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These giant Amazonian fish might be changing the fashion industry forever

These fish grow to nearly 10 feet in length

Pirarucu fish leather

Photo Credit: iStock

A circular approach to fishing is breathing new life into the Amazon and making some very stylish handbags in the process. It's all thanks to one extremely long fish — the pirarucu. 

How have fish skins transformed a community in the Amazon?

Pirarucu is a type of fish commonly caught and eaten by locals in the Amazon, as well as an increasing amount of people across Brazil. These fish grow to nearly 10 feet in length, and the popularity of their meat was gradually making them extinct, according to the Associated Press

To fight that trend, Brazil's government started cracking down on overfishing, reducing catches by 70% in certain areas. The new laws have allowed pirarucu populations to climb yet again.

While local communities eat the meat, skin, and as much of the rest of the fish as possible, large slaughterhouses typically discard the skin as waste. That's where Eduardo Filgueiras comes in.

Arapaima Sudis gigas, also known as the pirarucu.
Photo Credit: iStock

Filgueiras, whose family owned a local toad-skinning business, began setting up his own pirarucu tannery, stringing together leftover fish skins to create leather that is now used in bags, shoes, and cowboy boots across the United States. The tannery, named Nova Kaeru, processes about 50,000 skins a year from legally-caught pirarucu and arapaima, another massive rainforest fish. 

How does pirarucu leather help local communities?

As the AP reported, Filgueiras reached out to local communities to create a network for obtaining more skins, growing to include 280 communities, many of them Indigenous groups living in protected rainforest areas. 

This adds more income to the local economy while wasting as little of the fish as possible. Nova Kaeru's circular approach to fishing is a more sustainable way to create leather, as it avoids the need for extra cattle farms that already take up valuable space in the Amazon.

According to the AP, the Association of Rural Producers of Carauari sells each skin for $37, a large sum in a country where the minimum wage is around $250 per month. Much of these earnings go to the employees, who receive $1.60 per 2.2 pounds of fish. 

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