Number 5 - March 1999

Editor and Group Coordinator: Bob Johannes

Production: Information Section, Marine Resources Division, SPC, PO BOX D5, 98848 Noumea Cedex, New Caledonia Fax (687) 263818)

Prepared with financial assistance from Australia, France and New Zealand.

From the Editor

Steering, not stopping

Once I was on a fast train that was heading straight off a high precipice. There was no way of stopping it, and it appeared that I was doomed. But, at the last moment, I discovered that by sheer mental effort I was able to shift the tracks. The train began to change direction and narrowly skirted the cliff edge. I awoke greatly relieved.

Aquaculture is like that train. It is unstoppable, just as the evolution from hunting and gathering to farming was unstoppable. But we can try to ensure that it doesn't take us off the environmental and socio-economic cliffs towards which it sometimes heads. It is easier to shift the tracks in dreams than in reality, but we must try.

In the last issue of the Live Reef Fish Information Bulletin, Yvonnne Sadovy and Jos Pet cited research on fish whose pelagic larvae settle in coral reef communities that suggests that most of their natural mortality occurs before and soon after settlement. Fishing for juvenile groupers to supply aquaculture may therefore, they said, be unsustainable because it adds, perhaps substantially, to natural mortality. This view is shared by other biologists (see also McAllister, this issue, for example).

Leaving aside the fact that recent literature indicates that post-settlement mortality of coral reef fish can be prolonged and significant, the two species of groupers that supply the great majority of wild-caught juveniles for aquaculture (Epinephelus coioides and E. malabaricus ) do not settle into coral reefs. They settle into mangroves and estuaries–habitats with very different characteristics from coral reefs and where post-settlement mortality trends may also be different.

It is into these same habitats that milkfish larvae also settle. Milkfish have been farmed in the Philippines for centuries, with milkfish farmers depending entirely, until recently, on wild seed.

In recent decades the numbers of milkfish fry collected annually from the wild in the Philippines is estimated to be greater than one billion. Is there a resulting shortage of wild milkfish fry today, as some writers claim? Bagarinao states, 'The seasonality of milkfish reproduction has serious effects on the fry industry–fry are abundant and low-priced during the peak months, but scarce and highly priced during lean months. The problem of mismatched timing between fry availability, low prices and pond stocking is commonly perceived as 'fry shortage' (Bagarinao, T. l998. Milkfish 'fry' supply from the wild. SEAFDEC Asian Aquaculture 20(2): p. 26).

A recent study in the Philippines by Nephe Ogburn and me (to be summarised in the next issue) revealed that precisely the same statement could be made about grouper fry fisheries.

Both Bagarino, and Sadovy and Pet, point out the need for research on aquaculture-support fisheries. But in the meantime it is futile to try to stop them. Effective enforcement would be not only very unpopular (fisheries for the fry of milkfish and groupers support several hundred thousand poor Filipinos directly and thousands of fish farmers indirectly), it would also be prohibitively costly. Moreover, if such a ban did somehow succeed, it would add to the demand for wild-caught adult groupers for the live fish trade–an industry that readers of this publication will know has wreaked marine environmental havoc in the Philippines and elsewhere. This, in turn, could encourage displaced fry fishermen to enter the live reef fishery.

In this light, the Philippines government's inclusion of the micro-reefs built in estuaries by grouper fry fishers in its ban on the construction of artificial reefs (Administrative Order No. 97-01. Setting of Moratorium on the Deployment of Artificial Reef Nationwide) although well intentioned, can be seen to be misdirected. It is also futile; it is being ignored by grouper fry fishers and grouper farmers because the government does not begin to have the resources to force it upon them.

By all means, let us do the research needed to determine if there are cliffs ahead for aquaculture-support fisheries and try to steer away from them. Research will probably show, for example, that some collecting methods are less environmentally sound than others. If so, then incentives and educational efforts might be designed to steer fishers towards the sounder methods. The Philippines has an exceptional number of NGOs that are dedicated to improving coastal zone management and skilled in village-based environmental education. They could assist with such efforts, whereas they cannot so easily help with law enforcement.

