Cyanide And Dynamite Fishing

Coral Health and Monitoring Program coral at
Tue Dec 3 10:49:59 EST 1996

---------- Forwarded message ---------- 
Date: Tue, 03 Dec 1996 18:31:09 +1100 
From: michael aw <oneocean at> 
To: hendee at 
Subject: (no subject) 

Cyanide And Dynamite Fishing - Who's really responsible? 
By Michael AW 

The coral reefs in the Asia Pacific islands are under siege by coastal 
dwellers using cyanide and dynamite to procure fish.  This practice has 
been a vehemently condemned by conservation agencies , scuba diving 
magazines, dive resorts, NGOs (non governmental organizations) and marine 
scientists as well as all that have their vested interest in the coral 
reef environment. If the practice continues, it is estimated by the year 
2020, all coral reefs in the region will be destroyed. 

Spurred by quick bucks and the demand of aquariums and a live fish trade 
supplying restaurants throughout the region, unscrupulous traders employ 
agents / locals to harvest reef fishes with sodium cyanide. According to 
reports from the WWF, over 6000 cyanide divers squirt an estimated 150,000 
kg of dissolved poison on some 33 million coral heads annually. Beside the 
distinct possibility of causing the extinction of these fish species in 
the region by such a selective culling process , cyanide is not selective. 
It also indiscriminately kills coral polyps, symbiotic algae and other 
small reef organisms required for the sustenance of a healthy reef, which 
will eventually cause the entire ecosystem of the reef to collapse. During 
the first eight months of 1995, a total catch of 2.3 million kg of live 
groupers and humped wrasse worth over US$180 million was exported to Hong 
Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. Another 1.9 million kg of decorative fishes 
worth US$800,000 was shipped to Europe and North America. 

During Ocean N Environment expeditions to Indonesia, I have come to 
encounter these raiders of the reef. Collectors who expose their life to 
the risk of cyanide poisoning and decompression sickness due to extended 
exposure under pressure.  They comprise solely of boys from local tribes 
and sea gypsies. From small collection centres scattered among remote 
islands, each of these outposts gathers an average of 250 tons of Napoleon 
wrasse and grouper to meet the demand of their middleman in the principal 
towns of Ujung Pandang and Manado.  This selective culling of a specie 
that may live up to 50 years in the wild is considered totally 
unsustainable by marine scientists. In the short term however, a dinner 
plate sized Napoleon wrasse which may fetch up to US$800 in a Chinese 
restaurant in Hong Kong, makes good business acumen for the entrepreneur. 
Gourmet diners in Hong Kong are willing to part with thousands of dollars 
for a live fish and will go as far as checking out the freshness of their 
dinner by viewing swathes of flesh skillfully removed to show the fish's 
beating heart. 

Millions of dollars are invested by numerous environmental agencies mostly 
donated by the concerned public and corporate sponsors, to research, 
educate and 'retrain' fisherman to use other forms and methods of fishing. 
One of these organizations, Haribon Foundation for Conservation of Natural 
Resources, a leading Philippines NGO has as early as 1990 began a 
realistic effort to educate local fisherman on the sustainable development 
of the reef environment by protective netting and methods of collection. 
Coral Reef Alliance, another conservation agency for the reef, is also 
promoting retraining as a solution to the cyanide problems. 

However, on the other end of the scale, the simple principal of marketing 
still applies. Whenever there is a demand, someone out there will be 
sourcing for supply. In Asian culture, consumption of a Napoleon wrasse is 
not simply a dietary concern, but the status of being able to afford the 
luxury - to many it is a sign of wealth and status symbol.  The South East 
Asian counties have undoubtedly become a financial power, where a 
gastronomical feast of Napoleon wrasse and the 'thousand-dollar-a-bowl 
shark-fin soup mark a successful business transaction. In this regard, the 
demand for these delicacies is indeed a serious threat to the marine 

All governments in the South East Asian countries have excellent laws that 
declare fishing with both cyanide and dynamite illegal, but implementation 
and enforcement are two separate issues altogether.  Governments in these 
countries can do nothing to restrict the dietary habits of their own 
citizens nor a business venture that engages in cyanide fishing by say a 
Singaporean in Sulawesi, Indonesia for example.  In a hypothetical 
situation, the obvious solution that would inevitably cause the cyanide 
fishing industry to collapse is for the governments of Singapore, 
Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and even Australia to impose bans on 
the sale of live Napoleon Wrasse and grouper.  If the aquarium trade for 
ornamental fishes in the USA is causing the degradation of reefs in the 
Philippines, then ban the tropical fish vendors in that country. Without 
the demand, there will no call for supply. 

