"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

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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, 


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