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Part 3 : The Peruvian Amazon

Aquatic and land fauna management among the floodplain ribereños of the Peruvian Amazon
Subsistence- and marketoriented agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon
Local management of forest resources in a rural community in north-east Peru


Aquatic and land fauna management among the floodplain ribereños of the Peruvian Amazon

1 Introduction
2 The ribereños of San Jorge
3 The Amazon floodplain in north-east Peru
4 Ribereño hunting
5 Fishing
6 Distribution and consumption
7 Changes in fisheries
8 Conclusion


Mario Hiraoka

1 Introduction

In studying the small-scale farmers' economy, social scientists and development planners have tended to place undue emphasis on the role of agriculture. Development planners, attempting to improve the economic lot of the rural poor, have focused their attention mainly on increasing the output of the farming sector. Production and productivity increases have been sought in instruments like improvements in transportation and communication, access to technical knowledge and credit, and the application of science and technology in cultivation procedures (Hecht, Anderson and May, 1988).

More recently, with an increase in ecologically oriented studies which emphasize a holistic approach to viewing human societies, attention has begun to be focused on the adaptation of traditional management practices as an alternative model for improving the living standards of small-scale farmers. The emphasis on indigenous practices is beginning to uncover hitherto unknown aspects of land use. For example, the "discovery" of managed successional forests among the tribal and non-tribal groups in Amazonia has shed new light on the dynamics of swidden farming (Alcorn, 1984; Anderson, 1988; Denevan and Padoch, 1988; Hiraoka, 1986; Padoch et al.,1985; Posey, 1983; Posey and Balée, 1989). The extraction of economically valuable products from the successional flora is another example (Anderson, 1990; Hecht, Anderson and May, 1988). Likewise, fishing and hunting are also important economic activities practised by many small-scale farmers, yet the contribution of these activities to the overall economy of the peasants has received limited attention. Fishing and hunting provide essentially all the animal protein requirements for many peasant groups (Nietschmann, 1973). Aquatic and land fauna are also major generators of cash income to peasants. Thus, the new directions not only indicate the diverse and complex nature of peasant economies but also point out that traditional management systems may offer important rural development alternatives.

Aside from offering new insights into the small-scale farming economy, the focus on indigenous economic activities contributes to the knowledge of sustainable resource management. Although largely unsubstantiated, ecological disruptions are believed to be minimized under traditional practices, because of the people's long association and familiarity with local ecosystems.

In this study, attention is directed to the understanding of the fishing and hunting activities practised by a group of peasant farmers in Amazonia. The specific objectives are: (1) to evaluate the role of fishing and hunting in producing food and income; (2) to outline the spatial context within which the activities occur; (3) to relate the changes in the faunal population resulting from ecological disruptions associated with cash cropping; and (4) to emphasize the importance of incorporating non-crop activities in rural development projects.

Information was collected among the Amazonian peasants of northeastern Peru between 1981 and 1987. In addition to several short visits, a year-long stay in a village along the Amazon River (1983/1984) enabled me to record an annual cycle of faunal management. In addition to the changing patterns of fishing and hunting that accompanied the fluctuations in river level, data on harvests, sites, efforts, and harvested species were kept on selected households.

2 The ribereños of San Jorge

The contemporary inhabitants of riparian Amazonia, known as riberenos in Peru, consist of a melange of ethnic groups that includes detribalized natives, mestizos, and European descendants. The actual mix may vary according to the location and history within the basin(Padoch and de Jong, 1990; Parker, 1985). The majority of the riberenos in the Peruvian north-east consists of mestizos and detribalized Amerindians.

The subsistence techniques of the ribereños inhabiting the shores of whitewater rivers are relatively homogeneous. Farming is the major focus, but fishing, hunting, extraction of forest products, and waged labour are also integral economic pursuits of the river people. The primary dietary staples are sweet manioc and plantains. Over sixty other plants are raised, including maize, rice, cow pea, and a number of fruits and vegetables (Hiraoka, 1985). At San Jorge and elsewhere on the floodplains, the ribereños recognize a large number of biotopes. Crop cultivation is based on minute familiarity with these biotopes. Several biotopes are managed simultaneously, each producing a number of differing crops (Denevan, 1984). Judging from historical accounts, the resource perception and management systems appear to be strongly aboriginal in nature, despite almost five centuries of European cultural and biological intermixing. As is seen below, techniques and tools associated with fishing and hunting among the ribereños also remain essentially native in origin.

