Dr Steve Oakley soakley at
Mon Dec 9 06:17:44 EST 1996

        I have just caught up with the thread on Cyanide and Dynamite and 
the live fish trade.  I have just returned from a South East Asia regional 
workshop on just that.  Some of the observations and information are 
relevant to anyone who cares about the state of our coral reefs.  Please let 
me share my thoughts and observations and since this is wide ranging please 
reply to the whole list (coral-list or Fish ecology) unless your comment is 
directed only to me personally. 

The workshop on aquaculture of coral fishes and sustainable reef fisheries 
was held in Kota Kinabalu and ended on Saturday 7th Dec.  Representatives 
were there from fisheries, aquaculture, conservation and the live fish 
trade.  The organisers and sponsors did a great job and for that I thank them. 

Some of the important points that came out of talks, discussion and workshop 
sessions were as follows,   these are my impression only and I do not want 
to represent anyone else.  I hope that there is someone out there who thinks 
this is wrong,  more positive news would be nice. 

1 Overfishing is the problem 
There is severe overfishing for groupers and humphead wrasse from the 
maldives to west pacific islands, from hongkong down to the Australian 
border.  There are few reefs in the Philipines and Indonesia that have 
viable populations of Humphead wrasse (Mauri Wrasse, Napoleon wrasse), 
while  grouper can only be caught in very deep water. In many areas both are 
locally extinct, on the accessible reefs from local overfishing and on 
remote reefs from the livefish trade.  Spawning populations of groupers and 
wrasse are at great risk, they can be wiped out very quickly.  They are 
being wiped out in Micronesia and even in Australia they are under threat. 

The reefs are under heavy pressure from hook and line and catches have 
declined. If the conventional fishing is difficult,  for instant 
gratification many fishers use Dynamite (actually fertiliser with an 
explosive cap plus a fuse).  They generally know how destructive this is but 
it also gives them good catches... for a while!    

The live fish trade for food fish uses cyanide as a stunning agent and the 
fishers use it only when there is a mechanism to get the fish to market. 
There is also some use of cyanide for food fish to supply the local market. 
However the fishers know how poisonous this is so for food they generally 
stick to the less destructive dynamite.  Cyanide for live fish is usually 
used in squeezy bottle quantities but it definitely kills the surrounding 
corals, there are many reefs which have not been dyanamited so are 
structurally intact but are completely dead. 
Cyanide is also occasionally used for food fish (not Live) in 45gallon oil 
drum quantities, and spread across the whole reef. 

There is a social aspect to cyanide use as well as the fisheries aspect, 
there are many decompression accidents and crippled divers, 60m plus on air 
by poor young untrained philipinos often using compressors lubricated with 
engine oil not silicone.  Silicone oil is expensive!!  Plus the risk of 
cyanide poisoning from the daily handling!! 

2  Aquaculture is a solution but not yet 
some species of grouper can be cultured in good numbers but not the most 
popular, estimates range from 3-10 years to close the cycle.  There has been 
lots of work but survival rates below 8% and disease and other problems occur. 
Wild fry are caught in large numbers to supply fish farms and this is a 
problem but without the aquaculture there will be even greater pressure on 
the wild. And at least aquaculture doesn't use cyanide! 
There is hope  in the form of new capture techniques to  catch the fry at 
younger ages at which point their natural mortaility is so high that removal 
from the population to aquaculture would be much less significant. 

The humphead wrasse Cheilinus undulatus is the most prefered species 
There is serious ovefishing, it is most popular fish for live fish trade in 
Singapore & Hongkong,  lips sell for $60 per plate, fish sells for $60-90 
per kg  tastes superb so I've been told 
The species is now apparently included in the iucn red data book as 
vulnerable and apparently is being considered for cites,  (can anyone 
confirm these). 
They spawn in aggregations at fixed locations so are very vulnerable then. 
They are big fish, with a sex change from female to male,  sexually mature 
to female at 11kg doesn't get to male before 20kg (approx =75cm). 
None in the phillipines are sexually mature very few reefs in indonesia have 
mature females & few males,  overfished in micronesia, maldives, thailand 
and sri Lanka. 

Regulations exist in most places but enforcement is very difficult. Malaysia 
has banned both cyanide and dynamite but cannot enforce it unless the police 
find the caps in the boat.  Indonesia has banned the capture and export of 
Chelinius but cannot enforce it.  Philippines has set up cyanide detection 
labs and that seems to be working to some extent.   They are a solution for 
any airflown or port exported fish,  There apparently is some good progress 
towards a better test for cyanide. 

