One of today’s sessions at ICRS 2012 was of particular interest to reefkeepers; entitled Reefonomics, this session looked at the trade in live fish covering both the growing demand for live reef fish for the restaurants of China and at the trade in fish and corals for the ornamental sector, the reef aquarium industry.
Dr Liz Wood of the UK’s Marine Conservation Society gave the presentation that concentrated on the aquarium industry, focusing on the issues of biological sustainability along with those of equity and fair trade.
The issues here include
- The importance of monitoring and managing aquarium fisheries to ensure sustainability.
- Although there is currently no evidence of any species collected for the marine ornamental trade being at risk of global extinction, there is evidence of local depletions. Intensity of collection, the population size and the biological characteristics of the species concerned.
- Over-harvesting of target species may have ‘trickle-down’ effects on reef ecology and needs monitoring
- The continuing use of cyanide in the capture of aquarium fish is still a significant problem. This is a toxic chemical that indiscriminately kills other reef organisms, including corals, and can cause long-term damage to target fish, causing later mortalities.
- Post-harvest mortalities i.e. significant losses occurring due to stress, poor handling, and disease, especially in areas where journey times are long.
Equity and fair trade issues
The aquarium market is considered to be low volume but high value, with the potential to support livelihoods and provide economic stability for low-income coastal communities, but in areas such as Indonesia and the Philippines where middlemen are involved the prices paid to fishers are very low. (For more on the subject of low prices paid to fishers, see: The Fisherman & his wife – a true story from Serangan, Bali)
The solutions suggested include:
- Limiting fishing effort by regulating and licensing the number of collectors.
- Ensuring that vulnerable species are not over-exploited by establishing quotas.
- Applying ‘zero catch quotas’ to protect rare or vulnerable species.
The presentation concluded by suggesting a number of actions that could improve management and conservation of resources:
- Collaboration between management authorities, scientists, and aquarium fishers to investigate resources in collecting areas and produce mutually agreed quotas, especially for vulnerable species.
- Use of fishery logbooks to record species and numbers of individuals caught, collecting areas, and time spent collecting.
- Regulation of collecting effort by licensing and restricting the number of collectors.
- Designation of no-take areas to help conserve stocks and to act as control sites to compare with areas where collecting occurs.
- Cessation of trade in species that are known to have poor chances of survival until such time as husbandry problems have been solved.
- Concerted efforts to eradicate use of cyanide. There is a newly developed cyanide test that may prove to be a significant help.
- Introduction of mandatory minimum standards of handling and welfare and appropriate training and inspection schemes at all stages.
- Development of mariculture in countries of origin to relieve pressure on wild stocks.
- Certification to help promote sustainable fisheries and good practice.
Abridged and adapted from Fact Sheet for Marine Aquarium fisheries and trade by Elizabeth Wood. To see the full sheet click here.
There is nothing in this presentation that I take issue with, indeed I find myself in full agreement with the content and would perhaps go a little further in wanting to introduce mandatory minimum standards of handling and welfare along with appropriate training and inspection schemes for retailers in the importing countries.
A brief comment on the point about cessation of trade in species that are ‘known to have poor chances of survival, until such time as husbandry problems have been solved’. I would favour a restriction on export, not a ban, otherwise advanced aquarists will not have the opportunity to develop the husbandry protocols required for the successful maintenance of these species.
I welcome comments regarding the issues covered here.