Peru's giant jungle fish hooks conscientious gourmets

Mon Feb 6, 2012 1:09pm EST
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By Caroline Stauffer

LIMA (Reuters) - Move over Chilean sea bass, Peruvians are raising a giant Amazon fish and sending it abroad to answer growing cries for sustainable seafood in haute cuisine.

Farm-raised, fresh-water Paiche have journeyed from the murky Amazon to restaurants in cities from Houston to Paris. The low-fat, mercury-free white fish may soon be available at select U.S. grocery stores.

Paiche, which at up to 220 pounds (100 kgs)is one of the world's largest fish, fed spear-fishing indigenous peoples for centuries. But their numbers dwindled when nets were introduced in the Amazon and the region's cities grew and developed.

Amazone, a company backed by Peruvian mining and cement conglomerate the Hochschild Group, hopes to save the species from extinction by breeding organic, farm-raised fish for export and releasing some back into the wild.

"What really got me most interested was the effort to try to control the commercial fishing of an endangered species," said Jose Duarte, chef at the Italian Peruvian restaurant Taranta in Boston, Mass.

"It's a really good fish ... it's almost like a sea bass with a better texture," said Duarte, who was preparing a daily special of pan-seared Paiche with panca peppers and scalloped potatoes.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has listed Chilean sea bass, also known as Patagonian toothfish, as a fish to avoid because of unsustainable fishing practices and potentially high levels of mercury.

Amazone is not yet profitable. It expects to export $3 million worth of frozen Paiche this year, up from $500,000 sold in 2011, when the fish first hit global markets.   Continued...