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Ever wonder where the fish in your freshwater home aquarium came from? At one point, they may have been swimming in Brazil's Rio Negro, the largest tributary of the Amazon River. The Rio Negro is home to more than 800 different kinds of fish, including tetras, discuses, angelfish and cichlids. It's also the source of an important sustainable aquarium fishery.
Getting these wet pets to your home, however, is no simple matter. From the time the fish are caught, it takes up to four months and more than 5,500 miles before they make it "home" to your aquarium. Here's their journey:
1. It all starts when locals set out in canoes, then wade into the river and collect fish by hand or in raps, or herd them with paddles into nets.
2. Fishers transport the fish to villages, where they are sorted and held in net pens in the river.
3. Fish from various villages are taken by boats to a transit station, often the jungle city of Barcelos, where they are held until an order comes from exporters in the city of Manaus.
4. The fish are then transported downriver in plastic totes on cargo vessels that regularly travel up and down the river.
5. The fish arrive at the export facilities in Manaus, where they may stay for up to two months.
6. Eventually the fish are flown to importers in the United States, Asia and Europe. Importers in the U.S., such as Segrest Farms, treat the fish for diseases and help them adjust to their new water conditions.
7. After an order comes in, the fish are then transported to aquarium stores, such as World of Wet Pets in Portland, Oregon. Ask your local pet store to carry Rio Negro fish if they don't. You can find stores that sell Rio Negro fish at ProjectPiaba.org.
8. After all this traveling, the fish finally make it home to your aquarium.
All of this traveling and waiting can take a toll on the fish. So aquatic veterinarians and aquarium biologists working with Oregon Sea Grant, Oregon State University and the nonprofit Project Piaba have been helping fishers and exporters learn better ways to collect, handle, feed and house the fish to ensure they are healthy when they arrive at your home.
By buying these sustainably harvested wild fish, you're financially supporting hundreds of Brazilian families and their way of life, which depends on the river. You're also helping to protect the fragile rainforest ecosystem. Because locals know the health of the river is connected to the health of the rainforest, you're also giving these fishers a reason to protect the forest and not turn to environmentally destructive ways to make a living. They know, for example, that mining or clearing trees for ranching or farming could pollute the river with manure, chemicals and silt. By buying these fish, you're helping to save the trees.