"Destructive fishing practices: Asia's growing curse"
Coral Health and Monitoring Program
coral at aoml.noaa.gov
Wed Sep 11 09:38:56 EDT 1996
---------- Forwarded message ----------
-------------------------- [Original Message] -------------------------
Original Message date: 9/3/96 3:07 PM
Original from: owner-seas-alert at panda.org@NOAA
http://www.panda.org -- WWF Global Network Update
Destructive fishing practices: Asia's growing curse
By Someshwar Singh*
Gland, Switzerland: Appearances can be deceptive. Who would have believed
that the enchanting fish shimmering their way through aquariums actually
bespeak an unfortunate tale of plunder and ruin. Or that the delectable
reef fish that end up on gourmet tables across the world spell certain
ecological disaster. The fact is that the cancer of dynamite and cyanide
fishing is spreading relentlessly in the coastal regions of South-East
Asia and the Asia Pacific waters.
Coral reefs become the first casualties as they are blasted into rubble by
dynamite fishing, or are left intact but dead by cyanide poisoning. Even
the spectacular coral reefs of the disputed Spratley Islands have not been
spared. They are today referred to as "skeleton" reefs on account of the
blast-damage suffered in recent years.
Over 30 per cent of the world's coral reefs are found in South-East Asia
alone. The reef flora and fauna of the Indo-Pacific region are
particularly rich, abounding with about 500 coral species and 2000 fish
species. The most diverse reefs lie in the area bounded by northern
Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, where a single reef
may have as many as 3000 different species. Indonesia, with its 81,000
square kilometres of coastline and over 17,000 islands, is of critical
importance as the centre of coral reef ecosystem biodiversity.
But these are under severe threat now. Spurred by quick bucks, fisherfolk
in South-East Asia are wreaking havoc on coral reef systems to catch fish
for the aquarium trade and for food. Rising demand has encouraged
unscrupulous traders to use often illegally-obtained sodium cyanide,
chlorine, liquid surfactant, and explosives to harvest reef fish. Even
though the use of cyanide may be illegal, as it is in the Philippines, it
has not really prevented fishermen and traders from using it.
Earlier, marine reef fish were harvested by hand-held butterfly-type nets
that were selective and not damaging to the environment. Today, however,
fisherfolk are resorting to the more effective technique of cyanide
poisoning. Dissolved in quart-sized plastic containers, sodium cyanide is
used to stun hard-to-catch reef fish that seek cover in coral holes and
crevices. The milky fluid causes the fish to lose their equilibrium, swim
in crazy loops out of their coral refuge, and become easy targets.
The use of dynamite, on the other hand, actually kills most of the
impacted fish so that they are used mainly for food. The supply of
explosives does not appear to be a problem with fishermen sometimes
actually retrieving unexploded bombs from the Second World War.
Unfortunately, the growing international demand for reef fish has only
given a spurt to these disastrous practices. The aquarium trade caters to
the pet industry in North America and Europe while reef fish is a delicacy
among the increasingly rich Asian populations with a taste for seafood.
The current boom in live fish commerce in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other
centres of Chinese prosperity has only aggravated the problem.
In the Philippines alone, over 6,000 cyanide divers squirt an estimated
150,000 kg of dissolved poison on some 33 million coral heads annually.
During the first eight months of 1995, a catch of 2.3 million kg of live
groupers and humphead wrasses worth over US$180 million were exported to
Hong Kong and Taiwan. Another 1.9 million kg of decorative fishes worth
US$800,000 were shipped to Europe and North America.
In Indonesia, there has been a proliferation of cyanide in local fisheries
in Irian Jaya and Sulawesi, areas that are rich in global marine
biodiversity. Misuse of cyanide in local fisheries is also spreading in
Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, the Maldives, Solomon Islands and other
Pacific coastal states.
The impact of destructive fishing activities extends beyond merely the
health of target species. Entire reef systems in the Pacific, the Indian
Ocean, the Red Sea, and the Caribbean are endangered. The Mediterranean
region, particularly Greece and Turkey, are likewise plagued by the use of
explosives in fishing. In Greece, although dynamite fishing is illegal, it
is difficult to crack down on the dubious dynamite supplies circuit. When
used inside closed protected bays, explosives cause intense damage as they
kill even juveniles in the spawning grounds. Among the Mediterranean
species thus affected are the red snapper (Dentex dentex) and the sea
bream (Oblada melanura).
There is obviously much at a stake, making it imperative to find a
solution quickly. "Alternatives to the use of cyanide need to be promoted
urgently," says Carel Drijver, Manager, Development Cooperation at
WWF-Netherlands. "We would like to see the market and trade in reef fish
put on a sustainable path. But that cannot happen unless the extremely
harmful fishing practices are changed. Without coral reefs, their spawning
ground, reef fishes have a bleak future."
WWF has been trying actively to reverse this threat. It has been involved
in coral reef protection in the South-East Asian region, and now plans to
launch a major policy initiative that will focus on the international
dimension of the dynamite and cyanide fishery in Indonesia. The objective
is to get fishermen to use alternative, more sustainable, fishing
techniques. WWF is also coordinating its effort by pooling together its
expertise from the trade monitoring offices in the region and its networks
in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Partnerships have been forged in
particular with the International Marinelife Alliance in the Philippines
and the Nature Conservancy.
Education and awareness are the key to the problem and need to be spread
not only among fishermen actually engaged in cyanide and dynamite fishing,
but other connected sectors like the fisheries trade and industry. Without
that, there is little hope for the dying 'rainforests of the sea'.
*Someshwar Singh is a Press Officer at WWF-International in Gland,
More information about the Coral-list-old