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Project September 22, 2021

Fish Maw Trade to China in the Brazilian Amazon: Alternative Prospect or Environmental Trap?



At the edge of the Amazon forest of the northern Brazilian state of Para, a once secretive trade of maw—fish's swim bladder—is booming. Maw from yellow croaker, “pescada-amarela” in Portuguese or the acoupa weakfish, especially, fetches a high price. Dried fish maw from yellow croaker could be 100 times more expensive than its meat.

In China, dried fish maw is widely considered to have medicinal properties, which depend on the species, size, age, sex and origin of the fish. Some consumers swear by maw’s medicinal benefits, others see it as a delicacy. As a result, fish maws are sought from around the world.

For fishers on Brazil’s Amazon coast, catching yellow croaker fish maw for export has increasingly become a vital source of income. Some are making a fortune from organs that were previously discarded. Yet, a lack of fishing regulation could mean that, like any gold rush, this boom could end. Some believe fishing is a potentially more sustainable source of income for Amazon communities, affecting the forest less than livestock and grain crop production. But it must be regulated.
Reporting from the hub of this trade in Belem and nearby fishing villages, this project shed light on the underreported and largely informal fish maw market in Brazil.