Rios Tropicales helps ensure the survival of threatened Bobo fish in Pacuare River

17 May Rios Tropicales helps ensure the survival of threatened Bobo fish in Pacuare River

By Shannon Farley

The Pacuare River in Costa Rica is visited by thousands of people each year who enjoy one of the world’s most scenic rivers and rainforests. Rios Tropicales Adventure Experts has been bringing people on rafting and adventure trips to this amazing place on Earth for more than 30 years. In the process, the ecotourism company actively protects the flora and fauna of this wondrous ecosystem for future generations.

Rios Tropicales spearheaded the inclusion of the Pacuare River into Costa Rica’s Ecological Blue Flag Program for River Watersheds, for which the Pacuare River holds the highest ecological rating. Additionally, the Rios Tropicales Foundation, a non-profit environmental organization, has successfully stopped the development of two separate dams threatening the Pacuare river basin.

Rios Tropicales now is supporting an effort to study the largest fish in the upper Pacuare River – the Bobo Mullet (Joturus pichardi) – as part of an effort to protect the threatened species. Once abundant and an important source of protein for the indigenous Cabecar people and others who live near the Pacuare River, the Bobo has become increasingly scarce as a result of overfishing.

“Local fishermen say that 20 years ago there were plenty of Bobo fish in the Pacuare, but now they have to work hard to catch one,” said biologist Derick Herrera, founder and president of the Costa Rican Aquarian Association for the Conservation of Freshwater Ecosystems (ACACED).

Herrera added that unscrupulous fishermen have used nets, dynamite and other illegal means to catch Bobo fish, which has dangerously decimated the population. He explained that he became concerned about the species’ plight after being contacted by people in the town of Mollejones, on the upper Pacuare, who reported that outsiders were netting large numbers of Bobo fish as they migrated up nearby rapids.

Herrera contacted the Costa Rican Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA), which intervened in Mollejones. However, when Herrera inquired about the possibility of placing a seasonal ban on Bobo fishing, INCOPESCA biologists said they couldn’t draft regulations without a technical study on the species’ population and lifecycle; and unfortunately they did not have a budget for such a study.

Herrera and his ACACED colleagues decided to do the study themselves, but soon faced two large obstacles: raising funds for the project, and the difficult logistics of getting to the upper Pacuare River. Herrera said he was ready to give up when an ACACED member suggested that he contact a private company for help. That’s when Rios Tropicales stepped in to save the day.

Herrera signed an agreement with Rafael Gallo, owner of Rios Tropicales, who committed to help ACACED biologists complete the study for INCOPESCA, and in addition to support subsequent efforts to study and protect the Bobo Mullet.

Rios Tropicales now provides part of the budget for Herrera and two other biologists to visit the lower basin of the Pacuare River each month, as well as funds for incidental expenses.

“Rios Tropicales’ support has been fundamental. It would have been very difficult to undertake this study without their help,” said Herrera.

Herrera explained that they need to capture and dissect one fish per month for a year to document the species’ reproductive cycle, among other things. Though the study will run into early 2017, the biologists have already made some important discoveries. For example, they found that fish measuring 30 centimeters in length still haven’t reached reproductive maturity, which means the government needs to prohibit catching fish smaller than this size.

Herrera says that the Pacuare River could play a vital role in conserving the species. Bobo fish were once common in rivers flowing into the Caribbean Sea throughout Mexico and Central America, but have become scarce across this entire region. Bobo Mullet need clean, fast running rivers because they eat the algae that grow on river rocks. However, a growing number of the region’s rivers now flow through farmland where soil erosion turns river water murky, hindering the growth of the algae that Bobo fish eat. Many rivers have also been dammed for hydroelectric projects, which prevent the fish from migrating up and down the waterways.

“The Pacuare River is extremely important for the Bobo fish’s survival because it connects the mountains with the lowlands,” Herrera said.

He believes Bobo fish migrate to coastal estuaries near the mouth of the Pacuare River each year to spawn, but his team needs to document this.

ACACED’s goal is to complete their study and present it to INCOPESCA in early 2017. They also plan to lobby the institute for regulations to protect the species. ACACED will work within the local communities to educate the Cabecar and non-indigenous residents about the Bobo fish’s biology and any regulations that are put in place to protect it.

Rios Tropicales intends to continue supporting ACACED’s work even after the study is finished by making donations to ACACED so they can keep on studying and protecting the Bobo Mullet.

“This alliance has been fundamental to finish this study and we will forever be grateful to Rios Tropicales,” said Herrera.

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