[Coral-List] Aquaculture is the way

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Thu Dec 13 17:20:17 EST 2012

*fisheries, including for corals and reef aquarium fish, have an incentive
to take as much as you can get as fast as you can get it, which is an
incentive to destroy the resource.  People respond to incentives.
*many fish species are overfished, others are recovering, but they would be
vastly worse off without government regulation of fisheries.  Government
regulation is absolutely essential or there will be nothing left very
*collecting fish and corals for the aquarium trade does damage reefs, but
it is very very small compared to the major threats to coral reefs.  We
need to reduce all threats, but aquarium collection will never destroy all
the Coral Triangle reefs, let alone the world's reefs.
*governments are fully capable of reducing imports of reef fish and/or
corals if laws are passed to stop imports.  All that is needed is to
greatly reduce them, since tiny amounts of smuggling will not destroy reefs.
*aquaculture is a great solution to this problem, providing fish and corals
to aquarists without damaging the natural reefs.  Closing down competition
from wild caught organisms will help the aquaculture industry, and
aquarists will still have plenty to buy.
*alternative incomes are needed for the poor collectors.  Dive tourism can
provide much more income than collecting.

   Collecting corals for international trade (for aquaria and/or shell
shops) is essentially a fishery, removing living things from the ocean.  In
the study of fisheries, it is well known that there is a "race for fish" or
"tragedy of the commons."  This refers to the fact that the first person to
exploit the resource has the full resource to exploit, while later people
have only what is left.  If the resource is small, it can be depleted
rapidly, so the first person gets a lot, and later people get little if
anything.  So the incentive is to be the first, and to take all you can
get.  There is an incentive to destroy the resource.  Fisheries has a long
history of people overfishing, taking more than the natural ecosystem can
replace.  A poster child for this problem is the Canadian cod fishery.
Regulators and fishermen did not realize that they were being depleted, and
suddenly they couldn't find any more.  Decades later, the first signs that
the ecosystem might be starting to recover are now appearing.  But Canada
lost a billion dollar industry for decades.
     That's the down side.  But all is not gloom and doom.  There is indeed
enormous pressure on many fisheries resources around the world, and the
population continues to grow and the demand outstrips supply.  However,
fisheries officials in many parts of the world have the legal tools they
need to control fishing, and in many fisheries they have tightened their
limits on what can be taken, or changed the rules to different types of
"rights based fisheries."  The result is that many fisheries are not
overfished although they are fully exploited, and there are others that are
being rebuilt, that is, they are recovering.  Yes, there are many fisheries
that are overfished, but if there was no governmental regulation, they
would ALL be overfished, and rapidly heading towards economic extinction.
The situation would be vastly worse if there was no regulation.  (A bit
like guns, there are too many people killed by guns, but with no laws or
police to regulated guns or murder at all, it would be a vastly worse (they
call that "anarchy", think Somalia)
       So, the poor fishermen in countries like the Philippines and
Indonesia that collect the aquarium fish are responding to their situation,
they are no better and no worse than anyone else.
       I do disagree with any statement that collecting for the aquarium
trade is destroying the Coral Triangle's reefs, and there is nothing we can
do about it.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Take a look at
"Reefs at Risk."  The major threats to coral reefs are overfishing,
sedimentation, nutrients, coral diseases, mass coral bleaching, and
acidification.  Collecting for the aquarium trade wouldn't be on the list
of the top 20 threats to coral reefs, I bet.  Yes, of course it does local
damage in some areas.  Yes, everything that kills corals contributes to
their demise.  Yes, I think the Philippines was wise to prohibit the export
of corals, and Indonesia is taking a risk (though it is a very large
country with almost exactly as much coral reef as Australia, those two
countries have more coral reef than any other counties in the world by
far).  But collecting fish and corals for the world aquarium trade will
never, by itself, kill all the reefs in the world or even all the coral
reefs in the Coral Triangle (which includes Indonesia and the Philippines,
two of the countries that have the most reefs in the world).  It is far,
far, too small.  Does this mean we should do nothing about it??  Not at
all.  Everything that contributes to the decline of reefs needs to be
reduced or stopped.  I fully support using aquaculture to produce the
corals for the aquarium trade.
      As for government being completely unable to control anything, get
real.  It is certainly true that government cannot completely stop
something like smuggling, including drugs.  But corals and fish are not
nearly as profitable as drugs, and they are harder to smuggle.  If your
corals and fish don't get to the buyer very quickly, they will die, delays
destroy the value of your product.  Shipping them is expensive.  Dead
skeletons are easier to smuggle, but not profitable enough to be worth
trying.  You make it illegal to import coral, and you will greatly reduce
the trade.  That does what you want, once the trade is very small, the
damage to reefs will be tiny.  The Endangered Species Act will do that in
the USA, the largest importer of corals, for species that are listed,
particularly for those listed as endangered.
     And all of this will happen with little effect on aquarists, since
there are all the great strides forward in aquaculture that Jon is talking
about.  This is great stuff, a solution to the problem.  Let's get to it.
But if aquaculture people have to compete with cheap imports of wild corals
and fish, that makes their job harder.  Close that down, and aquaculture of
reef organisms will grow faster.  I'm all for it.  Plus, I think you are
right, the endangered corals can be grown and bred in captivity and that
provides a safety net in case they do go extinct in the wild.  But
collecting endangered coral has to be regulated, if all the collectors go
out and try to collect all the endangered or rare corals they can, they
themselves can drive the species to extinction.  Captive breeding has been
done for a long time in zoos, and several species have been rescued from
extinction.  Like whooping cranes and Arabian Oryx.  The latter is an
antelope, and the world was down to something like 16.  They were all
brought to the Phoenix (USA) zoo, where they were bred, and now there are a
few hundred and the number is growing.  (It doesn't work with every
species, for example, Giant Pandas are notoriously difficult to breed.  But
it has worked for many.)  But some kind of central authority has to
regulate it, to keep from depleting the small wild stocks.  Just that is
done with zoo breeding programs for endangered species, and it works
(though I'm sure the system isn't perfect, few things in this world are).
      We need the aquaculture, and endangered species listing will help it,
not hurt it.  It will hurt incomes of poor people in poor countries where
these are collected.  Alternatives are needed to replace this income.
Non-consumptive use of reefs is one of the best options, such as whale
watching, whale shark watching, shark diving, and coral reef diving.  Dive
tourism is a big industry.  Healthier reefs are more attractive to these
uses than damaged reefs.  One problem is that the main collecting areas
(Indonesia and the Philippines) are far from the tourists in the US and
Europe.  But healthy reefs in the Philippines have a booming dive industry
I'm told.  Some sleepy little towns with no one paying any attention to the
reefs a few decades ago, now have dive resorts that are fully booked 6
months in advance at $200 a night.  They can make much more money that way.

