Fish Stories from the Amazon

Jaime Sarmiento and Soraya Barrera, give us a sneak peak into how it is to work on fish migration in Bolivia

Museo Nacional de Historia Natural will be hosting 8 WFMD events from today until 20 May. This includes hosting schools, talks, talking to the media and hosting a conference.  In celebration of this we give you the fish story of Jaime Sarmiento and Soraya Barrera, fish experts and researchers from MNHN:

"Fishing is one of the most important activities of native people in the Amazonia and Chaco of Bolivia, and plays an essential role in the subsistence, economy and culture. Traveling together with native fishermen in the search of fishes in the Chaco and Amazonia, we were astonished by the elaborate local knowledge on the ecology of fishes, specially referring to fish movement, sometimes for long distances, very far from people's home-range. This intuitive knowledge impels us to work on studies of fish movements. ”Los que bajan y los que se quedan” (those who godown, and those who stay) is the best Spanish translation we found for the highly intuitive perception of the long distance displacement of some fishes, like the sábalo, for the native people Tsimane’ from northern Bolivia.

Years after, we were involved in a huge tagging program for the study of sabalo migration in the Pilcomayo River in South Bolivia. Once again our amazing job as ichthyologists allowed us to work together with native fishermen, mainly of the Weenhayek, Wichi and Chorotí People from South Bolivia and Northern Argentina. Surprisingly (or not at all?) we also found here this amazing intuitive knowledge about large fish trips of more than 400-500 km, largely out of the natural range of the people.

Later we could tag nearly 8 000 fishes, mostly sabalo (Prochilodus lineatus), from more than six localities over the Pilcomayo River in Bolivia and Argentina. We also confirm the amazing trip of more than 300 km of these mighty fishes, the surprising way in which they can find their way to the Andes between tangles of water channels in which the river was transformed by human decision, and the skill or luck to overcome obstacles, fishermen and predators on their long journey to their reproductive grounds at the Andes."


We also asked Soraya Barrera and Jaime Sarmiento about why they are involved in fish migration, what inspires them and what projects they are working on. This is what Soraya Barrera and Jaime Sarmiento, along their colleagues, had to say:


Why did you get involved in fish migration?

Because, these so impressive trips, sometimes related to very huge dangers, and the "decision to accept" such a big risk, are very interesting facts from the evolutionary point of view. Besides, it involves very fascinating species, including giant fishes, commercial fishes and sometimes very tiny fishes that, currently face significant threats related the dilemma of the current paradigms of development, resource management and conservation


Why do you think this work is important?

Although our first motivation is scientific, related to evolutionary ecology; the current paradigms of development, dam building for energy generation, and many other changes of anthropic origin requires basic information that allows us to reduce the impacts of these mega projects on fish populations. In particular, the case of the declining populations of the sábalo fishes of the Pilcomayo, has generated in us a strong commitment to the pursuit of knowledge that can be used to ensure the survival of this and other migratory species.


What type of projects are you working on?

Our main work on fish migration was a project on the migration of the sábalo (Prochilodus nigricans) in the Pilcomayo River at southern Bolivia. Currently, due the increasing interest in establishing dams for power generation, we are planning a project on larval migration first in the Bolivian Amazonia, and later in the Chaco region.





1) Soraya Barrera, ichthyologist in charge of the Fish division of the MNHN, with Wichi fishermen during a tagging trip in the Pilcomayo River 

2) Sábalo fishes (Prochilodus lineatus), at Bañado La Estrella in northern Argentina, before the annual migration to their reproductive grounds in the Bolivian Andes