Arapaima are not native to Florida and are regulated as a Conditional species. Permits to possess live arapaima will only be issued to qualifying entities for research, commercial import/export business and public exhibition. Permits will not be issued for private exhibition or as personal pets. Current regulations allow aquaculture facilities with a valid Aquaculture Certificate with Restricted Species Authorization issued by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to raise arapaima only for food.
The arapaima, Arapaima gigas (Arapaimidae), is among the largest known freshwater fish species with sizes up to 14 feet and 440 pounds. They have a streamlined, oval shape with a large, flattened head. The body is covered by very large scales that are generally gray to gray green in color but many scales towards the tail have red markings.
Arapaima are obligate air breathers, meaning they need to surface to breathe every 10-20 minutes. They usually make a large surface disturbance when they breathe and frequently make a loud noise when they capture prey at the surface. Arapaima are capable of surviving in stagnant waterbodies with low dissolved oxygen and a wide range of aquatic habitats.
In their native range, arapaima occur in the large rivers surrounded by tropical forest. Within these areas, they typically are found in floodplain lakes and slow-moving waters. Rising water levels trigger spawning in these areas in the wild but under captive conditions they can spawn in ponds with stable water levels and high amounts of food. Arapaima can spawn at 4-5 years of age and 45 inches in length for males and 57 inches for females. A female can lay 10,000 to 20,000 eggs in a nest dug in sandy sediments and males will protect the young for up to three months.
Arapaima grow rapidly and can reach 3 feet and 20 pounds in their first year and five feet and 90 pounds by their fourth year.
Arapaima are sensitive to cold water temperatures and die if it drops below 61oF. This would limit their potential Florida range to the southeast region of the state.
Arapaima primarily prey on crustaceans and fish. However, this predator is opportunistic and may consume a variety of invertebrate and vertebrate species due to their large mouth size. They have been known to leap out of the water to capture prey in their native range.
Arapaima are native to South America, in the floodplains of the Amazon River basin, and in parts of Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Guyana and Peru.
Although there have been several reports of adult arapaima reported from the wild in southwest Florida, there is no indication that they are reproducing in Florida.
Arapaima will prey on native species of freshwater fish and due to their size, could consume all but the largest individual fish. Their diet could include freshwater gamefish including largemouth bass, butterfly peacock and common snook. Their ability to breathe air could allow them to occupy a wide variety of aquatic habitats in south Florida.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I see an arapaima?
Due to the arapaima’s need to breathe air, they usually make a large, noticeable surface disturbance every 10 to 20 minutes. They may also make a loud noise and disturbance when feeding near the surface. The FWC encourages people that see or hear these types of disturbances to report these sightings. If you catch an arapaima, do not release it! Arapaima are good to eat and mild tasting. Anglers are asked to catch, keep, and eat arapaima as a management tool to control this nonnative fish. The FWC does not require a special permit to catch and harvest this species but an angler must have a valid freshwater fishing license unless exempt. If caught, the arapaima should be immediately placed on ice or humanely killed. If you see or catch an arapaima, you can help by taking a picture, noting the location, and reporting this information to the FWC by using the free IveGot1 mobile app, calling 1-888-IVE-GOT1 (888-483-4681), or by reporting online at IveGot1.org.
Hill, J. E. 2013. Risk Screen of Arapaima Arapaima gigas for Florida. Final report submitted to the Exotic Species Coordination Section, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 39 pp.