Mystery surrounds thousands of dead fish in a Paraguay river

Photo of the Confuso river, which is near the town of Villa Hayes, Paraguay, on October 13. (Photo: Dalila Arce)
Photo of the Confuso river, which is near the town of Villa Hayes, Paraguay, on October 13. (Photo: Dalila Arce)


Residents of Villa Hayes, a town in southern Paraguay, realised with horror last week that the river Confuso – which crosses through their town – had turned into a fish graveyard. Our Observer says she thinks that factories located upstream have been dumping chemicals into the river.

Friday the 13th lived up to its reputation for bad luck in Villa Hayes, Paraguay, when residents woke to see thousands of dead fish floating belly-up on the Confuso river. They quickly took to social media to demand that authorities investigate these mysterious deaths.

Dalila Arce, 25, was born and raised in Villa Hayes. Arce was one of the first people to post a series of photos and videos of the river with dozens of dead fish floating in brownish water.

“We are finding all different kinds of fish,” she says in one of the videos she posted.

“There are tanneries located upstream of our town and they use many different chemicals”

Arce wants the authorities to take the problem seriously to avoid another such disaster.


On Thursday October 12, local fisherman began to notice that the fish were coming up close to the river banks, as if they were looking for oxygen. The next day, I went down to the river myself and the fish were already all dead, floating belly-up on the surface.

Some of the other locals and I quickly started taking pictures and posting them on social media to pressure the authorities to act. It worked. The very next day, city officials came down to the river with officials from SEAM [Editor’s note: The Paraguayan Secretariat of the Environment].

It’s not the first time that we’ve found dead fish in the water and suspected that the water had been contaminated. But we’ve never seen such a massacre. Over the past few days, we’ve seen thousands of dead fish.

It is very likely that some of them are dumping used chemical products into the river. I suspect that the tanneries have something to do with it because they use all sorts of products to treat animal hide and turn it into leather [Editor’s note: To create leather, animal hide is first washed with powerful additives and then cleaned, scrubbed and tinted]. We think that the municipality isn’t really regulating these businesses properly.

This pollution has definitely affected local people. There are some fishermen who work in this area who have had to halt their activities. The families who depend on water from the Confuso River to water their crops and livestock are also in a tough spot.

I have joined forces with a small group of locals to denounce this environmental crime. We want authorities to find out who is responsible and punish them. We also want the city to put a real environmental policy in place.

I also think that the factories located upstream should be closed temporarily while we figure out the reasons behind the mass deaths of these fish.

The current situation is becoming unbearable. With the heat, the dead fish are decomposing and the odour is nauseating. The river desperately needs to be cleaned.

An ongoing investigation

When contacted by FRANCE 24, the Paraguayan Secretariat of the Environment confirmed that an investigation was ongoing and that some tests had already been carried out.

José Silvério, the director of water resources, said that the initial results show that the fish died due to a lack of oxygen in the water.

"We suspect that someone illegally dumped chemicals into the water,” he said, while adding that, for the time being, it wasn’t possible to identify those responsible.

"It could be one of the factories located upstream but we need to be careful because it could also be an individual or even a truck that pulled up and dumped something into the river,” Silvério told FRANCE 24. "This is proof that cities need to work in cooperation with environmental authorities to prevent risks and make sure that environmental laws are being respected.”