Creatures of the Amazon

The Paiche

By Mike Collis
The Paiche is a massive catfish that lives in the Amazon Basin. This enormous fish can grow up to 12 feet long and can weigh over 1,000 lbs. Some reckon the Paiche to be the largest freshwater fish on Earth but this is disputed because the South East Asian Sting Ray grows much bigger, but is not truly a freshwater fish at all because it inhabits estuaries and likes salt water. However, it is without doubt that the Paiche has the largest scales of any freshwater fish.

The Paiche is an ancient fish dating right back to the Jurassic Period nearly 200 million years ago. When young, Paiche extract oxygen from the water like most fish but later on in adulthood they breathe air. Paiche can stay under water for up to 20 minutes, but usually they surface to gulp air about every 15 minutes. This enables them to live in low oxygenated areas such as swamps and lagoons etc. Their main diet is other fish but they will eat almost anything including small animals and birds.

In the amazon region the Paiche is prized because of the quality of its meat and the amount that one fish can provide, sometimes as much as 150 lbs of prime meat can be obtained from one fish.

The Paiche is more hunted than fished, local people using a spear or harpoon to kill the fish. Sometimes during the migration period local people build bamboo traps in the smaller creeks where the Paiche likes to breed. The fish swim through a large openning , but it reduces until there is only space for the Paiche to squeeze through. Once in the fish cannot find the small exit route.

The Paiche is now protected and apart from commercially farm bred fish and it is illegal to catch or sell wild Paiche between the breeding months of October and February.
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