Marine scientists have voiced concerns over burgeoning marine trade

giant-clam Indonesia and the Philippines account for well over 60% of the trade in ornamental fish and marine invertebrates, according to marine biologist Dr Elizabeth Wood of Britain’s Marine Conservation Society.

“Reliable data is scarce but estimates from a number of studies suggest a global catch of 20 to 30 million fish annually.  Recent analysis of the packing lists of US imports for one year (2004/05) showed a total of 11 million fish being imported,” she said.

And with the growing preference for miniature coral reefs, demand for live corals has surged.  Dr Wood told delegates at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium in Cairns, Australia, that one million to 1.4 million pieces of live corals are traded annually, with Indonesia providing about 70% of stocks. Other major suppliers are the Philippines, Brazil, Maldives, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Hawaii, reports Malaysia’s The Star.

Unfortunately, much of the trade involves “illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”, according to Dr Barbara Best, coastal resources and policy adviser at the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

“Many countries with coral reefs lack the policy and regulatory tools necessary to prevent large-scale trafficking and to effectively manage the trade in a way that promotes sustainable use,” she wrote in her paper, Coral Reef Wildlife Trade: Global Goods And Shared Management Responsibility.

The unsustainable practices and lax regulation worry scientists as they threaten the health of vulnerable coral reef species and ecosystems. “The unsustainable trade adds to the cumulative stresses that coral reefs are facing from climate change, ocean acidification, over-fishing, destructive fishing and land-based pollution,” she wrote.

The Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), found only in the Banggai Islands of Sulawesi, Indonesia, is a case in point. In the mid-2000s, as many as a million specimens were captured annually from a population believed to be only around two million. Today, surveys show drastic declines in the wild, and local extinction at some sites.

Considering the pressures currently faced by reefs, it is important that aquarium fisheries are monitored and managed to ensure they are sustainable.

A number of countries have prohibited harvesting and commercial trade in wild-harvested corals and coral rocks – among them are Mozambique, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Marshall Islands and Tonga. The inclusion of corals in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has driven management action as permits are required for their trade.

But management challenges and uncertainties remain. For instance, countries set their own export quotas, and these might not be based on scientific assessments. Also, the seahorse is the only marine aquarium fish species that is listed in CITES.

Among the non-fish species, only giant clams, queen conch, and marine mussels are controlled under CITES.

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