Cheers,  Doug

On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 4:02 AM, Jon Skrapits
<jon at treasurecoastcorals.com>wrote:

> Scott,
> "Local fisherfolk over harvesting for profit has been a big problem
> all over the world for decades and its often worse when there is no
> effective
> government regulation and enforcement."
> So why would you think gov. regulation would slow this? Are we stopping
> drugs from entering the country? We can't even keep it out of our jails! I
> suspect we would create a black market. Also, Darwin would have his way
> with these people that didn't protect their resources through wise
> harvesting practices and using their scarce resources efficiently. Sort of
> how it will probably happen to us as we are over extending.
> "Even if the US and Europe shut down imports of wild caught tropical fish-
> the growing demand
> from China, Russia, India and the rest of Asia is more than enough to seal
> the
> sad fate of biodiversity in the Coral Triangle."
> Agreed. We can't stop the decline of coral in the ocean no matter what we
> do. That was my original point. The aquarium industry is already getting
> wise to this which is why I and many others aquaculture. I don't want the
> corals to be depleted anymore than you do but we aren't stopping the rising
> death toll. As you stated, regulation won't stop it either.So why shut down
> importing. The reefs are dead in the water no matter what we do at this
> point. Harvest em, grow em, and study them while we work on and research
> how we can improve our methods of living to help reverse ocean
> acidification and eutrophication. Education is the way to help people not
> regulation.
> In the time you have been living overseas the aquarium industry has changed
> drastically. I am now able to grow 1000s of species of coral and re-havest
> them with a mild carbon footprint. Others are working to captive breed
> pelagic spawners as we speak. Benthics are childs play at this point. I am
> able to see many of the effects of Salinity changes, pH changes,
> eutrophication, and many other issues in a matter of hours. I also see
> documentaries on tv and look at the landscape. It isn't pretty at all. I
> see how the ecosystem is declining based on what I know would happen on my
> farm. Once many of these corals are extinct, wouldn't it be a pleasant
> thought to know that we have a few seeds in land based operations in
> controlled enviornments? Is the government supposed to pick who is allowed
> to keep these seeds or are we better off allowing free citizens to put
> their twist on it with less of a tax burden on the public. This should be
> the discussion since noone is deniying the fact that there needs to be
> a change in our practices but why is it always run to dad(big gov) the
> answer? We are able to exchange ideas here and as a businessman I want to
> sustain this industry and derive profits from it through wise practices
> while gov. will halt any progress of aquaculture through
> taxation. Aquaculture would  produce better tax revenues since I and my
> staff along with 10000s of others would still have jobs.
> Cheers,
> Jon Skrapits
> Treasure Coast Corals, Inc.
> _______________________________________________
> Coral-List mailing list
> Coral-List at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
> http://coral.aoml.noaa.gov/mailman/listinfo/coral-list

Dept. Marine & Wildlife Resources, American Samoan Government
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

More information about the Coral-List mailing list