[Coral-List] Mediterranean Red Coral

Georgios Tsounis Georgios at icm.csic.es
Tue Jan 26 17:16:05 EST 2010

Dear Kerim,
thanks for "putting the finger on the wound" by asking about the lack  
of progress in management after 1983 and 1988 FAO expert consultation  

Let me focus on just one specific example to illustrate where part of  
the problem lies, at least according to my experience. When the C.  
rubrum catches declined in the late 70s / early 80s, the FAO hosted  
consultation meetings. The wealth of information accumulated back  
then, as well as the recommendations given, are actually quite  
impressive, as the experts did in fact come up with preventive  

One of the participants was Richard Grigg who in 1976 published a  
management program (Seagrant Tech Rep 77-03) for the black coral  
Antipathes dichotoma (now re-described as Antipathes griggi). It is  
now said to be Hawaii's best managed species. He applied the Beverton- 
Holt maximum sustainable yield model to population data of black  
coral, and derived the minimum size at which black coral may be  

By the time the FAO hosted the second meeting in 1988, two spanish  
scientists (Mariano Garcia-Rodriguez & Carlos Masso 1986, Bol Inst Esp  
Oceanogr) applied the same model to the red coral populations north of  
Barcelona (Spain). They calculated that maximum sustainable yield  
(MSY) would be obtained if C. rubrum was harvested at an age of at  
least 80 years. In reality corals are harvested at a much younger age  
of about 11 years or less. The reason is that this corresponds to the  
basal diameter to 7 mm, which was the smallest diameter the industry  
was interested in. They proposed to increase the minimum size to at  
least 8.6 mm. It has never happened.

We applied the Beverton-Holt model to the same populations in 2003,  
using more precise growth rate estimates, and found that coral reach  
MSY at 98 years, pretty much confirming that the 1986 study was valid.  
Our study was commissioned by the local fishery authorities, and we  
made it very clear in our report that the minimum size should be  
increased to at least what Garcia-Rodriguez & Masso proposed. This was  
not implemented though, and red coral is harvested pretty much the  
same way it was more than 20 years ago. It can still be legally  
harvested in nearly all of the Mediterranean at 7 mm diameter because  
this has been traditionally so, in contrast to scientific studies.

The thing is that only a few of the active 16 divers dive to the  
depths where larger coral can still be found (talking about Spain). In  
contrast, the authorities in Sardinia (Italy) took the correct  
measures and banned coral fishing in traditional SCUBA depths of down  
to 80 m. They also increased the minimum size limit to 10 mm. This can  
be done everywhere by gradually phasing out shallow water fishing as  
senior divers retire. New participants can be required to use mixed gas.

But it is not easy to get the actual managers to do this, even though  
these are not radical measures at all. The shallow water stocks are so  
devastated by overfishing, that a Mediterranean wide application of  
the Sardinian example should be considered. This will meet resistance  
in some countries... The key lies in convincing all decision-makers,  
and I feel this is what we have to start discussing, as CITES  
unfortunately does not fulfil this function.

CITES relies on the evaluation of these decision makers to allow  
specimens to be exported. So if Corallidae was listed in CITES, any  
managed fishery would issue the non-detriment finding required for  
export, and we would continue to harvest coral as thin/young as 7 mm,  
just as it was done for the last 30 years... Unless of course you  
change local management regulations, but there has not been much talk  
about how to achieve this. Unfortunately, the managers were not even  
present at the workshops last year (except one). Again: these managers  
will provide an NDF finding for the coral harvested by their  
fisheries, which will lead to CITES export papers.

By mentioning a lack of  resources I did not refer to the means to  
perform the studies, but to a strong management system that is able to  
implement the recommendations from such studies. We have conducted the  
type of studies you are planning to do at your coast, but even our  
official government reports are not being implemented. The managers  
have to represent a variety of interests and know they have a huge  
problem on their hands. If however the GFCM provided binding or non- 
binding guidelines, the decision-makers would be off the hook as they  
would be obliged to implement these changes. In the end, it comes down  
to the persons sitting there. In Hawaii there are dedicated scientists  
and managers in contact with industry and fishermen, all with the will  
to make it work. I am glad to hear about your plans, as your studies  
are certainly necessary.

By the way, the reason that FAO and IUCN concluded that the species do  
not meet the decline criteria is not just to a lack of data. In fact  
it is documented that shallow water populations contained a large  
number of old/large colonies in the 1950s. These are all gone. If you  
compare historical information with recent studies and anecdotal  
observation, we can already speak of a collapse / catastrophic decline  
of shallow water populations. This is the reason that the protection  
of shallow water populations was agreed upon unisono at the workshop  
in Naples, including industry representatives (but will any decision- 
maker ever read our report ?). However, populations at depths deeper  
than ca. 130 m are practically protected since 1994 (when dredging was  
prohibited in the EU), so coral fishing does not affect the whole  
population. This is actually an important factor when looking at the  
criteria. But we will see what the parties decide in June.

