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Special Feature Photos courtesy of ArtisanFish Peruvian paiche farmers hope their product will help restore wild populations. King of the Amazon Sustainable farming initiative brings the river giant paiche to U.S. diners BY MELISSA WOOD T ell diners a giant river monster is on the menu and they'll want to see what it looks like. Fortunately, for the chef introducing little - known paiche, most people have a smartphone handy. "A lot of people bring out their cell phones and Google it right then and there. It's a very interesting looking ﬁsh too," says Andrew Adams, executive chef for Acre Restaurant in Memphis, Tenn. 40 SeaFood Business Paiche, also called arapaima or pirarucu (Arapaima gigas), is a freshwater ﬁsh native to the Amazon Basin. It has a face that looks more like a bird than a ﬁsh, and it is a giant. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) they can grow to be as big as 450 pounds and 9 feet long. But the real monsters in paiche's history have been humans, who once severely overﬁshed wild populations. Now a sustainable farming initiative is trying to restore it in the wild while introducing it to consumers around the world. "I don't want to use some cheesy slogan, but it's considered the king of the Amazon," says Adrian Burstein of ArtisanFish in Aventura, Fla. Te company is marketing and wholesaling the farmed ﬁsh to U.S. retail February 2013 and foodservice buyers. Its size is not the only thing that makes paiche special; it also breathes air. Because of low oxygen levels in the Amazon ﬂoodplains, paiche developed an enlarged swim bladder in addition to gills. Paiche must come up for air every 10 to 20 minutes and while it's on the surface may also snatch a bird oﬀ the riverbank. But close proximity to the surface brought it closer to human hunters. It was listed as a threatened species on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) in 1975. Te ability to breathe air also makes it attractive for ﬁsh farmers because they can raise it in water farming among South America's freshwater species. It has the fastest growth rate among cultivated Amazon ﬁsh, will eat ﬁsh-feed pellets even though it's carnivorous and has ﬁllets that don't have intramuscular bones. Te farmed paiche initiative, which is in Peru and called the Amazone project, started almost six years ago. Burstein says the project began with extensive research focused on developing feed and selecting the best subspecies in terms of meat quality. "We also release some of our paiche on the Amazon so that we can help repopulate it," Burstein adds. "Hopefully in a few decades we will have a success story." Te farmed paiche, which are fed pellets made of soy and a small amount of ﬁshmeal, take about 18 months to grow to a harvestable size of 22 pounds. Tey are raised in a low-density environment in ponds. "I want to describe it almost as an ecosystem in itself," says Burstein. "Te water in the farm is ﬁltered by a natural digester. It's an area like a small swamp where the water ﬂows through and the vegetation in the area cleans up the water." Te farms produce about 100,000 pounds a year. Burstein says the United States is one of the biggest markets. Exports also go to France and there are poten- "I think it will be a very good thing for retailers because I consider paiche a dummy-proof fish." — Adrian Burstein, CEO, ArtisanFish with low oxygen levels. According to FAO, paiche is especially well-suited for tial markets in the United Kingdom, Spain and Chile. One challenge with Visit us online at www.seafoodbusiness.com