Pets Business World - Talking Shop



Sept 2011: by John Dawes

The CITES wheels are turning on corals, but rather slowly

During March 2010’s CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP 15), the Conference adopted three coral-associated decisions. It directed the CITES Animals Committee to:
• identify existing coral reference materials that could be adopted as standard references for CITES-listed corals;
• update its list of coral taxa for which identification to genus level is acceptable, but which should be identified to species level where feasible, and provide the updated list to the Secretariat for dissemination.
• that the CITES Secretariat upon receiving the updated list from the Animals Committee, to transmit the information to CITES member countries through a Notification to the Parties and by publishing the list on the CITES website.

The first two were addressed at the 25th Animals Committee Meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland, this July. With regard to the first point, it was decided “to have a first discussion on all new nomenclatural changes identified in this paper to identify possible problems of their adoption”.

The final recommendation will be deferred to the 26th  Animals Committee Meeting. It was also suggested “to develop recommendations on how to deal with these tasks in order to enable the Animals Committee to decide upon respective recommendations at its 26th meeting”. We’ve therefore reached the stage, some 18 months after CoP 15, where the reference and nomenclature issue is still outstanding, awaiting “a first discussion”, and the recommendations on how to deal with the task are still to be developed.

Turning to the second point, ie. the updating of the list of corals which should be identified to species level, we are still at the stage where the CITES Secretariat has officially invited the Animals Committee “to update the list in the Annex to the present document in order for this to be transmitted to the Parties by the Secretariat”.

So, things are moving on the coral front… but slowly. Bearing in mind that the last CoP was in March 2010, that the next one will be held in Thailand in March 2013, and that we are already entering autumn 2011, there doesn’t appear to be that much time for this complex issue to be resolved satisfactorily by the time it comes around. It’s also worth noting that the Animals Committee meets twice between CoPs, and it’s already had one of these meetings. Will it be able to sort the coral issue to make concrete proposals to CoP 16? I’d say it’s far from certain.

This is the last instalment of Talking Shop. It’s been a pleasure and a privilege bringing you a regular flow of international news relating to the ornamental aquatic industry. I hope that I’ve provided you with an interesting and informative service over the years that I’ve been writing this column. I also hope that you will enjoy a successful last quarter of 2011, and a better 2012 as we attempt to climb out of the crisis that’s still affecting us all. Thank you all for your support.

Sept 2011: by John Dawes

Will San Franciscans be able to continue buying ornamental fish?

I couldn't believe what I was reading…the headline on the PPNI on-line edition read: San Francisco Reviews Pet Sales Ban.  It all started a while back with a proposal to ban the sale of dogs and cats, the aim being, as reported in the L.A. Times, “to curtail puppy mills and kitten factories” and the impulse buying of pets.  The proposal didn’t go through at the time, but was expanded to include all furred and feathered animals and all pets.

In the San Francisco Chronicle, SF Commissioner Philip Gerrie was quoted as saying: “Most fish in aquariums are either mass produced under inhumane conditions or taken from the wild.” This, he maintained, led to “devastation of tropical fish from places like Southeast Asia.” With all due respect, his lack of knowledge of the ways in which fish are bred or collected, or on the “devastation” caused, is alarming, to say the least.

By implication, if the proposal were to become law in its present form, it would be illegal to sell ornamental fish in San Francisco. Yet presumably anyone could buy them outside SF and bring them in without any problem!  Alternatively, anyone interested in buying fish within SF would, presumably, have to follow the same guidelines as for dogs and cats and obtain them through pet store adoption schemes, direct sale by small breeders, or adoption from shelters or animal rescue organisations. How feasible would it be to obtain a guppy, goldfish or whatever fish via one or other of these routes? Not very!

More details have since been emerging and it is becoming clear that the proposal doesn’t quite have the support that first reading might suggest, either within the Commission or its Board of Supervisors.  For example, president of the Commission Sally Stephens opposed the ban on the grounds that it would also include small animal-breeding operations. In her view, it would be up to the Board of Supervisors to decide.

There appears to be disunity, or at the very least differences of opinion within the Board.  One supervisor, Eric Mar, believes the Board will have to look carefully at the proposal, while another, Sean Elsbernd, says the proposal “will end up in the dustbin of history and go absolutely nowhere”. I suspect that he is not alone in believing that this would be the best place for such drastic legislation.

As pet trade association PIJAC repeatedly emphasises, the industry strongly supports responsible pet ownership and a responsible trade – a view shared by all the other pet industry organisations, including those dedicated to ornamental fish. However, it opposes draconian, ill-thought-out, flaw-filled legislation, and always strives to find a workable, win-win solution. It is to be hoped that the compilers of the ban proposal will re-consider the position and open the door to sensible dialogue before it’s too late.

Unless this happens, the risk that the proposal will go ahead is very real and, should this turn out to be the case, other US cities could follow.  As Sandy Moore, vice-president of Ornamental Fish International, warns: “So far this is the only legislation that affects fish.  There are numerous pieces of local legislation under review that affect dog breeding and sales of mammals. However, if this legislation passes, I would expect to see other municipalities attempt the same ban.”

A sobering thought.

