By John Dawes
“Despite…constraints (of staff, expertise and facilities)…it is incumbent on the government in cooperation with the private sector, particularly the aquarium trade and aquaculture industries, to protect native…aquatic species and the environment from ecological and economic ravages of invasive species with the maxim of ‘prevention is better than control.’”
This paragraph appeared in the Oct.-Dec. 2002 edition of Asean Biodiversity in a paper by Rafael D. Guerrero III, widely recognized within the scientific and aquaculture communities for his work on tilapia sex reversal. He is an academician at the National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines, and is currently also the executive director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development at the Department of Science and Technology.
As it so often happens, it has taken a long time for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn, even when urged to do so by such a highly influential person. In fact, it is only now that the Filipino government, through its Environment Department, has launched a three-year program to investigate the current status of invasive species in the country and devise appropriate strategies to control or eradicate them.
A combination of a lack of awareness or interest, allied to what is regarded as a lack of clearly defined import regulations, has reportedly resulted in a situation where it has been easy to bring potentially harmful species into the Philippines. For example, it is estimated that approximately 100 exotic species of animals and plants are now causing problems in the country.
|The apple snail was adopted as a potential food source in the Philippines, with disastrous consequences.|
Photo by John Dawes
|While water hyacinths can be processed for use in fabrics, their widespread occurrence may mean this application is not particularly effective at controlling this invasive species.|
Photo by John Dawes
|Plecos, locally known as janitor fish, are now considered pests in the Philippines.|
Photo by John Dawes
Among them are some well-known aquarium and pond species, most notably suckermouth catfish or plecos (apparently, Hypostomus plecostomus), golden apple snails (Pomacea canaliculata) and the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes). By 2002, when the above-quoted Guerrero paper was published, there had been “more than 40 introductions of fish, crustaceans and mollusk species into the inland waters of the Philippines since 1907.”
These, according to Guerrero, were “intentionally introduced for food, recreation and mosquito control, or inadvertently introduced in association with the imported species.”
Among these imported species were two tilapias, Oreochromis mossambicus and O. niloticus, both intensively cultured within the food fish industry. The apple snail was first introduced from the U.S. as an aquarium novelty in 1980, and was subsequently “adopted” by the aquaculture community as a potential food species. However, the industry collapsed in the early 1990s through lack of consumer demand.
One of the species causing most concern these days is not mentioned at all in the 2002 Guerrero paper: the suckermouth catfish, known locally as the janitor fish. However, numbers are such that today the species is regarded as a pest, especially in the Laguna de Bay area. Despite its size, which could easily make it suitable for human consumption, Filipinos have not taken to it, so there’s no chance of controlling the species through a targeted food fisheries program.
Rather belatedly, the Philippines is trying to come to terms with the problems posed not just by the above but by numerous other alien species. However, in order to have some impact, the Environment Department needs more support than it’s receiving at the moment. And, with around 100 species to focus on (there may be more)—and just three years in which to carry out the relevant studies and devise control strategies—the newly launched program is certain to face major challenges.
One major difficulty, according to Josefina de Leon, who is in charge of the government’s Wildlife Resources Division, is there are those who, apparently, don’t want to cooperate with the program. This raises the additional challenge of educating local government officials, senators and other relevant parties with regard to the situation. It will, undoubtedly, be very interesting to see how this problem is tackled and how the three-year program develops.
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