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Scientists urge cessation of Napoleon fish trade

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Marine scientists have urged the government to implement a moratorium on the catching and trading of the endangered Napoleon fish, also known as the Napoleon Wrasse or Humphead Wrasse.

A combination of the fish’s biological character, destructive fishing and mismanagement, coupled with a lack of supervision on its catching and trade, had caused this fish to be in danger of extinction from Indonesian seas, said Jensi Sartin, director of Reef Check Indonesia Foundation.

“The species reaches sexual maturity slowly, so it takes a long time to recover its depleted population. The problem is that most of the Napoleon Wrasse being caught are the fry,” he said.

A study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) showed that 90 percent of the Napoleon fish in the international market had been caught using cyanide or potassium to make it easier to catch and export the fish alive.

However, destructive fishing has caused a greater impact due to its damage to coral reefs, home to many other marine species as well.

Within the period 2005 to 2009, in compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) recommendation, the government implemented a trade quota of 8,000 Napoleon fish. It also regulated the minimum weight for caught fish at between 1 to 3 kilograms, and only allowed the use of traditional fishing gear.

However, since the government’s measures failed to prevent the depletion of the population, it decreased the quota to 2,000 fish earlier this year.

“The government has also failed to monitor the trade. It is estimated that 50 percent of fish exported
to Hong Kong are transported through illegal routes that have caused great economic loss and have been a major threat to the fish,” Jensi said.

The Napoleon fish was listed by CITES as endangered and its trade must be controlled to avoid utilization incompatible with its survival. One of the highest commercially valued of all reef fish in the line of reef fish trade, the species is traded internationally by air and sea.

The major exporters are in Southeast Asia, mainly Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, while the major importers are China, especially Guangdong province and Hong Kong. The price on the international market can reach US$180 per kilogram. High demand has threatened its population.

Recently, the government said it had decided to postpone the implementation of a moratorium on Napoleon fish catching and trade due to lack of data about the status and number of the population.

“The future of this species depends on the government, particularly the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Ministry, that has the authority to manage the trade,” Jensi said.

He said this problem was a test of Indonesia’s commitment to manage the Coral Triangle Area, the center of the world’s coral reefs.

Marthen Welly from the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) shared a similar opinion that the moratorium had to be implemented until the government could ensure that the trade would not cause extinction.

At the same time, related stakeholders should obtain complete and updated data on the population of this species, and a trade policy should be made based on the data, he said.

According to the IUCN Red List of endangered species, 1,414 species of fish, or 5 percent of the world’s known species, are at risk for extinction. While habitat loss and pollution are significant factors in the decline of these species, the greatest threat by far is overfishing. These endangered species include the Bluefin Tuna, Maltese Ray, Goliath Grouper and Acadian Redfish.

Source: The Jakarta Post, by Desy Nurhayati, November 20 2012

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