3 The Amazon floodplain in north-east Peru

The data was collected at San Jorge, an Amazon floodplain community of 250 inhabitants, located 45 km to the south and upriver from Iquitos (fig. 8.1). In the vicinity of Iquitos, a regional service centre of 300,000 people, the floodplain measures between 15 and 25 km in width. The low-lying terrain is composed of fine sediments eroded and transported from the recently uplifted Andean mountains and fluvially deposited mostly during the Quaternary. Locally, the floodplain is called bajo. A slightly higher land of Tertiary origin rises 5-40 m above the water level and forms the floodplain borders. The higher ground is named altura. The Amazon meanders within the soft sediments, forming single to multiple channels (fig. 8.2).

The floodplain ecosystem consists of varied landforms and aquatic surfaces sculptured by the river. These include the natural levees (restingas), mud and sand bars (barreales and playas), backswamps (tahuampas), palm swamps (aguajules), lakes (cochas), side channels (canoe), and the trunk river. Excepting the river, the multiple surfaces are covered with diverse vegetation that ranges from palm forests and floodforests to grasses and aquatic macrophytes. The combination of differing land/water and floral associations provide rich habitats for animals and fish. The floodforest on the natural levees extends as a narrow band along the Amazon. The extensive swamps of aguaje (Mauritia flexuosa) palms occupying the interior of the floodplain, the lake shores, and, above all, the successional flora in differing stages of growth are the primary hunting grounds for the San Jorginos.

Figure 8.1 Study site. The village of San Jorge is located on the Amazon floodplain, south of Iquitos.

4 Ribereño hunting

Hunting, along with fishing, constitutes an integral part of ribereño livelihood. The bulk of the San Jorginos' animal protein and a portion of their cash income derive from the two activities. Game is preferred to fish, especially large mammals like tapir (Tapirus terrestris), deer (Mazama americana), peccaries (Tayassu pecari), and rodents such as capybara (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), pace (Agouti paca), and agouti (Dasyprocta spp.). However, scarcity due to over-harvests in the past, unreliability of harvests, and seasonal availability cause the inhabitants to seek the more dependable and abundant fish.

Figure 8.2 Cross-section of the Amazon floodplain in the vicinity of the study site.

The floodplain, with its nutrient-rich soils and varied biotopes offer a variety of faunal niches and an abundance of food sources. The multiple habitats supported a dense and varied faunal population, but the ease of access from water, external demands for meat and pelt, the slow breeding of some species, and efficient tools have drastically reduced their population within the last two centuries (Hiraoka, 1990; Pierret and Dourojeanni, 1966; Redford and Robinson, 1987; Smith, 1974, 1985; Villarejo, 1979: 173-9). Game meat procurement among contemporary ribereños is still common, but it plays a decidedly minor role in their diet and income production (Bodmer, Fang, and Ibañez, 1988).

Hunting sites

Land fauna is sought throughout the year, but game sites vary in response to changes in river water levels. For example, during the flood season, midMarch to mid-May, game is sought on the levee tops. When most of the low-lying floodplain terrains become underwater, the non-arboreal fauna like armadillo (Dasypus novemcintus), tapir, agouti, pace, and tortoise (Testudo tabulate) seek food and protection on dry terrain. These animals are killed with shotguns and machetes. When the floodwater recedes, game becomes dispersed on the diverse habitats, and harvests become less efficient. Between August and November, game like coati (Nasua nasua), tortoise, tapir, and agouti are sought in mass fruiting sites like the Mauritia palm forests. The dry forest floors also become hunting grounds between July and December. Nocturnal animals, such as armadillo and pace, are harvested during the moonless evenings along trails opened in the forest. Game inhabiting the shores of oxbow lakes and floodplain streams, e.g., capybara and caiman (Melanosuchus niger), are killed occasionally during the low-water season (fig. 8.3).