Aquaculture of Chelinius is not yet possible, the first report of spawning 
in captivity was this year at the fisheries dept in Indonesia. They had a 
0.01% survival by day 15, the eggs and larvae are very small and therefore 
difficult to rear in hatchery conditions.  There is a strong incentive for 
the hatchery which develops the techniques so there is a lot of interest. 

Aquaculture for less valuable species was well established and hopefully can 
be introduced at the community level as a source of food and a cash crop to 
take some of the pressure from the coral reef ecosystems. 

3  Banning the trade is not the solution 
        The more expensive the fish the greater the showoff value and thus 
banned fish would just make more money for the middle man because they would 
just be smuggled.  It is not possible to control the export and regulating 
of the import is impossible in HongKong until there is a test for cyanide 
caught fish.  Once there is such a test,  some of the the fish will be 
smuggled and the HK fisheries dept will loose it's information on the scale 
of the problem.   40% of the fish only pass through Hong Kong on the way to 
Mainland China, and we cannot realistically expect the rich cantonese to 
stop eating their favorite foods. 

        I don't think I heard any comment that we should ban the live fish 
trade, the fishers need it to make a living.   And if their reefs are given 
a chance to recover then they can catch the prefered fish on hand lines at 
which point the fishery becomes sustainable.  The fishers need to catch less 
because they get paid more.  The Australian GBR example is evidence for 
sustainability. The trade is very valuable but is strictly controlled and 
all capture is done on hook and line. 

4 Aquarium fish 
Banning Aquarium fish is not the solution, becaude it is not the problem. 
On a devastated, dynamited cyanide killed reef aquarium fish can still be 
caught, admittedly only the plankton or algal feeders. The fishermen need to 
eat and if they cannot sell the butterfly's & angels then they will cook 
them!  Further, most aquarium fish are caught without cyanide.  Cyanide 
caught fish die 4-6 weeks after capture and the aquarium industry and many 
concerned aid agencies have worked hard to educate collectors.   Some 
villages which catch aquarium fish are active conservationists, It's their 
livelyhood.   This trade can be made sustainable it only requires education 
so don't anyone suggest that it is wrong until they can suggest an 
alternative form of income. 

5 Marine reserves  
Marine reserves are part of the solution, they can provide larvae and adults 
to heavil;y fished areas and there need to be many more than there are. 
Big & small are both needed but unfortunately policing and enforcement are 
not easy and the only method that really seeems to work is when the villages 
that use the resource are also the reserve protectors.  They need the 
ownership of the fishing rights and with it the responsibility of 
conservation,  the tragedy of the commons has demonstrated that only too well. 

6 Outside Help 
 Outsiders supporting reefs, education, enforcement are all part of the 
solution but the biggest problem is poverty combined with no ownership of 
the resource.  How does a remote village stop a life fish transport vessel 
from using cyanide on it's reefs.  Especially when the LFT pays more than 
the villagers have seen.  That's more pairs of shoes, more T shirts, a 
second hand engine. These are hard to resist and once some of the village 
have accepted then it doesn't matter what the rest do, the LFT will catch 
all the fish it wants and then move on leaving behind a dying reef.   

So what is the solution:  
S1      Yes to more international awareness, more eduction and more support 
from those who have to those who don't.   
S2      We also need to find alternative income for these marginalised 
fishers so that their reefs can recover, here I think we need to promote 
aquaculture at the community level. 
S3      The other pressing need is for governments to release enforcement of 
fishing laws to the resource users. 
S4      And we need to urgently protect and preserve as much of the regions 
reefs as possible especially where the regulations can be enforced. 
S5      and of course we need research because what is known is only the tip 
of the iceberg.  


As I said the observations are mine,  the organisers hope to have the 
proceedings out early next year. 

More details on the live fish trade is available from Carol Fox, Nature 
Conservancy, 1116 Smith St Honolulu, HI 96817 

Contact Rooney Buising for details of the proceedings at  
biusing at 
Rooney Biusing  Fisheries Research Center, 89400 Likas, Kota Kinabalu, 
Tel : 088-717077 (h),425677 (o) 425890 (fax 


Dr. Steve Oakley,  Shell Prof. of environmental Science, Institute of 
Biodiversity & Environmental Conservation,  Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, 
94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, Malaysia  soakley at  Fax  082 
671903  Tel 082 671000 x 254 or 260  

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