In the real world, this is not as simple. When I checked with Dr. Howard 
Latin, an international conservation law professor from New Jersey, on the 
possibility of a ban on the sale of live Napoleon wrasse,, his immediate 
comment was "since the markets for live groupers & Napoleon Wrasse are 
mainly in Asian countries without strong environmental laws, my analysis 
wouldn't work and we'd need to find more economical disincentive measures 
such as boycotts, information disclosure, etc." 

Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore have a long history of 
allowing  trade in endangered species  and it will be  unrealistic to 
these importing nations to restrain the businessmen and consumers who 
to have these "luxury" fish for  consumption.  Take  Singapore for 
world renown for law enforcement on its bans on everything from illegal 
drugs to chewing gum - imposing effective controls would mean the demand 
some  cyanide free  import certificates from merchants and random 
testing of 
live  fish -  the cost  and legalities of which may well offend 
nations, does not justify  the benefits.  Singapore does not have much 
her own coral reef resources. 

In another context,  what can these governments offer the poor fishermen 
are making 
considerably higher wages (at the risk of their lives and health) using 
cyanide to catch a few species in high demand?  Take Indonesia as an 
example.  This nation is an archipelago comprised of over 170000 
with a population of over 190 million - a high percentage of these 
live by and are sustained by the sea and aid is next to non -existent. 
our expedition to Tukang Besi,  thought to be one of the few remaining 
untouched coral reef environments  we found obvious evidence of 
dynamite  fishing used for the collection of fish to  feed the people of 
it's overpopulated  water villages. 

 A spokesman of Operation Wallacea,  told me that they have received 
2million US dollars  in aid from Hong Kong  Bank for their research 
at Tukang Besi. The operation is charging volunteers up to $3000 to help 
them document  the bio-diversity there  in an effort to declare the area 
marine reserve. Despite all the good intentions, the crux of the 
has not been addressed. There are simply too many people , and these 
need to live.  Wouldn't it be much better  to spend the 2 million 
either relocating these people or  to help them  develop a form of 
sustainable aqua culture ? In a nut shell, if we were to focus our 
effort on 
feeding these people that are practicing dynamite and cyanide fishing, 
providing them with  resources and skills to improve their quality of 
wouldn't  they help us save our reef? The question I posed at my recent 
presentation on the environment at DEMA Asia in Kuala Lumpur is "What 
businesses that profit from the pristineness of coral reefs done for 
people whose  livelihood has been sustained by the reef's resources?" 

The messages scuba and geographical magazines, instruction agencies, 
and live-aboard vessels promote are environmentally friendly - 'don't 
the reef, don't take anything' . The new breed of divers are a conscious 
lot. Most divers do little damage to coral reefs,  don't remove shells 
frown on those who do.  One afternoon last year, while on Bunaken island 
with a group of divers from Australia ,we  were approached by a young 
barely eight years old, carrying a basket of shells to sell.  She did 
yield a response from any of us.  My point  to this is simple - while 
of us must have paid up to US$150 per day for the privilege of diving in 
this girl's  'backyard', she did not  reap a single cent - while  her 
was probably out in an outrigger canoe  waiting to bring  in their next 

As  long as  there are poverty stricken people that are sustained by the 
and as long as there is demand by the rich and wealthy for 'luxury' 
dynamite and cyanide will continue to send our coral reef to 
degradation.  We are not ruling out the prospect of having Napoleon 
banned from the restaurants of Asia - Pacific countries, but the 
and responsible divers need to take a closer look at their contribution 
the problems.  I cite Goodwin's (1996)definition of ecotourism to 
my point, as most operators in the diving  businesses believe that they 
provide. " low impact nature tourism which contributes to the 
maintenance of 
species and habitats either directly through a contribution to 
and/or indirectly by providing revenue to the local community sufficient 
local people to value, and therefore protect their wildlife heritage 
area as 
a source of income.  To this end I have  not seen many such 
contributions by 
either operators or participants,  in my last six years of extensive 
If every operator in the region would start by adopting a village or 
community near their operation, providing them with education and a 
of income, it shall be a positive start to eliminating  dynamite and 
off  our coral reefs. A boycott by every diver and their friends in Asia 
from restaurants that serve shark-fin soup and live Napoleon wrasse will 
also create headlines with the news media.  The preservation of the 
of our coral reefs is more than just wearing a Save the Reef  T-shirt or 
sticking a "Responsible Diver" sticker on the family car. 

Michael AW 

Life's hard 
The Ocean is Our Playground! 

Note our new email address: oneocean at 
Michael AW of 
Ocean N Environment Ltd 
P.O. Box 2138, Carlingford Court Post Office 
Carlingford NSW 2118, Australia 
Tel / Fax: 61 2 9 686 36 88 also 9686 6838 
Mobile: 61 (0) 418 203 238 
email: oneocean at 

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