The most productive sites, however, are the human-altered tracts. The ribereños of San Jorge practise a variant of swidden-agroforestry on the flood-free natural levees. Restingas altas, or high levees, are rarely subject to inundation. Swiddens in different stages of man agement, agroforests, and diverse successional floral communities are found on these restingas. The abundant food sources, including cultivated and protected plants like rice, maize, manioc, taro, yam, bananas, papaya, guava (Inga spp.), peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), and yarina (Phytelephas macrocarpa), attract a large number of avian, arboreal, and land fauna (table 8.1). The low but dense shrubs and trees, and the partially decomposing logs and branches, offer protective cover, nesting dens, and abundant microfauna for food as well. Among the diverse game species visiting or inhabiting the humanaltered habitats, armadillos, agouti, pace, opossum (Didelphis marsupialis), and small rodents locally known as ratón/sacha cay (Proechimys brevicauda), comprise the main sources of animal proteins (fig. 8.4). These animals, as pointed out by Irvine (1987) and Linares (1976), have been long associated with swidden gardens and other regrowth stands. The relative abundance of game, especially rodents, is the result of human management. Efforts are directed towards enriching the food sources through cropping and protection of native fruit trees. In some cases, fruit trees, e.g., ubos (Spondias mombim) are protected, or groves of peach palm are planted to attract game. Another technique is to remove the adult game population. This improves the sub-adult survival rates for territorial species like the agouti, pace, and ratón (Emmons, 1982,1990; Smythe, 1978). Although less numerous, mammals like deer (Mazama americana), porcupine (Coendou bicolor), and various birds are also associated with the ribereño gardens.

Table 8.1 Game speccies harvested in human-altered habitats (San Jorge), 1 June1983-31 May 1984

Scientific name Local name English name Number killed
Sipzaetus tyrannus gavilán   1
Melanososuchus spp. Iagarto cayman 12
Anatidae pato ducks 1
Ardeidae garza heron, egrets 6
Nasua nasua aehuni coati 31
Panthera spp. aehuni puma   2
Columba spp. paloma de monte pigeons, doves 37
Columba sp. toreaz pigeons 3
Penelope jacquacu pucacunga guan 1
Ortalis gutata manaearaeo   6
Mitu mitu paujil curassow 2
Dasypus novemcintus carachupa armadillo 17
Bradypus tridactylus pelejo three-toed sloth 1
Didelphis marsupialis zorro opossum 3
Podocnemis expansa charapa river turtle 1
Podocnemis unifilis taricaya river turtle 2
Tapirus terrestris sacha vaca tapir 1
Saguinus spp. pichico   6
Saimiri sciureus fraile   2
Aramides cajanea unchala   3
Agouti paca majás pace 39
Dasyprocta spp. añuje agouti 34
Myoprocta pratti punchana acouchy 18
Holochilus sciureus zambona rice-rat 45
Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris ronsoc capybara 6
Proechimys spp. sacha cuy forest rat 791
Sciureus spp. pichico squirrels 26
Geochelone spp. motelo tortoise 13
Crypturellus untulatus panguana tinamou 4
Tinamus major panguana tinamou 2

No. of households where data was collected = 12.

Collectively known as purmeros, these animals live in a symbiotic relationship with the peasants. The purmeros, although available throughout the year in the new and old gardens, show fluctuations in their populations according to seasons. Peak harvests occur during the high-water season, as pointed out above. The capture of purmeros, especially the small Proechimys, has been overlooked in the literature. This largely invisible activity is carried out by women and children, and it contributes significantly to ribereño household protein intake.

In sum, it is possible to state that hunting is carried out in practically all floodplain habitats, but specific harvest sites vary during the year, reflecting factors like ripening season of particular feed sources, ground conditions, and productivity of fishing activities. The example of San Jorge also indicates that numerous birds and mammals are killed, but the focus is mainly on purmeros of the restingas.

Hunting tools and techniques

Unlike fishing, where a variety of tools and techniques is employed, and with which much folklore is associated, ribereño hunting is unceremonious and involves few tools and simple techniques. Four tools are used to harvest the animals: shotgun, deadfall trap, bird trap, and spear or harpoon. On occasion, a pace or agouti may be killed with a deadfall trap, but most of the larger rodents and other mammals are harvested with the shotgun. In 1984, ten out of a total of 34 households in San Jorge owned a shotgun. Those who do not possess a firearm often borrow one from a friend or relative. In exchange for its use, the hunter supplies the ammunition and the meat is divided equally with the owner.