Eventually (although it may take many years at the current depressing rate of progress) research will bring about the phasing out of aquaculture-support fisheries as hatchery-bred fry become cheaper than wild-caught ones. But prejudging the issue and trying to halt these fisheries prematurely constitutes a misdirection of conservation effort. It won't work in developing countries. And if it did, it would have socially and environmentally undesirable consequences.

Cyanide substitute?

In this issue Mark Erdmann describes clove oil as an anaesthetic that may have the potential to replace cyanide in the live reef fish trade. It is cheap, and the collateral environmental damage attending its use may be less than that caused by cyanide. The use of any foreign chemical in the marine environment is bound to make some people nervous. If further research shows that clove oil is, indeed, a lesser evil than cyanide, is this sufficient justification for promoting its use? I'd like to hear from our readers on this.

Targeting spawning aggregations

In this issue researchers working in three different countries independently note the upsurge in the targeting of grouper spawning aggregations by the live reef food fish trade. Erdmann and Pet note, for example, that 'divers interviewed here (in East Kalimentan) were all aware of the phenomenon of grouper spawning aggregations, and actively targeted them. They all mentioned how much easier it was to collect fish during these aggregations. They furthermore report that Napoleon wrasse were also known to aggregate in several of the same areas as the groupers, though at different times.' Once again this underscores the urgent need to protect spawning aggregations in the region, which I described in an article in issue #3 of this publication.

New grouper aquaculture section

In this issue we introduce a new aquaculture section, including a grouper aquaculture section coordinated by Mike Rimmer, head of grouper aquaculture research at the Department of Primary Industries, Northern Fisheries Centre, in Cairns, Queensland. You can send relevant LRF Information Bulletin contributions to Mike at < This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it >.

In addition, we carry an article by Don McAllister–editor of the marine environmental newsletter Sea Wind, and long-time crusader against cyanide fishing –criticising aquaculture as a means of combating the excesses of the live reef food fish trade.

We encourage informed debate, including further comment on this issue. It can be in the form of either an article or a letter to the editor.

Industry perspective

We are pleased to be able to include in this issue an article submitted by a representative of the live reef food fish trade. We welcome more such input.

Silly heading

In the last issue I wrote a brief article about a German woman, Inge Sterk, who, in her frustration over the live reef fish trade, cut the nets of holding pens in Indonesia to release the fish. The heading of the article was 'Ecotourist turned Ecoterrorist.' Ms Sterk protested, pointing out that (as the article stated) she reported her actions to the authorities and awaited their response. Ms Sterk, moreover, has a long history of commitment to non-violent action in connection with various human and environmental injustices. Her complaint is fully justified, the heading was indeed ill-chosen, and I apologise unreservedly.

Bob Johannes


Clove oil: An eco-friendly alternative to cyanide use in the live reef fish industry?
Erdmann M.V. (pdf: 94 KB)
The life reef food fish trade in the Solomon Islands
Johannes R.E., Lam M. (pdf: 137 KB)
Application of the FFA member countries' Fishing Vessel Monitoring System to track live reef fish transport vessels
Richards A. (pdf: 73 KB)
Live reef fish operations in Kiribati
Sommerville W.S., Pendle D. (pdf: 80 KB)
Cyanide fisheries: Where did they start?
McAllister D.E., Caho N.L., Shih C.-T. (pdf: 105 KB)
A note on cyanide fishing in Indonesia
Pet J.S., Pet-Soede L. (pdf: 54 KB)
Krismon & DFP: Some observations on the effects of the Asian financial crisis on destructive fishing practices in Indonesia
Erdmann M.V., Pet J.S. (pdf: 97 KB)
Recent developments in combating cyanide fishing: Much talk but little action on the ground
Barber C. (pdf: 89 KB)
Notes on reproduction in the estuarine stonefish Synanceia horrida
Fewings D.G., Squire L.C. (pdf: 113 KB)
The Marine Aquarium Council, certifying quality and sustainability in the marine aquarium industry
Holthus P. (pdf: 45 KB)
Regional cooperation in grouper aquaculture research moves forward - A new research network formed
Rimmer M., Williams K.C., Phillips M.J., Kongkeo H. (pdf: 81 KB)
Is mariculture the remedy to problems of coral reefs of coastal communities?
McAllister D.E. (pdf: 81 KB)


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