Coral Harvesting - Fiji.

Bob Mankin bob at
Wed Aug 18 01:29:12 EDT 1999

Greetings all,

When I first started following this thread, I was simply
interested. After asking a few questions of the appropriate people, my
interest became concern, and now, with each email exchange/phone
conversation it is reaching alarm. The numbers as posted in this thread
appear to be greatly exaggerated.

Let us hit on a few points raised here:

1) There were discrepancies noted between the figures quoted here and
what CITIES and the Fiji officials are quoting. Huge discrepancies
apparently, yet no one felt a need to better understand this BEFORE
jumping into the debate and quoting ridiculous numbers(and I will
qualify that labeling). These incorrect figures are also being given to
government officials considering legislation for the industry and they
form the basis of papers and presentations on the so called "State of
the Trade". Such important discussions on the topic warrant some careful
consideration and validation of the data I would think. For the record,
in conversations I have had with exporters in Fiji and the Solomon
Islands within just the past week, I can tell you that the amount of
live Acropora spp. being imported from Fiji at this time is running
around 10,000 pieces per year. Considerably less than the 275,000 that
was suggested earlier. This 10,000 piece figure can and will be
documented in forthcoming debates on this topic. Rest assured.

2) It was suggested that live rock imports were 8.5 million pieces last
year. Using an average figure of 2 lbs/rock, which anyone familiar with
this trade will agree is pretty close, you have the quoted figure of 17
million lbs. of rock imported into the US in 1998. The actual figure,
based on numbers supplied again by the largest Fiji exporters is
actually in the neighborhood of 2 million lbs/year. Apparently the
poster didn't think about the simple fact that you cannot ship 17
million lbs. in a year's time even if you used every available inch 
of freight space on the daily Air Pacific flights from Nadi into LAX 
every day for the whole year! Don't forget, live corals, fish and the
water weight associated with them goes on the same flight.

3) As for the suggestion that Fiji outships all of Indonesia, let's take
a look. 2 live coral export stations in Fiji versus an estimated 60 in
Indonesia. What is the likelihood of that happening? To base such a
suggestion on one's observation at retail locations over 10,000 miles
away would seem to be a bit of a stretch. Corals and fish are commonly
mislabeled at both the retail and wholesale level in this business, many
times through no fault of the dealer, but because they relied on a third
party for the information. On what data was this suggestion based or was
it simply the poster's own perception being stated? 

4) On what is the suggestion of underreporting based? Consider that each
and every shipment hiting a port of entry must have CITIES
documentation(or the equivalent thereof) and will be accompanied by an
airline airwaybill with the actual weight of the shipment. Any
significant deviation in numbers between the two documents is going to
raise a flag. If you show up with more animals than you are permitted
for, you risk losing the entire shipment. Which reputable Fiji exporter
do you suggest is participating in such foolish 'cat and mouse' behavior
with Customs and USF&W?

It is common practice to overreport in this business. There is no
penalty for doing so if you show up at the port of entry light or with
reduced piece counts. Fiji export permits must be applied for a full
week in advance of a shipment. The exporter will ALWAYS estimate high
for every given species that he expects to collect for the following
week. In the case of Acropora spp. mentioned in this thread, obtaining
permits for 300 animals and then shipping only 100 or less is common for
Fiji. Happens just about every week and this information was offered to
me directly just yesterday. I wanted to suggest that the skew in numbers
is due to the original poster looking at permitted numbers versus actual
shipped numbers, but even that cannot fully explain the discrepancy.  

5) It was suggested that the villagers involved in the collection for
this trade cannot make a decent living and are being taken advantage of
by the exporters as a rule. This is simply not true. For example, a
government job in the Solomon Islands is considered a good paying job at
approximately $1200 dollars Solomon per month. Contrast this with a hard
working fisherman, using the training provided by the exporters and
responsible net catching methods, a good catch will net him $800 dollars
Solomon in one day. This is without the use of NaCN and the suggestion
that the use of cyanide is nearly universal in this industry is simply
wrong. The Philippine example cited earlier could be easily explained if
someone is willing to look at all factors involved there.

6) It was suggested that middlemen make all the money in a corrupt
industry while again taking advantage of the native collectors. Live
corals sell for $3-$5 each, fish for as little as 50 cents US before
packing and shipping. The price is generally doubled if resold at
wholesale, but less if the shipment is transhipped directly to the
retail store. The largest markups occur at the retail level itself.
Attempts to cut the middlemen will result in less than ideal collection
and holding facilities, poor packaging for transport, constant shipping
delays and an overall increase in DOA animals upon arrival into the US.
It would only be a matter of a few shipments progressing like this and
the customer base would dry up. It has been tried even very recently.
What was the intent of this idea exactly? 

7) It is being suggested that some worthwhile data about "State of
the Trade" is going to be learned from monitoring a single store, and
one on the east coast no less. A couple of things wrong here; first,
they see the longest transit times of anyone for moving these animals
therefore their experience with DOA counts will not accurately reflect
the industry average. Secondly, prices on the east coast are commonly
known to be quite a bit higher than those closer to the main port of
entry in Los Angeles. Again, an accurate reflection on the industry at
large by monitoring this one store would be impossible. One data point
does not a graph make.

8) While the efforts are building for a complete ban on coral imports, I
have yet to see much effort in addressing the fallout of such a move.
How much consideration is being given to what these people will do for
work afterwards? My contacts suggest they will simply shift over to the
logging trade. Would anybody care to tackle the suggestion that the
logging industry is more friendly or less destructive to the reefs? If
you do not account for these sort of consequences, you are implimenting
bans in a reckless manner, IMO. Win the battle, but lose the war.

9) An outright ban on coral harvesting also effectively shuts down the
coral farming industry, which is still in its infancy. You have already
seen some good posts from those involved in this part of trade. What was
not touched on much was how coral farming in areas like the Solomons has
taught the villagers the value of responsible reef management. No more
stripping areas for the curio trade. That very damaging practice has
been effectively shut down in the areas where the farms are located and
these culturing operations are at least partly to be credited for this.

Other advances in the culturing area might allow coral larvae
collection and growout to become the next step for the trade. This idea
is just starting to show promise and may become a viable commerical
industry within a few years. Managed properly, this could have almost
neglible impact to the reefs while providing income for these poor
nations. At the same time possibly developing the technologies and
understanding for tomorrow when large scale reef replanting may be

In closing, since most do not know me here, I own a small
retail/wholesale livestock business that involves the import of the very
animals in this discussion. Cultured or captive bred livestock is our
main focus. Before someone suggests that I am simply covering my own
interests, keep in mind this is not my primary source of income and I
could easily walk away from my investment in it tomorrow if that were
deemed the most responsible thing for all. But to have bans or even
increased regulations based on such horribly incorrect data is
irresponsible and I suggest some immediate and thorough review. If you
are going to affect the livelihood of thousands of people and the
economies of dozens of nations with this stuff, I would think
discussions with a few more people closer to the 'front lines' of this
business(USF&W officials at LAX for example) are in order. 


Bob Mankin

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