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Uncertain Future for Banggai Cardinalfish


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Photos courtesy of John Dawes

As I write these lines, the latest CITES Conference of the Parties is drawing to a close in Johannesburg. Among the many topics being discussed, several relate to fish and other organisms associated with the ornamental aquatic industry.

Prominent among these is the beautiful and popular Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), which is being proposed for listing in CITES Appendix II. If approved, this will mean that all exports of the species will require a special CITES permit. Likewise, importers also will require the appropriate permits.

This is not the first time that such a proposal has been tabled, though. In 2007, the U.S. also proposed Appendix II listing, but this was opposed by, among others, the country of origin of the species, Indonesia, and was defeated. Perhaps a little surprisingly, it’s taken all these years for a new proposal to be tabled, this time by the European Union and its Member States.

The latest version maintains that the Banggai cardinalfish’s (BCF’s) restricted distribution, its low fecundity, its extended period of parental care (the males incubate the eggs in their mouths for nearly three weeks), the lack of a planktonic larval phase (i.e., the larvae are not spread by currents) and the present levels of exploitation make it vulnerable, thus warranting a degree of protection that is not being provided at the moment.

Current levels of collection are not considered the only major threat to the continued survival of the BCF. “Intensive harvesting of benthic invertebrates for consumption, including Diadema urchins … and sea anemones” also is considered a significant factor as both Diadema urchins and sea anemones act as important microhabitats for juvenile and adult BCF. Their disappearance opens the cardinalfish to higher levels of predation because they are no longer protected by the long spines of the urchins or the stinging tentacles of the anemones. Habitat disruption caused by explosives, cyanide and coral damage via fishing nets also accentuates the problem, as do coastal developments, effluent discharge and territorial water run-off.

The cumulative effects of these factors make it appear that the proposal would stand a strong chance of being approved with little opposition at the CITES meeting. However, this is far from being the case.

Indonesia, the range country for the BCF, has declined to co-sponsor the proposal. The main reason is that the country maintains that the CITES proposal focuses only on the Banggai cardinalfish’s populations in the Banggai Archipelago, rather than the fish’s (new) entire range within the country. It states, for example, that, besides the BCF’s recognized home range, there are now other areas where it was previously released and from where it is being collected regularly to supply international markets.

Community-based management programs also are being implemented, with collection being managed by local fishers’ groups. Management practices being employed include size limitations, with only specimens of 3 centimeters (but not larger) being harvested. There also are open and closed seasons for collection, and only the members of the fishers’ groups are allowed to collect and sell fish.

Another initiative underway at the national level—and one that is yielding encouraging results—is the establishment of aquaculture facilities where the BCF is being bred in captivity. The species is, therefore, already being made available for the international market. The Indonesian government also is training fishers’ families, particularly the women, to breed the fish. Early results are reported to be very promising. The government’s own Aquaculture and Training Centre is playing a central role in training and managing these projects.

As a result of the above and other activities related to the BCF, Indonesia feels that it can successfully protect the species in Indonesian waters without its inclusion in the CITES listing. Indeed, it maintains that the captive breeding of Banggai cardinalfish, allied to wild harvesting from well-managed collection areas, could be achieved without difficulty. Further, its involvement and success, especially if supported by others, including the trade, as well as international and national institutions, will send out a strong conservation message and provide incentives for local people to protect their marine resources.

Captive-breeding efforts (these males are carrying eggs or larvae in their mouths) are contributing to Indonesia’s growing confidence in protecting the species.

 

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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