paiche in the European market. The fish was on display at this year’s European Seafood Exposition.)

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