Divers and Fish

Mike Risk riskmj at mcmail.cis.mcmaster.ca
Fri Nov 2 17:47:38 EST 2001

I would like to support Prasanna's viewpoint here. It is excessively naive
for those in the aquarium trade to claim that their industry:
    -has little impact (when done properly)
    -somehow converts citizens into reef advocates.

It is precisely these arguments that have been used to support "selective"
harvesting of tropical hardwoods. The present aquarium live trade, in both
fish and inverts, is not sustainable.

We recently, and much too soon, lost one of the giants in this field, Don
McAllister. About 20 years ago, Don was involved in the Netsman Project, in
the Philippines. (This is a long story, one that others know far better than
I, but involves the "discovery" that potassium cyanide, used in open-pile
leaching of gold ore, would also stun and kill fish.) In the Netsman
Project, Don and co-workers tried to wean villagers off cyanide-fishing for
ornamentals by teaching them how to snorkel, and how to use nets to select
fish. The hand-net method proved as effective as large-scale use of cyanide,
because post-harvest mortality drops from 80% to close to zero.

In the end, however, the Netsman Project had only limited impact. The entire
aquarium distribution system was vertically integrated: the same thugs that
sold the cyanide also bought the fish. Threats were uttered, thugs visited
Netsman villages, yadda yadda. But the findings remain valid-use of handnets
(NOT Moxy nets) by trained locals is more effective than use of cyanide.

Passing laws will not work. These people have to live, and they will feed
their families by the best means available. There are some steps that may

In the COREMAP reports that I and others prepared for Indonesia (hmmm. 6
years ago?), we outline a certification program, based on similar programs
for lumber export. Legally, then, only certified fish may be exported. (Yes,
I know all about corrupt governments and bribes-but you have to start

Those same reports outline possible synergy in reef management schemes. We
all know how high is the mortality rate in reef fish: let's say 99.99%. If
we could devise methods that would convert that to 99.98%, and export 0.01%,
would that not be a win-win situation?

All over the tropics, artificial reefs are being emplaced to enhance reef
recovery. (I note with frustration that these efforts are never coordinated
with programs to reduce land-based sources of pollution-but that's another
story.) We seem, thankfully, to be moving away from sinking warships and old
cars and pedicabs and other urban jetsam, and moving to the use of precast
concrete. You can mould just about any texture you want into that concrete,
and we know that the larvae of many reef fish are selectively thigmotactic.
Here is a wonderful field of applied research for the larval fish crowd-how
to enhance settlement of economically valuable reef fish, so that local
villagers may sustainably harvest them. Again, this is outlined in the
COREMAP reports, along with some economic guesstimates. Inverts may be
harder, because often less is known of their biology and MSY. On the other
hand, our Indonesia project set up a handy little money-spinner for a couple
of coastal villages: they sell "live rock", for which there is a market.
"Live rock" is pieces of rock with cute inverts on them-serpulids,
zoanthids, anemones. As we are all aware, of course, to convert dead rock
into live rock, chuck some rubble into the right area and wait a year.
Profit margins are not as high, but there is not a whole lot of work

The highest incremental rate of return on investment of all the reef
"interventions" we gamed was coral farming. NOT by breaking nubbins off live
colonies (this practice should be avoided-it's the slipperiest of slippery
slopes) but by using settling plates, made of unglazed tile, with your logo
here ("Mike's Green Corals"). These are then inspected monthly (coral
spawning in the core
tropics is usually monthly), undesirable species paint-scrapered off. Very
low impact, HUGE profits possible. Colonies are also available for local
rehab work. Lots of local jobs.

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