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And, finally, there are a couple of troubling developments in South America that affect two fisheries that may well be on the planning calendar of some subscribers to this publication.
The first fishery is La Zona, a worldclass dorado operation that takes place below a major hydroelectric facility on the Uruguay River. It was developed and continues to be operated on the Argentina side of the river by Untamed Angling (www.untamedangling.com). Recently, River Plate Anglers (www.riverplateanglers.com/dorados/) developed a similar program on the Uruguay side of the river. La Zona, as countless visiting anglers will attest, provides access to a dense concentration of very large dorado that congregate near the base of the hydroelectric dam to feed on baitfish that are injured and/or chopped into bits by the turbines. The key to this fishery is access to the base of the dam and to water within roughly a half mile of the dam. Opening this water to limited angling is what made La Zona such a sensation, and it also launched Untamed Angling and its founder, Marcelo Perez, as forces to be reckoned with in world fishing. Unfortunately, that water below the dam has just been closed again. The news broke near press time, and it was impossible to confirm the extent of the closure, but there was a rough consensus that it extends for 1,000 meters below the dam. One report put the closure at 500 meters. Either way, the closure affects most of the really good fishing, and anyone headed there needs to be aware of that. On the Uruguayan side, Luis Brown of River Plate Anglers and his principal agent for this trip, J. W. Smith of South American Fly Fishing (www.southamerican-flyfishing.com), immediately stopped offering La Zona to their clients. Here is the statement Smith was sending all inquiring anglers at press time: “The new La Zona regulations for both Argentina and Uruguay do not allow fishing within 1,000 meters of the dam—too far downstream for good, reliable fishing. We appreciate your interest and suggest you consider going golden dorado fishing in Salta, Argentina, as an alternative. The best fishing timeframe is September through November. You can choose to fish only or combine the fishing with dove/pigeon shooting. To review the programs, please visit our website.” At press time, we called all the numbers we have for Untamed Angling, but we could not reach anyone. We also sent an e-mail message that has not been answered as this is written. We will let you know next month how Untamed Angling is handling booked clients and those who might want to book in the future. Anyone caught up in this sudden development is urged to let us know what happens. We regret the apparent closure of this great fishery. The other troubling development in South American fishing is growing doubt about the viability—maybe appropriateness is a better word—of arapaima (pirarucu) fishing. The arapaima, you will recall, is an ancient airbreathing Amazonian fish that has the distinction of being one of the largest of all freshwater fish. Specimens as long as ten feet and weighing as much as 480 pounds have been reported. The first arapaima fishing program we know about was not developed in Brazil but in Guyana. At this point, however, there are programs in both countries and a worrying trend toward a general expansion of arapaima sportfishing programs. The trend is worrying because there is growing evidence that many of the fish that are caught don’t survive. No, we do not have hard facts and figures about this (not yet anyway), but there is growing talk among guides and anglers alike about the high mortality rate of arapaima brought to the boat or shore. There are two possible ways forward, in our view. First, perhaps there are ways to reduce the stress that develops in these fish in the process of being caught. The use of stronger lines and more powerful rods comes to mind, perhaps coupled with a voluntary agreement not to lift arapaima out of the water, even for photographs. This is the new way of handling tarpon, and it just might help with arapaima. Another stress-reducing tactic might be a voluntary agreement to break off very large fish as soon as they are hooked and redefine victory in arapaima fishing as enjoying the strikes of big fish but “touching the leader” on smaller fish only. It appears doubtful these changes will solve the problem, but they might reduce it. The second way forward is to fish for arapaima only in the context of a harvest quota issued to indigenous groups. In other words, anglers allowed to fish for arapaima would be harvesting fish that the local indigenous group would have taken anyway. Sportfishing would not be creating new mortality. A program like this for hunters was utilized for many years in northern Canada, where Inuit groups were annually issued a quota of polar bears, a percentage of which they were authorized to sell to international hunters, with all funds brought in that way earmarked for the local community. The high prices of these permits had a dramatic impact on local poaching of over-quota bears, while also helping the community develop medical facilities and meeting other needs. Anglers, of course, are going to have to dig deeper in their pockets for the right to go arapaima fishing if a plan like this is implemented. But why not? Don’t we brag a lot about what great conservationists we are? This would put our money where our mouth is in one small corner of fishing. Anyone agree? Or disagree? Write: [email protected]