Encouragement with Strings Attached

Will the Banggai cardinalfish saga be resolved once and for all in January 2020?

"Indonesia is encouraged to continue its conservation and management measures to ensure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni, and is invited to report progress on these measures, in particular on the implementation of recommendations adopted by the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting, to the Animals Committee at its 31st meeting."

So what does all this mean? 

In short, it means that, while Indonesia’s efforts to conserve and manage its Banggai cardinalfish (BCF) populations are being acknowledged positively, they are not fully being given the green light—at least not until January 2020, which is when the Animals Committee (AC) meets next.

While this might sound as if the AC is leaving the door open to block international sales of the BCF in the future, there is a positive aspect in that it is satisfied with the progress that Indonesia has made since it was invited to submit a management and conservation program to AC30 following the 17th Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties (CoP) in 2016.

Indonesia already submitted an initial progress report at AC29. This was welcomed by the AC, which "encouraged" Indonesia to "share any preliminary data" at AC30 while recognizing that this might "consist of early results of work intended to extend beyond 2018."

As Svein Fosså, Ornamental Fish International’s (OFI) CITES representative, who attends all CITES CoPs and AC meetings, commented: "… all the information available at the moment indicates that Indonesia is fully capable of managing the habitat and species well. We do not expect to see further listing proposals, which, most likely, only would be counterproductive to the conservation efforts."

The listing proposals referred to above are:

  • 2007 CITES CoP: The U.S. proposed Appendix II listing for the BCF at the 14th CoP but withdrew its proposal following strong opposition from Indonesia.
  • 2016 CITES CoP: The EU proposed Appendix II listing at CoP 17, but the proposal failed and was, consequently, withdrawn. It was at this meeting that Indonesia was invited to submit the reports mentioned above.

"Invited" or "encouraged" are not as gentle as they sound, of course, because failure to respond to the invitation or encouragement would, undoubtedly, bring with it serious consequences. Therefore, for "invited" and "encouraged," read "instructed."

It has to be said that Indonesia has responded magnificently, producing a report that focuses on the six major areas agreed at CoP 17:

  • availability of information on Banggai cardinal fish populations in its natural habitats and other geographic areas
  • implementation of protection and preservation of the fish and its natural habitats
  • sustainable use and trade of Banggai cardinal fish
  • improvement of human resources capacity to conserve and manage the fish
  • improvement of conservation governance
  • implementation of restocking of the population

It is heartening to be able to report that progress has been made with regard to every single one of the six criteria. The degree of progress, obviously, varies between them, especially because many of the measures being considered and implemented are long-term ones. Nonetheless, progress is undeniable. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear that AC30 reacted so favorably to the extensive Indonesia report (see details in the "Further Reading" section of this column). It is also not surprising that the AC wants to buy some more time until, at least, AC31 in January 2020. All the signs are, however, that 2020 will mark further significant progress on this long-running and complex issue. As things stand at the moment, we can allow ourselves some cause for optimism. Will time prove this optimism to be justified? I think and hope so.

Further Reading

Indonesia’s comprehensive and very professional report may be accessed at: E-AC30-21-02.pdf on CITES.org.


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Svein Fosså, OFI CITES representative, for keeping me abreast of the latest developments.

John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.