Several strategies are employed in harvesting game with the shotgun. Opportunistic hunting is the most common. The firearm is often carried along to the sites of economic activities, especially when evidence of animal presence, e.g. crop feeding, faecal remains, and burrowing, have been noticed during previous forays. Active pursuit is practised when chances of game kills are high. Restingueo or restinga hunting, for example, is done during the flood season, when game is frequently spotted in the restricted dry ground. Platform or scaffold hunting is common during periods of mass fruiting: animals are killed from temporary platforms built near feeding sites, such as around the base of a fruit tree, or along pre-cleared trails. Another technique is to set the firearm in the proximity of a salt lick and to activate it with a trip wire.

The most common instrument of animal harvest is the trap. Deadfall traps using fresh banana stalks or tree trunks, and baited with garden crops like maize, manioc, or peach palm fruit, are set in different parts of the agroforest and successional growth (fig. 8.5). At San Jorge, 52 per cent of the households used this tool at least once during 1984. Small game like agouti, yulilla (Anodus elongates), unchala (Aramides cajanea), monkeys, and sacha cuy are trapped. Between 25 and 35 of the easily made traps are set by each household. As catches decline rapidly after 15-20 days in a given area, traps are moved to new locations. The practice of hunting zone rotation, which enables game population recovery, is also reported from other parts of Amazonia (Balée, 1985). Baiting is done in the early evening and it is one of the children's chores to check the traps the following morning. Grain crops in the swidden phase of a garden attract numerous birds and small rodents, and many of them are captured with pyramidal bird traps made by tying twigs and vines. The simple instruments, also built and managed by women and children, are easy to handle and contribute meat to the household in a minor but continuous manner.

Metal-tipped harpoons are used mainly to kill caymans. They are hunted from canoes at night in the floodforests and lakes, especially during the highwater season.

As the hunting tools and techniques suggest, and the historical records corroborate, floodplain hunting does not appear to have been as important an activity as on the interfluvial terrain. There, the absence of reliable sources of fish forced the inhabitants to rely on land fauna as their main source of animal proteins.

Harvest yield and composition

During the 1983/1984 field season, the control group harvested an average of 86.2 kg per household. The meat came from most biotopes, but the most productive were the agroforests and successional communities, where 75 per cent of the kills occurred. As might be expected, returns were greatest during the flood season (February May), when 68 per cent of the land fauna were caught. Of the total catch, 47.8 per cent consisted of small game, i.e., purmeros like agouti, armadillo, pace, and small rodents, and birds like dove (Columba spp.), pucacunga (Penelope jacquacu), and unchala (Aramides cajanea). Average returns to labour are comparable to those on fishing, i.e. 1.1 kg/hr. However, the relatively high productivity results mainly from the ribereños' emphasis on small purmeros, abundant in the vicinity of settled areas. Occasionally a tapir, deer, or peccary may be killed, but this are so rare and unreliable an occurrence that there is no riverine settlement in the Iquitos area that specializes in ungulate hunting.

Wild meat, especially that of agouti, armadillo, and pace, finds a ready market in Iquitos, but, as the supply is not sufficient to meet village needs, most of the game is consumed locally. Reflecting the scarcity and the craving of the inhabitants for game meat, most animals end up on the table.

5 Fishing

The floodplains of Amazonia have supported a large and dense population since prehistoric times (Denevan, 1976; Roosevelt, 1989, 1991). High demographic density was enabled by the rich edaphic resource and by the abundant fisheries. To this day, the ribereños rely on fish to fulfil most of their amino acid needs. On the floodplains, fishing plays a role comparable to farming. As in agriculture, it supplies one of the vital ingredients of food intake, and it also contributes to producing cash. As such, every household is engaged in the activity during most of the year.

As with farming, there are a number of cultural controls influencing the exploitation rates, harvest location, and consumption patterns of fish. For example, until recently, the two lakes within the bounds of San Jorge, Ahuasi Cocha and Cocha de Mangua, were believed to be inhabited by yacu maman, the "mother of the lake." This supernatural being discouraged fishing with nets and canoes, thus assuring the local inhabitants with a sustained supply of fish (Galvão, 1955: 98). The feeding behaviour, taste, odour, and appearance of fish, in association with belief in supernaturals, developed into taboos. These culturally conditioned avoidances led to the exclusion of the atinga (Symbrancus marmuratus), electric eel (Electrophorus electricus), canero (Cetopsis spp.), carachama maman (Hemiancystrus arenarius), and dolphin (Inia geofrensis) from the edible species list.

