New Amazonian fish whets international appetites


Chris Dove, contributing editor, reporting from Malaga, Spain

Published on
May 9, 2010

 A relatively new species is making its way out of the Amazonian wilderness and into international markets.

Amazonian cod, or paiche (Arapaima gigas), a freshwater fish exceeding 2 meters and indigenous to Peru, is being farmed and marketed by Lima, Peru-based Acuícola Los Paiches.

Prized by local tribes, paiche (pronounced Pie-chee) was until recently unavailable for export due to fishing bans that limited supplies, failed attempts to breed the fish in its natural habitat and its protected status under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) since 1975.

But now paiche is raised in up to 80 ponds at Maru Farm in Aguas, Peru, using a vertically integrated process developed by Acuícola Los Paiches' team of biologists. The company had paiche, marketed under the brand Amazone, on display at last week's European Seafood Exposition in Brussels, Belgium.

"[Our goal is] to provide our clients with a safe, environmentally sustainable product of the highest quality year-round. We don't use antibiotics, our stock intensities don't stress the fish and our water quality is excellent because there are no villages or populations upstream," said Jorge Romero, the company's sales director. "We are the only company in the world that has managed to establish a controlled but natural paiche breeding program."

Acuícola Los Paiches CEO Joaquin Coloma said the Brussels event helped bring international attention to paiche. "The show has been crucial for increasing awareness of paiche worldwide," he said. "We made a small exhibition during the Boston show, but with our full-blown presentation in Brussels as an exhibitor, coverage and interest has grown exponentially. Today we have several companies from the main gourmet markets in Europe, the United States, Canada and Dubai highly interested in an exotic new gourmet.

"The number of potential commercial relationships we developed during the show has exceeded our expectations and surpassed our short term production capacity," he added. "It has, however, allowed us to develop early relationships with customers we will be supplying in 2011 and 2012.

"The show also allowed us to confirm the growing trend in top gastronomy toward bio-products from environmentally and socially sustainable sources like ours," Coloma continued. "We found great affinity with companies like the R&O Group and CleanFish, and the show provided the forum to meet the executives of these firms and build strong relationships with them."

Paiche has a 42 percent meat yield on whole fish ranging from 10 to 14 kilograms and is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, chef at Malabar Restaurante, said the species' firm, collagen-rich meat allows for thin cuts without causing any damage.

"Paiche is sweet without strong flavors and has an elegant taste grilled, fried, stir-fried or barbequed," he explained. "It is ranked alongside black cod, Chilean sea bass, tuna and John Dory and is becoming highly sought-after as a fish for connoisseurs."

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