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Increasing appetite for live fish threatens Asian reefs

by the Fish Site Editor
01 February 2007, at 12:00am

MALAYSIA - Amid banks of bubbling aquariums, Hong Kong resident Kerry To sat back and admired his plate-size steamed grouper plucked from one of the tanks in this Malaysian restaurant and cooked live.

“It is very special,” said the 45-year-old To, who flew to the northwest coast of Borneo Island for a holiday featuring a chance to sample the rare delicacy. “These fish are so big and taste so good. I’ll be telling my friends.”

What he and other diners don’t realize is that their appetite for live reef fish — a status symbol for many newly rich Chinese — has caused the populations of these predators to plummet around Asia as fishermen increasingly resort to cyanide and dynamite to bring in the valuable catch. Entire reef ecosystems, already endangered by pollution and global warming, are at risk.

A study about the trade in Malaysia found that catches of some grouper species and the endangered Napoleon wrasse fell by as much as 99 percent between 1995 to 2003, a period coinciding with soaring economic growth in countries where the exotic fish are a delicacy.

“The removal of these large, predatory fish might upset the delicate balance of the coral reef ecosystem,” said Helen Scales, who co-authored the study for the Swiss-based World Conservation Union. The study appeared in the online edition of Proceedings of The Royal Societies, a respected scientific journal.

“With all the threats the reefs already face, these fishing practices take us one step closer to losing these reefs,” she said.

Source: Ottawa Citizen

the Fish Site Editor