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Calls for Moratoria on Trade, Consumption of Humphead Wrasse

06 September 2012

GLOBAL - World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has launched a report revealing legal and policy gaps in the trade of live reef fish in the Coral Triangle, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive management framework, starting with a moratoria on humphead wrasse, to help address threats to the region’s dwindling seafood supply.

The report, Legal and Policy Gaps in the Management of Live Reef Food Fish Trade in the Coral Triangle Region, examines the legal and policy framework for the live reef food fish trade (LRFFT) in Coral Triangle countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and East Timor.

“At the heart of this report is the problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, which is one of the most challenging issues in the trade in live reef food fish in the Coral Triangle,” says Dr Geoffrey Muldoon, Strategy Leader, WWF Coral Triangle Initiative.

“A regional moratoria on the trade and consumption of humphead wrasse, for starters, can serve as a model for the kind of comprehensive legal and policy measures the trade needs in this region,” adds Dr Muldoon.

The Coral Triangle, a 6 million square kilometre ocean expanse in Asia Pacific, contains roughly 37 per cent of the world’s known coral reef fish species.

The trade in live reef food fish in the Coral Triangle was estimated to be worth over US$810 million in 2002. High value species include humphead wrasse, selling for as much as HK$99 to 150 per kilo in luxury restaurants in Hong Kong and more than US$350 per kilo in Beijing and Shanghai.

Aside from Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore are the main importing and consumption markets of live reef food fish in the region. Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia have been key exporters for decades.

The growing demand for live reef food fish, the destructive methods of obtaining and rearing reef fish, and the widening geographical scope of the trade all pose major sustainability concerns, raising the urgent need for more effective management.

Destructive fishing methods including cyanide fishing and fish bombing are still rampant in some parts of the region and are rapidly destroying critical coral reef ecosystems.

The capture of juvenile fish for aquaculture is likewise contributing to dwindling fish populations, threatening the food security and livelihood of millions.

“Up to 70 per cent of reef fish in some places in the region are being taken from the ocean before they even have the opportunity to mature and reproduce, and this will have devastating effects on the delicate ocean food chain in the long term,” says Dr Muldoon.

Humphead wrasse is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). While still allowing its local capture and international trade, the listing is intended to ensure that the species is fished sustainably.

“By imposing a moratorium on this species in Indonesia, combined with the existing export moratorium in Malaysia and export limitation in the Philippines, we will have restricted three major trading hubs in the Coral Triangle. This will help curb consumption in Hong Kong and China,” adds Dr Muldoon.

The report puts forward the need for Coral Triangle countries to start analyzing governing laws and regulations on the capture and trade of live reef food fish with respect to existing international frameworks. “Such an analysis will enable these countries to recommend appropriate legal and policy changes, both at the domestic and regional level, to address issues related to the control and management of live reef food fish trade,” says Dr Muldoon.

Download the full report and see the key trends, gaps, and recommendations for wild capture, aquaculture, and the trade and consumption of live reed food fish at: wwf.panda.org/coraltriangle/reefseafoodtrade

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