International Waters: Marine News Roundup

Indonesian corals are currently in “suspended animation.”

In one of my occasional departures from my normal format, I’d like to report on three separate issues that are currently causing concern within the international marine ornamental aquatic industry community. Regrettably, they don’t paint an uplifting picture.

Indonesian Coral Confusion

As many readers will be aware, the Indonesian Fishery Ministry issued an instruction on May 4 stating that its Quarantine Authority would be temporarily halting the issuing of health certificates for live corals and anemones. No date was given for the duration of this "temporary" suspension.

Naturally, this sudden announcement caused not just confusion, but also shock within the industry. Some of the confusion will have, undoubtedly, arisen because there are two separate departments involved: the Ministry of Fisheries and the Ministry of Forest and Nature Conservation. The former is the body that is responsible for issuing the health certificates that are required before any corals are shipped, while the latter is Indonesia’s CITES Management Authority, responsible for the rules governing the collection, transportation and export of corals.

It appears that there has been some sort of breakdown in communication between these two departments, resulting in contradictory messages being spread throughout the supply chain. There have even been reports that the whole affair has been erroneously reported. One exporting company has gone a stage further and stated that the reported suspension does not even exist.

So, who’s right and who’s wrong? And what is the real situation? 

Unfortunately, as I write, the matter remains unresolved, but the following seems to apply:

  • There is a current suspension in place.
  • There is no indication as to when, or if, it will end.
  • The cause appears to be a breakdown in communication between two Indonesian government departments.
  • There does not appear to be a power struggle between these departments.
  • It is expected by the Indonesian Coral Shell and Ornamental Fish Association (AKKII) that the matter will be resolved before long and, with this in mind, they are continuing with their efforts to secure resumption of shipments with all the correct documentation in place.

Fiji Continues to Struggle

During this past Christmas/New Year’s period, the Fijian authorities suspended all exports of live corals and live rock. The timing may have been coincidental, but, if one were to choose to be unkind, one could interpret it as being chosen to evoke as little uproar as possible. If this was the ploy, it failed disastrously, with the whole international community rising to Fiji’s defense.

It seemed for a while that the decision had been taken without full knowledge of the facts, but there also could have been other, less savory motives that have nothing to do with sustainability behind it.

Be that as it may, we were all hugely relieved when the ban was repealed some three months after it had been imposed. It seemed at that time (as I reported) that commonsense had prevailed and Fiji’s ethical sustainable industry had been brought back from the brink. There was still the matter of reinstating the existing export quotas, but this was not seen as a major factor.

How wrong we were.

It turns out that, some two weeks after the ban was lifted, the authorities "recalled the decision," stating that they needed to renew and review all the Environmental Impact Assessment and Non-Detriment Finding studies that were already in place. In fact, a scientist would have to be hired by the exporters to conduct entirely new studies, something that would take months and cost many thousands of dollars. But this is not all. Once the studies have been completed, they will need to be put up for public comment, adding even further delays.

It would seem fair to say that such draconian action could easily lead to the total collapse of the Fijian live coral and live rock sector. The totally illogical thing about all this is that the Fijian industry has been repeatedly shown to be perfectly sustainable. In fact, it goes much further than this, with the ADE project putting back more coral on the reef than is actually taken out!

I am not privy to the conversations that take place within the corridors of power in Fiji, but it does seem that something other than pure sustainability issues are at work. And the saddest thing is that honest, hardworking people are being put out of work by a law that will, undoubtedly, be shown to be flawed and will be repealed. But when this will happen is anyone’s guess.


I would like to thank Walt Smith for keeping me abreast of developments, and wish him all the best in his continuing struggle, despite knowing that "the good guy doesn’t always win."

Hawaii’s Saga Rumbles on

Hawaii’s Saga Rumbles on

We have not yet received news from the Hawaiian authorities following the publication of two draft reports that support the claim that Hawaii’s marine ornamental fishery is perfectly sustainable. Should the evidence be accepted and assessed fairly, at some stage, we could expect a new court ruling lifting the ban on fishing permits that is currently in place. At least, this is what the optimists among us hope for. However, let’s not hold our breath—not when we’ve seen the antitrade lobby enjoy a number of unwarranted victories recently, against all logic.

As I reported in my last column, there is now a new cause for concern, with the First Circuit Court invalidating: "all recreational aquarium fishing permits. These permits allowed individuals to collect up to five fish per day for their own home aquariums; but now, the court says that their activities do not comply with the HEPA—the same act involved in connection with the industry suspensions.

"Incomprehensively, some would say, the ruling does not apply to recreational fishing with hooks or spears. So, while aquarists are not being allowed to collect small numbers of fish to be kept alive in their home aquaria, fishermen are being allowed to kill as many fish as they want. Where is the logic in this?"

Irrespective of logic or otherwise, the permits have now been voided, so that means there’s no more recreational collecting anymore, just as there’s no commercial collecting either, at least for the foreseeable future.

While the recreational ban has no immediate direct bearing on the industry, there is growing concern because, as Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) vice president of government affairs Robert Likins points out, such action demonstrates "the extremes that the court will apparently go to in restricting even the most benign practices."

Returning to the draft reports I mentioned above, PIJAC is currently modifying the two drafts in response to comments made during the period that the texts were open for the public to express their views. Once this is completed, we hope that, as I said earlier, they will be accepted and assessed fairly. If this proves to be the case, then some form of normality could, and should, return to the Hawaiian ornamental sector. If not, what then?

Yes, as you can see, the Hawaii saga rumbles on. I will, of course, keep on updating our readers as and when I receive news.


Thanks to PIJAC for continuing to update me on this long-running and ever-evolving matter.

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 new trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.