Although Brazil has a seacoast of some 7,400 km (4,600 mi) and excellent fishing grounds off the South Atlantic coast, the nation has never fully utilized its commercial potential. Traditionally, fishing has been carried on by small groups of individual fishermen using primitive techniques and equipment and seldom venturing out of sight of land. Lack of storage facilities, canneries, and adequate methods of distribution have limited the supply and led to the importation of dried fish. Swordfish is caught in large quantities off the coast of Paraíba and Rio Grande do Norte, and shrimp is caught and dried along the coasts of Maranhão, Ceará, and Bahia. The fish resources of the Amazon River are not exploited, except for the commercial processing of the pirarucú and an aquatic mammal, the sea cow. The annual fish catch is so modest that there has traditionally been a scandalous scarcity during Holy Week, about the only time when Brazilians eat much fish. The total catch in 2000 was 693,740 tons. Exports of fish products were valued at $239.1 million in 2000. Small quantities of lobster are exported.
A fisheries development agency was established in the early 1970s to exploit Brazil's coastal potential. The discovery of large quantities of tuna off the coast of Rio Grande do Sul has interested foreign fishing companies, and Japanese and US concerns have obtained the right to fish in Brazilian waters and to establish storage and canning facilities. Normally, foreign fishing rights are reserved to the Portuguese. Aquacultural production consists primarily of carp and tilapia.