Although women sometimes fish with poles, the task of procuring fish has been predominantly a man's activity. Touching or crossing over the fishing equipment and canoes by women, especially those in menstruation, are thought to bring bad luck. Ritual purification of the fisherman's body, tools, and canoes with ajo sacha (Monsoa alliacea) to assure a good catch, as well as other practices, have traditionally played important roles in ribereño fishing. Activities associated with fishing have contributed also to maintaining solidarity among the inhabitants. Solitary fishing is possible when using projectiles like gigs and harpoons, but the use of nets and trotlines is commonly done in pairs. Larger groups, consisting of five to six members, are common during the mijanos or periods of fish migration. These groupings fulfil not only an economic objective but also social needs. As the fishing does not take place continuously, the moments in between are spent in socialization. San Jorge is situated on a broad stretch of the floodplain containing extensive tahuampas and cochas rich in fishing grounds. During the mijanos, ribereños without access to such terrain flock in selected segments of the shore where fish are exiting from the floodplain and moving upstream close to the banks. Seasonal concentration of people on such sites offers opportunities to re-establish contacts with people from neighbouring villages. Household fish is not continuously available because of fluctuating day-today yields. Moreover, the demands of other chores do not allow daily fishing. Since fish is a desirable item, the product is continuously exchanged between households and serves to maintain social bonding. Fishing, then, does much more than provide income and a balanced diet to the dwellers. It is an integral element of ribereño livelihood.

Fish habitats

Floodplain inhabitants occupy productive and varied aquatic environments, where fish is available practically all year round. The shallows along the Amazon, such as the mud and sand bars, the floodplain lakes, and the lesser streams, serve as the primary fishing sites.

Fisheries in Amazonia are characterized, by a diversity of species. The described species alone number over 1,400, thus making the basin the largest in speciation of any drainage system in the world. Of these, approximately 92 per cent are composed of siluroids (44 per cent), characoids (42 per cent), and cichlids (6 per cent). The large number of species is attributed to a number of factors, including: (a) geologic and climatic stabilities, especially the absence of oceanic transgressions and major climatic changes within the recent past; (b) the existence of a variety of ecological niches and habitats; (c) separation of fish population through physical and chemical barriers like waterfalls, rapids, and differences in hydrochemistry; and (d) genetic flexibility favouring mutations (Junk, 1983: 64-7; Rodriguez and Lewis, 1990).

The Amazonian waters, especially those with headwaters in the Andean mountains, generally called white-water rivers, are wellknown for a large aquatic biomass (Junk and Furch, 1985). This abundance results from the interplay of several biophysical factors, including climate, geological history, landforms, flora, and hydrochemistry. The study area receives an average annual precipitation of 2,800 mm. The distribution is uneven. The period of least rain is between August and October, when monthly means decline to 170 mm. During the peak months, February-April, the monthly totals average 340 mm. This seasonality of rains corresponds approximately with that of the headwater areas of the Amazon River and its major southern tributaries. In spite of the seasonality, the abundant rains actively cut down the geologically recent, alkaline-rich ranges, and transport the dissolved and suspended salts to the lowlands. The combination of nutrient-rich water, warm temperatures, and aeration of water through turbulent currents produces an abundant biotic community of phytoplankton and aquatic vegetation, the support base for the aquatic faunal chain.

Although the aquatic environment is favourable, the large fish biomass is also the outcome of a series of adaptations developed for the floodplain ecosystem. Ability to feed on nutritious food is one. During high water, while the nutrient-rich water nourishes the floodforest, the fish enter to consume seeds, nuts, and fruit being shed from the flora. Others feed on vegetation detritus, pollen, insects, algae, fungi, and leaves and roots of aquatic vegetation. The numerous shallow water bodies of the floodplain seasonally support a large fish population, yet the environment is not conducive to yearround subsistence for many species. When the exchange of water with the river is severed during the low-water season, the depressions become cut off from the main channel. An oxygen deficiency develops in the tahuampas and cochas. Unlike the Amazon, where the churning water mixes the oxygen, its production by phytoplankton is reduced in the stagnant water bodies under the shade of the floodforest.

