Coral Triangle Reef Fish Overfishing Crisis Made Worse by Dynamite, Cyanide Use

Government agencies, NGOs, research institutions, academia, and the private sector are to meet to discuss the trade in live reef fish, one of the most lucrative – yet damaging - industries in the Coral Triangle.

Bali, Indonesia, 28 Feb 2011.  The Coral Triangle, on the western coast of the Pacific Ocean, contains 37 percent of the world’s coral reef fish species. Often called the nursery of the seas, it is a source of food and livelihood for millions of people – but reef fishing in the region is one of the biggest threats to its coastal and marine environments.

“Overfishing and destructive fishing practices such as the use of cyanide and explosives are being driven by an increasing demand for seafood across Asia-Pacific,” says Dr Geoffrey Muldoon, who works on the WWF Coral Triangle Program. Muldoon says this is exacerbated by the lack of effective systems to sustainably manage the industry.

As a result, a workshop co-organized by WWF and the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia (MoMAF) and supported by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), is focusing on ways to improve the ongoing viability of the regional live reef fish food industry.

Making a Living

Reef fishing provides millions of dollars to hundreds of thousands of people - but is in danger of collapsing due to over exploitation

Reef fish are a highly valuable resource in the Coral Triangle with their trade generating hundreds of millions of dollars annually and sustaining thousands of fisherpeople, seafood businesses and coastal communities. But without some degree of regulation, the sustainability of the whole industry could be in jeopardy. “More importantly marine biodiversity at large, and ultimately the future of local communities that directly depend on the bounty of the oceans will be threatened,” says Muldoon.

The trade in live reef fish food involves the capture of reef fish from supply countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia, then their sale and consumption in markets such as Hong Kong and mainland China and smaller yet significant markets in Singapore and Malaysia.

To feed these markets, up to 70 percent of reef fish are being taken from some locations before they even have the opportunity to mature and reproduce, and this could have devastating effects in the long term.

“Despite ongoing site-based efforts to reduce the impacts of this trade, there lies a critical and urgent need for innovative programs that link markets to sustainability,” says the WWF. They want responsible fishing practices that unite key stakeholders across in the entire seafood supply chain; one that offers a shared goal of sustaining the resources on which their businesses, and more importantly livelihoods, depend.

Hope on the Table

Interestingly, a recent survey conducted in Singapore shows that as much as 80 percent of reef fish consumers would either stop or reduce eating them if they were aware they were being unsustainably harvested. This indicates the other end of the supply chain may be ready to promote more responsible consumption.

“The Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries of Indonesia is proud to be hosting this crucial event,” says Mr Saut Hutagalung, Project Overseer; Director Foreign Market Development, Directorate General of Fisheries Product Processing and Marketing of the MoMAF. Hutagalungand the other workshop participants hope to come up with measurable standards of best practices that can be implemented across the region. “Our hope is that this forum will pave the way for stronger regional cooperation and capacity building among stakeholders to help improve this valuable trade,” he adds.

Photos courtesy WWF