Aug 2011: by John Dawes

The prospect that payment or permission may be required to
breed ornamental fish is moving closer as the number of
signatories to the Nagoya Protocol continues to rise

The likelihood of having to pay for the right to breed fish in captivity is moving ever closer. There’s much ground to be covered yet and many practical problems to be resolved, but the date when decisions will have to be taken is approaching, as eight more countries have signed the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization. This brings the current total of signatories to 21.

As expected, India was among the eight along with Norway, Japan, Guatemala, Indonesia, South Africa, Switzerland and Tunisia. These join the 13 earlier signatures: Colombia, Yemen, Algeria, Brazil, Mexico, Rwanda, Ecuador, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles, Mali, Sudan, Panama and Peru.

The Protocol becomes active once 50 signatures are obtained, something that is viewed with great optimism by key members of the CBD, including executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf who said the inclusion of Japan and India represented “a major step towards the entry into force of the Nagoya Protocol and a clear demonstration of the partnership embedded in the spirit and letter of this historical treaty”. He was now looking forward to the signature of the European Union soon.

It’s not that the EU is not in favour of the protocol. Rather, it is delaying the signature until the correction procedure to the original text of the Protocol (French version) and to the true certified copies is completed. For the same reasons, the signature by the 27 member states of the EU would only take place once the correction procedure was completed. At the time of writing, this had not yet happened but was not anything of concern as the delay was purely on technical grounds rather than a result of an objection to the content of the protocol.

If all the necessary signatures are obtained – something that seems a certainty at this stage – it is expected that the Protocol will come into force by the time the 11th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (CoP 11) is held in India in the autumn 2012. Once this happens, things will (should) really begin to move. As yet, there’s no clear picture of how it will affect the ornamental aquatic industry… but it most certainly will. We have a very interesting and challenging time ahead!

Hawaii collecting/sale bill held over
Aug 2011: by John Dawes

Bill may be dormant at the moment… but it’s far from dead!

Some months back I reported how a Senate Bill had set out to prohibit any person “from knowingly or intentionally selling or offering to sell for aquarium purposes, aquatic life from any Hawaiian waters”. Had this Bill gone through in its original form, its effect on Hawaii’s marine ornamental aquatic industry would have been catastrophic.

Following a vital round of consultations, the text was modified so that the legislation now prohibits the collection and sale for aquarium purposes of aquatic species unless the aquatic species appears on an aquarium collecting ‘white list’.

This revised Bill was originally planned for implementation on June 1, 2011. However, there was no way in which its still outstanding flaws, added to the establishment of the ‘white list’, could be sorted out by this over-optimistic date. Not surprisingly, June came and went. As a result, the Bill has now been held over to the 2012 session of the Hawaiian Legislature, which convenes in January. However, if I read the dates correctly, the first Bills will not be discussed until March 10, and at this stage, there is no indication whether this is tabled for early discussion. Assuming it is, it will still take some time to iron out all the remaining flaws and compile a workable ‘white list’. It’s therefore highly unlikely that we will see any definite ruling, or full implementation, before next summer.
This does not mean that there’s room for complacency. Unless the Bill is thrown out or is substantially modified, there will be implications both for those who collect and export Hawaiian aquatic life and for those who import it.s

OFI honours Aquarama organiser
Aug 2011: by John Dawes

OFI president Dr. Gerald Bassleer (left) presents UBM’s
Christopher Eve with the 2011 OFI Award


The identity of the person or organisation selected by the Ornamental Fish International for its OFI Award is a tightly-guarded secret, and awarded to those who have made a significant contribution to the development of the ornamental aquatic industry. Consequently, the only things that were known in advance this year were that the announcement would be made during the Aquarama Opening Ceremony, that the laureate would be present at the ceremony, and that the award was going to someone who had been “very important to the ornamental fish industry over the last decades”.

This, however, gave absolutely no clue regarding the identity as those who gather at the Aquarama Opening Ceremony every two years constitute a veritable Who’s Who of the industry. It was, thus, with great expectation that the audience waited for the identity of the laureate to be revealed by OFI president Dr Gerald Bassleer. When the announcement came, it was received with a huge burst of applause and obvious approval.

UBM Asia Trade Fairs, both under its current and former name of CMP Asia Trade Fairs, has been a staunch supporter of the ornamental industry ever since it took over the ownership of Aquarama, and has always striven to provide the best possible forum for the international trade to meet and do business. This commitment to and recognition of the importance of the industry was referred to by several of the speakers during the opening ceremony, who stressed that Aquarama is a major business-boosting event and that UBM’s role as the owner and organiser of the show is also very important for the global industry.

Receiving the award was a visibly surprised but delighted Christopher Eve, senior vice-president of UBM Trade Fairs, who said: “UBM is proud to organise Aquarama, the only trade show in the world that is purely dedicated to the ornamental fish industry. We are gratified that Aquarama plays such an important role in the aquatic industry and are honoured to receive this award.”

The OFI Award was first introduced in 2005. My wife and business partner, Vivian, and I were honoured to be selected as winners of the inaugural award. Also honoured at the time were the then president of OFI Mick Seaby, and the world-famous aquatic plant collector and creator, