[Coral-List] Putting science behind RI's ornamental fish industry

Yunaldi Yahya yoel27 at gmail.com
Thu Dec 4 02:18:30 EST 2008

Putting science behind RI's ornamental fish industry

Trisha Sertori ,  Contributor ,  Sanur   |  Thu, 12/04/2008 10:49 AM  |
Surfing Bali 

Thursday, December 4, 2008 2:11 PM

For decades international collectors discussed Indonesia's trade in
ornamental fish only in hushed tones. 

The environmental damage to the nation's marine reefs caused by stunning
fish with illegal potassium cyanide had placed Indonesia's export of
aquarium fish on the questionable practices list overseas while drawing much
criticism from environmentalists and the fishing industry at home. 

A group of marine biologists and divers, backed by government regulations,
are now helping ornamental fishermen rethink their collection techniques,
with environmental and economically sustainable results. 

With training from the Indonesian Nature Foundation (LINI), aquarium fish
harvesters in many parts of Indonesia are now using small-gauge nets to
gather targeted fish species, allowing coral reef to replenish itself. 

The soft nets reduce injury to the fish, which are again breeding well
thanks to no-take zones. These serve as miniature marine reserves, allowing
for breeding and a safe haven for fish agreed to by the fishermen. 

Aquarium fish divers have often sprayed collectible fish with potassium
cyanide to stun them, which also kills off the nearby coral. Unbridled use
of potassium cyanide was killing off the very reefs which serve as the
breeding ground and living habitat for many aquarium and food fish species.
The harvesters were in effect killing the golden goose. 

Marine biologist and LINI co-founder, Gayatri, said until recently
ornamental fish divers knew of no other method to catch the fish, which is
their main income. 

"We used potassium cyanide because it's easy. Stunned fish are easy to
collect. Indonesia began using this method to catch fish for food after it
was introduced from the Philippines. It then transferred to the ornamental
fishing industry," Gayatri said. 

Potassium cyanide fishing is unquestionably illegal, but difficult to

In 2003, Gayatri began to work directly with ornamental fish collectors in
North Bali on developing environmentally sensitive fishing techniques. She
wanted to find a way for fishermen to continue to earn a livelihood while
also allowing the reef to regenerate. 

"These fishermen are very poor. What they harvest is a luxury item. Only
people with extra money can afford aquarium fish, but these collectors earn
so very little. On top of that, they were shunned for destroying the reef,"
Gayatri said. 

The average price a local diver gets for an ornamental fish harvested in
Bali is 50 US cents. The same fish can sell in the United States for US$10
or more. 

Gayatri and her team worked both ends of the ornamental fish trade, talking
to exporters and middle men as wells as to fishermen themselves. 

Retraining fishermen meant examining every element of their fishing
practice, sometimes with surprising results. 

"In one case fishermen were diving for a particular hard-to-find species.
They were diving without masks and we realized they couldn't see the fish. 

"Using good equipment -- masks and snorkels -- meant they could see the fish
and did not need to use potassium cyanide," said Gayatri. 

Her detailed work with trade practices was necessary groundwork for
introducing the LINI program. 

"We started by trying different angles. We started by working with
exporters, asking them where they were getting the fish and then worked down
the supply chain to the fishermen," Gayatri said, describing the early years
of the sustainable ornamental fish industry project. 

She added that today the exporters and middle men are highly supportive of
low-impact practices because the industry has regained respect and every
fish collected has a buyer. 

"In the past, fishermen collected just about anything that swam in the hopes
of selling it all," said Gayatri. "There was no communication between
exporters and collectors. We facilitated that so the collectors could be
selective on their end. It took some time to get across the idea of
collecting fish to order." 

Connecting the players opened a dialogue so fish collectors knew which fish
were in demand. 

Besides improving fishing methods, LINI also trains fishermen in safe diving
techniques, applies science to encourage coral reef growth and trains
middlemen in documenting fish species caught and sold. 

"We have trained dealers in how to keep accurate records of fish sold. Their
invoices in fact act as a data base on ornamental fish," said Gayatri. 

With science introducing improved fishing techniques and a more refined
industry system, Indonesia's aquarium fish export is growing while reefs are
improving and more fish are breeding in healthier habitats. 


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