Brazil's Fishing and Aquaculture Ministry is outlawing the fishing of a certain breed of catfish for the next five years. Not to protect the bottom-feeding catfish, but to protect the freshwater dolphins that are used as catfish bait.
It is no secret that I love dolphins. And while I know you shouldn't pick favorites between sea creatures, I do have a favorite. Pink dolphins. That's right. Pink dolphins are a species of river dolphins. They are also known as Boto or Boutu, and reside in the Amazon River. Their brain capacity is 40 percent larger than that of a human. It's pretty obvious that pink dolphins are majestic creatures; basically the unicorn of the sea.
A popular myth in the Amazon is that pink dolphins turn into handsome men at night and leave the water to seduce beautiful local women, only to return to the water before dawn. There is even lore that you may be cursed with bad luck if you kill a pink dolphin.
But this myth isn't stopping local fishermen. Among the many wonderful features of a pink dolphin is their taste. Their flesh is very popular with an Amazonian catfish, a species called piracatinga. Fishermen kill the pink dolphins to use them as bait for these catfish. About 1,500 pink dolphins are killed every year in the Amazon for bait. This has decreased their population by ten percent since 2000, endangering the species.
Fishermen are encouraged to use the pink dolphins as bait by merchants in Colombia. The catfish is very popular in Colombia, though it is not eaten along the Amazon because its known as a "water vulture." The catfish feeds on decomposing matter and magic dolphins. I wouldn't eat it either.
In an attempt to protect the pink dolphins, Brazil will issue a temporary ban on catching piracatinga. The Brazilian Ministry of Fish and Aquaculture is working on finalizing a five-year moratorium on hunting of the catfish, which Ministry spokesperson Ultimo Valadares says "should give us enough time to find an alternative bait for the piracatinga."
This moratorium should help protect the pink dolphins and rebuild their population over the next five years.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.