Divers and Fish

Prasanna Weerakkody firefish at sltnet.lk
Thu Nov 1 22:28:57 EST 2001

Firstly I apologize that I have still not been able to visit all the
suggested Web sites as Internet access is not as proliferate as it should be
down here as yet. but I promise I shall check them out shortly, in the mean
while I hope you would bear with me.  
I do by no means insinuate that the Aquarium trade is "the main reason " for
reef degradation. (CO2 emissions do a better job than that anyway) but it is
still among the major reef problems list. I take it up not because the
Aquarium trade is an easy dog to kick as Mike suggests(far from it- the
local exporters have a strong political lobby that makes it one of the most
difficult issues to bring under management). and besides the Aquarium trade
we are having a better luck keeping the "bigger dogs" at bay (we blocked the
second biggest port development in the country from materializing on top of
a major reef after fighting for a decade in addition to many other issues).
I spend most of my time in reef restoration not in hounding the aquarium trade.

Mike said..
"Done right, marine fish harvesting can have very little impact (i.e. via net)
Obviously, there needs to be some control there. If a species is
in decline, the exporters need to tell the collectors that they
do not want the fish, and to not buy them either. It is because
this is not done that there are problems."

Most aquarists are selective of Cyanide caught fishes, But as you suggest
mainly due the specimens that arrive at the aquarium being far from healthy.
We do not have Cyanide fishing in Sri Lanka and our exporters make this a
point to say that they are conscious. But what they fail to say is that
instead; they have a net fondly referred to as the " Moxy net". to put a
long story briefly; in operation this net has a effect similar to a small
blast of dynamite on the reef. No not all nets are benign, specially when
operated by untrained divers. And secondly I hope to take your suggestion
for control few steps further. The driving force in the whole chain of
events is the Aquarist. and If as you say they are concerned you should be
the motivating force for control as well. don't leave the responsibility to
the exporter. they are only interested in your money. So let it be a trickle
down of a demand for responsibility that starts from the aquarists telling
the pet shops -> who tell the exporters -> who would then have no option but
to regularize the collectors.

Fautin brings up a very important issue. In fact my main lobbying for local
trade control has been with the trade in Invertebrates. comparatively they
do not show the levels of population resilience that you would see in
"Fish". (I used the term collectively). I can just bring in two local
examples. firstly the large Anemones(Heteractis, Stichodactyla etc.); during
the early 1980's we used to see the larger varieties regularly, and
gradually disappearing following the pattern of the spread of Aquarium
collector on the coastline. Two decades since there are NO (ZERO) large
Anemones in any of the 'coastal reefs' in the area where I work. The
collectors are chasing them deeper and deeper and in to un-explored reefs.
But the populations have failed to return.  A second case in point was the
Slate pencil urchin (Heterocentrotus sp.) a common species on reefs which
was decimated due to a focussed collection sometime around 1986. The species
only returned to the reefs in 1999 where a recruitment event finally
occurred.  I can  add to the list but this would suffice.  Similarly with
the Obligate corallivours what we call the "Cut flower" species... Species
that like a flower cut from the plant is still beautiful but will soon
wither-away and die.

I think this thread is moving in a very constructive direction. Many of the
most Aquarium trade related issues and myths are coming out into discussion.
and I hope will lead to a better outcome and shift in thinking and practice.

Let me cap.. correct me if I am wrong please.
1. The aquarium trade has come a long way and there are successes in
breeding tropical marines... But it will be a long long time till when we
see enough sureness to make a difference to the numbers collected from the wild.

2. It is not realistic to expect the Aquarists will voluntarily pay double
or treble for a captive bred fish when you can get a wild caught for far
cheaper. So the wild collection will continue.  

3. And while I would fully agree that there are expert Aquarists who would
not need many fish to keep an aquarium going; to Exporters skilled enough to
reduce transit mortality to almost nil; to Ace collectors who would catch
anything on a reef with a hand net without any damage to coral... This is
only the minority. The mass is untrained and lack skills needed. They make
up the problem. They are the "Pit" that drains the system.   There need to
be a system of regulation and training at all levels and may be an
introduction of a permit system based on skill and training that says who
can do what.(expanding on John's comments)

4. Despite all that you do there, the effects of the trade on the reef
continue unabated. The connection is not there... and We will continue
picking up the pieces.

What else??

All said and done the trade has become a part of the lifestyle of the
coastal comunities. this cannot be changed overnight. the wellbeing of the
population is important to ensuring the survival of the  reef. The trade
need not Go. just be more responsible, managed and skilled.



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