In the meantime, I am grateful for this conversation, and hope we can  
identify ways to implement the management changes that the scientific  
community recommends. We now have the knowledge to better manage these  
species, it is a matter of implementation. Without such an  
implementation, CITES will make no difference. I am not criticizing  
CITES itself by the way, just pointing out what component is missing  
to make it work effectively in the mentioned case, as I am afraid that  
after a listing we might forget about this issue, thinking the problem  
has been solved.

The minimum size is just the most illustrative example, but there are  
others, e.g., the fact that poaching is severe, and that no one  
records the size of coral landed. Please excuse me for talking just  
about management here, but the scientific data are already published.  
Please let me know if anyone needs me to point towards the  
publications containing all the information I mentioned.

All the best,

Dr. Georgios Tsounis
Institut de Ciències del Mar, CMIMA (CSIC)
Passeig Marítim de la Barceloneta, 37-49
08003 Barcelona, Spain

Phone: 34  932 309 611
Fax: 34 93 2 309 555
E-mail: georgios at icm.csic.es

On Jan 26, 2010, at 9:25 AM, Kerim Ben Mustapha wrote:

> Dear all
> Thank you for keeping this issue on the agenda.
> As many of you pointed out, there is a lack of local management, and  
> this "mis managment" could not be met only by national countries..We  
> already know the result of such "initiatives" for the last decades;  
> it's a regional issue, and neither FAO or GFCM are able to manage  
> the issue.
> We certainly lack reliable statistical figures re. red coralll  
> populatioon collapse, for that reasons some experts (even the fao  
> panel of experts) do not agree on its listing in annexe 2 of the  
> CITES, but what kind of improvment in national management of such  
> fisheries can be done? Why it was not done before? do we really can  
> rely on such improvment? why we do not succeed till today? How do  
> you think a management model could be set up when its related to  
> such living resources (exploitation de gisement)? So If the  
> statitical figures are lacking and the scientific knowledge did not  
> provide sufficient argumentation on the needed management  procedure  
> why we do not apply the precautionnary approach? Since the meeting  
> in Torre del Greco in the late 80's we were spooking about a better  
> management for Corallium rubrum population in the mediterranean; we  
> are in 2010, and I do not see such improvment neither a clear  
> national will.
> From a regional point of view even when the regional and  
> international fishing structure's decisison are binding the states  
> do not fullfill their obligation (see the BFTuna/ICCAT issue, or the  
> BFT/  and the UN (UN agreement on straddling and highly migratory  
> stocks , or the whaling issue etc....)  so what about non binding  
> decisions?
> The situation is what it is, and the prices are raising up each  
> year....Im confident in a CITES listing (annexe2) , after all, it's  
> a matter of improved control system by the scientific body as well  
> as the management body of the involved countries; such listing will  
> increase their control and will be a strong signal for the natioanl  
> scientific and management bodies to act. We from the southern med  
> did not lack resources, it's only a matter of will.
> By the way, we are going to start a mapping program of the  
> coralligenous habitat (including C.rubrum gisement) this summer,  
> with our new hightech SSS "C3D benthos" in the northern tunisian  
> coasts. I think that it's really important to knew the geographical  
> distribution, the density of the red coral population (may be the  
> available bio mass... but did our knowledge will be sufficient to  
> calculate such data knowing that differentiated biologica/ 
> ecological  strategies ocurs in deep and cosatal population, as well  
> as in exploited and non exploited ones) and one objectif of this  
> programm is to study the ecological pathway of the colonies in their  
> habitats.
> Kerim Ben Mustapha
> Salammbô
> Tunisia
> --------------------------------------------------
> On 25 Jan 2010 at 17:15, Georgios Tsounis wrote:
> Dear all,
> thanks for raising this question. Excellent replies have already  
> been posted, and I especially agree with Prof. Santangelo who  
> indicated that the ultimate question we should be asking is: what is  
> necessary to effectively manage Corallium rubrum?
> As FAO consultation reports and recent literature demonstrate,  
> current management of almost all Mediterranean coral fisheries  
> cannot be described as adequate. In 2009 there were two more  
> Corallium workshops that accumulated a wealth of recent information,  
> and a FAO panel as well as an IUCN/TRAFFIC expert group provided  
> recommendations to the CITES conference of Parties (see links below).
> For those of you who are interested in recent information that was  
> gathered at these events, please have a look at the respective  
> documents:
> http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/38195/icode/
> http://coris.noaa.gov/activities/1st_intl_wkshop/
> http://dsa.uniparthenope.it/rcsmt09/
> http://intranet.iucn.org/webfiles/doc/SSC/CoP14/AnalysesEN/cites_prop_21.pdf
> When discussing whether Corallidae meet the criteria, we should keep  
> in mind that FAO and IUCN/TRAFFIC provide advice to CITES CoP, and  
> both came to the conclusion that the present data do not meet the  
> criteria (see the links provided), -and the panels have been well  
> aware of the information cited in the mentioned MEPS paper.
> As Kristian pointed out, local management is the basis for effective  
> conservation, but CITES can complement it. Therefo
> karim.benmustapha at instm.rnrt.tn
> kbmtok at yahoo.com.au
> Marine ecologist and biologist
> Expert in sponges and seagrass mapping

More information about the Coral-List mailing list