Coastal Fisheries Programme

Number 11 - April 2003

Editor and Group Coordinator: Tom Graham, PO Box 235, Honolulu, HI 96809 USA. Phone/fax: +1 (808) 625 8755

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.

Note from the SPC Marine Resources Division

Those of you who are regular readers of this Bulletin, or participate in the LRF Special Interest Group, will be very aware that Bob Johannes passed away in September 2002. We are deeply saddened by his passing, and the tributes from ourselves, and many others, can be found in the already-published Special Edition of the Traditional Marine Resource Management and Knowledge Information Bulletin.

Bob has compiled, edited and driven the LRF Bulletin since its first issue in March 1996, and has played a vital role in helping SPC to put into practice the recommendation of the 1995 SPC Inshore Fisheries Management Workshop: "A special interest group and newsletter on live fish export fisheries (including both fish for food and organisms for aquaria) be set up under the SPC Fisheries Information Project" ( We are indebted to him for carrying the guiding light for so long.

However, Bob didn't want the pace to slacken, and had already talked to us about handing over the baton to a new editor although, at the time, we thought it was to enable him to give more attention to another issue that was needing his motivating spark. Tom Graham has bravely taken up the task of editing this bulletin, and we hope that you will give him the support he will need in this difficult transitional period, and in particular by giving him your written contributions to the next newsletter.

SPC's policy is to externalise the editorship of its special interest group bulletins as much as possible – it prevents us from becoming too inward-looking – but editorship is often a thankless task and requires a special perseverance and motivation, not to mention time. We are extremely grateful to Tom for stepping into the breach. It continues a Palau linkage that has lasted throughout the history of both the bulletin and the trade itself. Palau was the first Pacific Community island member to be affected by the live reef food fish trade, and Palau was of course the source of material for Bob Johannes' seminal work Words of the Lagoon. It was Noah Idechong of Palau who chaired the session in the 1995 SPC meeting that gave birth to the bulletin, and now Tom Graham, who worked with Noah in Palau for several years, will be editing the bulletin.

Following Tom's transitional editorial below we include the "Editor's Mutterings" that Bob had already transmitted to us for the next issue of the bulletin – challenging and thought-provoking as usual.


From the Editor

In each of the disciplines and topics that Bob Johannes delved into, he came up with raw, exciting material — original theories, new knowledge or new evidence for ideas that had been resisted, and always, novel investigative approaches and practical solutions. He also had a knack for synthesis, that rare quality of being able to put pieces together into a coherent whole and present the whole in a meaningful perspective.

In the case of the trade for live reef food fish, Bob may not have been the first to realise the size of the trade and its environmental implications, but he was the one who managed to bring it to the world’s attention. And in short order he identified those critical aspects of the trade that we as resource managers, researchers, and educators continue to focus our efforts on: among them, that the great esteem for live reef food fish and the size of the market pose both serious threats and possibly lucrative opportunities for producer countries, that the use of cyanide to capture live reef fish threatens to degrade coral reefs on a large scale, and that the fish stocks targeted in the trade — particularly those that form large and regular aggregations — are susceptible to overexploitation at even modest levels of fishing pressure.

There is some collective anxiety in the scientific and conservation communities about having to take on the challenges related to the live reef fish trades without Bob. There is now a fair amount of attention and resources being devoted to this work, and there are plenty of capable, committed people working on the important issues. But Bob had some qualities that will be very difficult to replace.

Who among us has his or her investigative tentacles spread so broadly across so many disciplines, giving us such a broad view of the problem and the ability to consider solutions from so many different angles? Who can so easily gain the respect and attention of so many different stakeholders, including governments, donors, non-governmental organisations, fishing communities, and the public at large? And who has Bob’s ability to stimulate us into thinking about and taking on issues that, until he took hold of them, seemed like non-issues?

As I take over from Bob the role of editor of this bulletin, I am humbled to realise that as usual, I am merely following his lead. But I am comforted to know that I am not the only one in such a position, and that in fact, most of the contributors to this bulletin have in some way been encouraged, inspired, provoked, or otherwise led by Bob.

I had my first chance to follow Bob’s lead ten years ago, when I was studying customary marine tenure systems. Bob had not only conducted groundbreaking research in that area, but he also helped catalyse a groundswell of actual transformation of legal systems and resource management practices that continues today through much of the Pacific and Asia. He generously assisted and encouraged my academic efforts. I later had several opportunities to work with him, including assisting him with his research in Palau that was aimed at taking advantage of the aggregating behaviour of groupers for the purpose of monitoring their status. In each of my interactions with Bob I came away richer with the knowledge, ideas and encouragement that he generously shared.

Bob left us with one more of his "Editor’s Mutterings," printed below, in which he introduces an article by Craig Thorburn on cyanide fishing in the Kei Islands of Maluku (eastern Indonesia). And he encourages us to consider the role of religious leaders in the live reef fish trade and environmental matters in general.

