Coastal Fisheries Programme

Number 2 - May 1997

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

Editor’s mutterings

In the past year the environmental problems generated by the live reef fish trade have received wide media coverage, with major articles in, for example, the New York Times, TIME, and New Scientist, as well as solid TV coverage by CNN and various national and regional stations. Several television documentaries on the subject are also being prepared. This publicity is clearly helping to generate accelerating efforts to combat the problem. 

Until recently the Philippines was the only country that paid serious attention to the issue. But a number of other countries, most notably Hong Kong and Indonesia, have woken up to the problem within the past year. This issue of the Information Bulletin includes a summary of the actions initiated by Hong Kong in response. 


A variety of environmental NGOs is also generating new or expanded programmes in order combat the problem. This issue of the Information Bulletin carries articles on some of these plans, by The Nature Conservancy, the Word Wildlife Fund for Nature, with more to come in future issues. 

It is too early to judge the effectiveness of these new initiatives. It is too early, in fact, even to assume that the problem can be licked. One of the biggest stumbling blocks in some of the main countries involved is the widespread corruption among the military, police, government officials and politicians, some of whom actually engage in the trade or take bribes from those who do. Environmental law enforcement desperately needs upgrading throughout the region for reasons of which cyanide fishing is only one of many. 


As described in this issue by Yvonne Sadovy, efforts are currently being made to get the humphead wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus, listed on CITES as a means of helping to halt its reportedly drastic decline in South-east Asian waters and beyond. One of the problems facing proposals to list it, is the dearth of information on its general biology and the status of various stocks–despite its being the second largest coral reef fish in the world, the most expensive of all live reef food fishes, a very popular fish with recreational divers (a coral-reef candidate for ‘charismatic megafauna’ status?), and an exceptionally fine food fish. 

How can this be when the literature is full of papers on tiny, often territorial, often demersal egg-laying, and in general atypical and commercially insignificant reef fish? Why do they continue to receive so much attention from reef fish biologists, when the biology of many commercially important species of groupers, snappers, emperors, jacks, as well as the humphead wrasse, remain almost unknown? 

Damselfish are far and away the most studied of all reef fishes. Could it be because convenience usually triumphs over relevance? Surely, in these days of shrinking budgets and fast-expanding ecological threats to the world’s coral reef communities, it is time to put work aside on the ‘toy poodles’ of the reef and get serious about the species most endangered by overexploitation.


Reef-fish stock enhancement is a natural extension of aquaculture of reef fish for marketing, and grouper stock enhancement provides a potential means of countering some of the pressure brought to bear on wild fish stocks by cyanide fishing. Grouper stock enhancement is currently being carried out in Okinawa and Bahrain. We have decided to expand the ambit of this information bulletin to include this subject, starting in the next issue with an article by Roger Uwate on grouper stock enhancement in Bahrain. Other contributions on this subject are welcomed. 


I’ve been preaching for years that marine biologists would learn a lot if they spent more time listening to fishers. Two groups of fishers I have come into contact with recently while investigating live reef fisheries are aquarium fish collectors and collectors of wild juvenile groupers for growout. 

I will include a description of some of what can be learned from the latter in a later issue of this bulletin. Let me just give one illustration here of the valuable information available from aquarium collectors. 

There are at least three groups of marine aquarium fish, I am told, that have proven so susceptible to cyanide that they are rarely collected using it since they almost invariably die. These are members of the genera Nemateolotris (dartfish), Synchiropus (dragonets or mandarin fish), and Pseudochromis (dottybacks). 

On the other hand, angelfish, especially the large ones, e.g. Pomacanthus, are usually caught with cyanide–otherwise they go so far back into holes in the reef when chased that it is very difficult to net them. (One Australian aquarium fish collector told me of a technique for forcing them out of the holes without using cyanide or breaking corals, but it would not be fair to divulge his method). 

Such information might be useful for those responsible for monitoring shipments of aquarium fish for cyanide traces; if my informants are correct, shipments dominated by the latter group of fish are much more likely than those of the former to have been caught with cyanide. 


It’s nice to know they really care. Statement made on a Voice of America radio broadcast concerning the live reef food-fish trade by reporter Max Ruston: ‘In Hong Kong, representatives of the fishing companies are reluctant to discuss the use of cyanide in their work. But one executive, who declined to be named, admitted to its use, and said he is aware of the damage it does to the environment. He said that because there is no alternative, his company has no immediate plans to change methods.’ 

In a similar vein, TIME, 3 June 1996, reports in its four-page story on the live reef-fish trade: ‘"We are traders and businessmen," asserts Yeung Wei-sung, managing director of Wing Sang Sea Products, a major (Hong Kong) importer. "We only buy the fish. We don’t care how they are caught."’

Bob Johannes


Hong Kong's actions with reference to the live reef food fishing
Leung S.F. (pdf: 148 KB)
Pacific Island countries and the aquarium fish market
Dufour V. (pdf: 122 KB)
Wild-caught juvenile reef-fish for farm growout: More research needed on biology and fisheries
Johannes R.E. (pdf: 105 KB)
Live reef-fishery species feature prominently in first marine fish IUCN Red List
Sadovy Y. (pdf: 98 KB)
Exploitation of reef resources, grouper and other food fishes in the Maldives
Shakeel H., Ahmed H. (pdf: 122 KB)
Destructive fishing methods in and around Komodo National Park
Pet J.S. (pdf: 257 KB)
The live-fish fishery of California
Tegner M.J., Dayton P.K. (pdf: 104 KB)
The Nature Conservancy marine conservation programme in the Asia-Pacific Region
Kirkpatrick H., Cook C. (pdf: 75 KB)
World Wildlife Fund for Nature cyanide project
Ruxton J. (pdf: 71 KB)
Asian gourmets taste fish to help save coral reefs
Fox C. (pdf: 96 KB)
New rules open way for lucrative aquaculture
Dunford B. (pdf: 100 KB)
Coral reef fish aquaculture workshop in Sabah
Johannes R.E. (pdf: 120 KB)


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Live Reef Fish #2 (pdf:)


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