Concurrently, the bacteria and fungi that decompose the sunken organic matter are also consuming oxygen. Commonly, thus, an oxy gen deficiency exists at 2-3m below the surface. To cope with such an environment, the non-migrating floodplain fish have developed a number of adaptive mechanisms. The thin skin among some species serves to absorb additional oxygen. In the case of gamitana (Colossoma macropomum), their thick lips serve to ingest the near-surface oxygen. The bottom-feeding carachama (Pterygoplichthys multiradiatus) and other catfishes surface periodically to gulp air and absorb the oxygen through their digestive tracts. In addition to the gills, the Arapaima gigas solves the anaerobic situation by having oxygen-absorbing bladders (Junk, 1983; Lowe-McConnell, 1977). Other fish migrate during high-water into the floodforest to avail themselves of the abundant food and to gain extra fat, to be expended upon return to the main channel. Some have solved the food scarcity problem through omnivorous behaviour, consuming plankton, fruit, and seeds.

Although our understanding of Amazonian ichthyofaunal behaviour is still imperfect, findings thus far suggest that their numbers are intricately tied in with the seasonal changes in water level, and the multiple micro-terrains and flora of the floodplain.

Groups of fish

There are essentially three groups of fish in the Amazon: the migrating characins, the channel siluroids that prey on the migrating fish, and the floodplain fish (Goulding, 1981). The familiarity with the food, migration, and reproduction habits among the ribereños assure a continuous supply of this protein source for the inhabitants. As a group, the characoids are the most consumed by the riverine people. These fish remain in the numerous floodplain water bodies until the floodforest is seasonally filled with the turbid water. Two or three weeks after the floodplain is linked with the main channel, characins like boquichico (Prochilodus nigricans), lisa (Schyzodon fasciatus, Leporinus spp.), and yahuarachi (Gasterotomus latior) form schools and enter the white water-river. These mijanos are caught as they move out of the floodplain (fig. 8.6). Large channel siluroids that feed on the characins are the second group of prized fish. Among the zúngaros or large catfish, the most important are the dorado (Brachiplastystoma flavicans), saltón (Brachiplastystoma filamentosum), tigre zúngaro (Pseudoplastystoma tigriinum), and doncella (Pseudoplastystoma fasciatum). The large catfish are caught primarily for the urban market of Iquitos. Often referred to as pejes negros (black fish), fish like acarahuazu (Astronotus ocellatus), carachama(Plecostumus spp.), fasaco (Hoplias malabaricus), bojurqui (Cichlasoma spp., Arquidens spp., Acaronia spp., Geophagus jurapari), and pane (Serrasalmus spp.) reside mainly in the depressions. These are caught mostly during the low-water season, when they become concentrated in the shrinking bodies of water. The black fish have traditionally been exploited for domestic consumption.

Fishing sites

Fishing sites are to a large degree determined by the water level in the Amazon. For example, after the floodplain depressions become connected with the main channel, mijanos begin in late March. For the next seven or eight weeks, as different schools of migrating fish move out from the floodplain, fishermen capture their prey with cast nets by positioning them at the edge of the main channel. Gill nets are tied to the floodforests nearby. During the season, yields may average 7-8 kg/hr, far above the annual mean of 1.4 kg/hr.Largescale participation among the menfolk is the result of several factors. Although market prices for fish are depressed during the season because of oversupply, the returns on labour are so rewarding that the activity is still attractive. Lack of alternate work on account of inundation is also a factor. The activity is strenuous, but it offers an opportunity for socialization. The outlets of floodplain streams are also sites for placement of bottom trotlines and volantin, hand-cast lines intended to capture the channel siluroids.

With the end of mijanos by late May, and the river returning to its channel, the main locus of fishing becomes the river banks. Here, fishing is not efficient because the water volume is still large and the fish are dispersed in the river. A variety of equipment is employed. Quiet pools on the lee of currents where gramalote (Paspalum spp.) grass and other floating meadows are found, or sites with accumulation fishing, solterito or short line and hook devices tied to nearby flora, gigs and spears of various types, and cast nets are used. Output averages about 1.0 kg/hr and the catch consists of varied species. Fishing is no longer the sole activity. As the different bottomlands, such as, sand and mud bars, and low levees are uncovered, several tasks await the ribereños. Aquatic protein capture becomes relegated to young boys. If adults participate, it is done in the early morning hours or in between farming chores.