In this issue, we have two articles on the culture of wild-caught seed. The first, by Patrick Durville et al., describes the results of experiments aimed at assessing the suitability of a number of coral reef species for culturing from the post-larval stage. The second, by Cathy Hair and Peter Doherty, reports on the progress of an investigation in Solomon Islands of the feasibility of developing an artisanal fishery based on the capture and culture of pre-settlement fishes.

Also in this issue, Jill St John gives us a practical review of the pressure-related injurious effects on fish of capturing them at depth. Frazer McGilvray and Thierry Chan provide an update on the live reef food fish trade from the perspective of the market. And on a topic for which we should expect much more news in the future, we have updates on both the continuing initiative to establish a certification system for the marine aquarium fish trade, and a new initiative to establish industry best practice standards for the live food fish trade.

If you received this bulletin by mail, you probably also received a packet of awareness materials related to the live reef food fish trade. Please see the article by Andrew Smith for information about the project that produced them and other materials that are available.

I look forward to receiving your contributions to this bulletin. And please remember that the live reef fish discussion group is available for more rapid communication. You can join it by sending an email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it '; document.write( '' ); document.write( addy_text76411 ); document.write( '<\/a>' ); //--> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or by visiting

Tom Graham


Editor's mutterings

Religion and environmental destruction

The propriety of religious leaders is often at least as critical to the health of societies as that of business, political or military leaders. This raises a question for our readers: What are the roles of religious leaders and institutions in protecting the environment in connection with the live reef fish trade? An article by Craig Thorburn in this issue relates the story of a community in the Kei Islands, eastern Indonesia, where villagers captured live reef fish using cyanide to pay for the construction of a new mosque. Indeed, some people in the village disparagingly referred to the project as the "Mosque of Narcotics". Granted, it was not the local Ulama who was exhorting people to poison the reefs; that was the idea of local village leaders and the fish trader. But the Ulama apparently did not speak out against the practice, and it seems unlikely that he was unaware of the malign environmental implications of this scheme.

Spiritual leaders in many western Pacific and Southeast Asian countries sometimes quote from the Bible, Koran or the teachings of Buddha to encourage communities to take good care of God's creatures. But one seldom hears these same voices in debates about actual cases of harmful or destructive practices. For instance, the Catholic Church plays a very large role in the lives of many Filipinos. One wonders why we hear so little about efforts by the Church to discourage the destructive fishing practices that are so rife in that country.

Religious leaders in some western Pacific communities offer their flocks benign environmental leadership, for example in their sermons. Experience in some communities has also shown that when new conservation regulations are announced by the chiefs without ceremony, they are less liable to be obeyed than if they are announced with traditional ceremony and blessed by church leaders (e.g. Johannes l998).

Nearshore fisheries management (among other forms of environmental management) would benefit if environmentally active religious leaders were identified and encouraged, while cases where local religious leaders are either directly involved in supporting harmful enterprises or even just "looking the other way" were brought to light and analysed. In some cases, no doubt, religious leaders have no option but to look the other way given the formidable pressures put on them by some people in the trade, including a dangerous military or police component (e.g. Indonesia).

But in other cases religious leaders may be missing an opportunity to play an important role in the health of their community's marine resources. Probably there are opportunities for those of us concerned with conservation in this context to help them by providing them with relevant information.

This Bulletin would welcome articles, or even notes, describing religious leadership in the context of the live reef fish trade.

Bob Johannes

Reference cited:
Johannes, R.E. 1998. Government-supported, village-based management of marine resources in Vanuatu. Ocean and Coastal Management 40(2–3):165–186.

In the previous issue of this column I said, "I've never seen an article on ethno-aquaculture" – which suggests my reading is very limited indeed. What I meant to say was, "I've never seen an article on ethno-veterinary aquaculture."


Fatal adaptation: Cyanide fishing in the Kei Islands, Southeast Maluku
Thorburn C.C. (pdf: 55 KB)
Progress report on the capture and culture of presettlement fish from Solomon Islands
Hair C., Doherty P. (pdf: 42 KB)
Aquacultural suitability of post-larval coral reef fish
Durville P., Bosc P., Galzin R., Conand C. (pdf: 94 KB)
Is your fish "bent" and will it survive?
St John J. (pdf: 63 KB)
Market and industry demand issues in the live reef food fish trade
McGilvray F., Chan T. (pdf: 46 KB)
Pacific Regional Live Reef Fish Trade Management Workshop
Yeeting B.M. (pdf: 35 KB)
Live reef food fish trade - Pacific awareness materials project
Smith A. (pdf: 22 KB)
Workshop on Sustainable Marine Finfish Aquaculture in the Asia-Pacific Region
Rimmer M., Phillips M., Sim S.-Y. (pdf: 24 KB)
Developing industry standards for the live reef food fish trade
Kusumaatmadja R., Barber C.V., Holthus P., Salm R. (pdf: 36 KB)
A workshop to develop standards for the assessment, monitoring and management of the live food fish trade
Muldoon G.J. (pdf: 29 KB)
CITES, Santiago and conservation in the live fish trades
Sadovy Y. (pdf: 24 KB)
Protecting and managing reef fish spawning aggregations in the Pacific
Smith A. (pdf: 24 KB)

News from the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) ()

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