The continuously diminishing flow of water exposes an increasingly large proportion of flood zone by July. Floodplain lake and stream levels decrease rapidly, restricting the habitat of pejes negros. The choice of multiple fishing biotopes imply a variety of species, so that the ribereños can, to a certain degree, select the desired ones. For example, the acarahuazu are caught in the oxbow lakes, while the palometas (Mylossoma duriventris), prized for the fat stored in their undersides, are fished in the Amazon. The carachamas are caught in the floodplain streams. To add diversity to the diet, river turtles like taricaya (Podocnemis unifilis) or charapa (Podocnemis expanse) and their eggs, laid on the sandy beaches, may be occasionally harvested.

Between August and October, when the river level is lowest, the opacity of the water diminishes with less sediment transport. Debris in the channels and depressions become visible. Therefore, cast nets and gill nets are used on the playas (fig. 8.7). With output averaging 1.2 kg/hr, the season is not especially productive, but catches are reliable.

As the water begins to rise again in November, channel fishing becomes unpredictable and unreliable. Netting continues in the Amazon, but when that fails, ribereños seek their prey in the floodplain depressions. Yields oscillate around 1.0 kg/hr, and this lower productivity is due in part to the use of less efficient pole fishing.

The period of greatest fish scarcity occurs between late December and March. As the river swells and gradually engulfs the floodplain, the fish disperse into the floodforests. Until most of the low-lying terrain is submerged, hunting for mammals is not highly efficient either. In the absence of productive sites, fishing is attempted in various locations using varied tools. Some venture beyond the community bounds, into lakes three to four hours from the village. Controlled use of piscicides like barbasco (Lonchocarpus nicou), sacha barbasco (Lonchocarpus spp.), huaca (Clibadium silvestre), and catáhua (Hura crepitans), although illegal, is practised in portions of the floodplain streams, oxbow lakes, and vegetated sites along the main channel (fig. 8.8) (Acevedo-Rodriguez, 1990: 3). In addition to the pole, nets and trotlines are used in the tahuampas. Projectiles like the gig and spear and hand lines are also employed. The difficulty of catch is reflected in the low productivity. Returns for the sample group aver aged less than 1.0 kg/hr between December and March. Yields for March, with the lowest catch, averaged 0.6 kg/hr.

The foregoing suggests that fishing along the Amazon is an activity well defined in both time and place. To ensure a continuous supply of fish, ribereños have to have a detailed knowledge of fishing behaviour and the floodplain ecosystem. To gain such a familiarity, individuals are initiated into the various fisheries activities by the age of five or six, when they begin to accompany their elders in local fishing outings. Gradually, the young learn that the activity is analogous to farming in the region, that is, that it consists of an integrated management of a number of distinct biotopes for a successful year-round supply of fish.

On an annual basis, the ribereños of San Jorge expend between 22 and 30 per cent of their food-getting efforts in fishing, i.e. between 550 and 690 hours per year. This input produces between 770 and 966 kg/yr per household, resulting in an estimated harvest of 22-30 mt/yr of fish from the resource zones available to the villagers. In contrast to the fisheries at Itacoatiara, in the Brazilian Amazon, where a considerable part of the catch is destined for sale, both the total output and the productivity of the San Jorge peasants are low (Smith, 1981). However, the figures from San Jorge are comparable to those of other semi-subsistence ribereños of the Peruvian Amazon (Bergman, 1980: 235). Limited yields among the ribereños are obviously related to their techniques and tools. At the time of fieldwork in 1984, there were only 24 cast nets and eight gill nets in the village. The rest of the equipment consisted mainly of relatively inefficient, traditional, and simple equipment like gigs, harpoons, and poles. Inability to purchase motorized boats and large nets precludes the San Jorginos from venturing into the more productive floodplains of the lower and middle Ucayali, or from increasing the catch during the mijanos. However, as is true also among other riverine communities of Amazonia, fish is available practically all year round and it can be expected to be caught on a reliable basis. This reliability is the result of a combination of factors. Protection of floodforests and tahuampas from deforestation, communal control and limited access of outsiders to inland water bodies such as lakes and floodplain streams, the existence of conservation-oriented folklore, emphasis on extraction of minor forest products, and restricted potential for the sale of fish in the past served as important mechanisms for conserving fisheries.


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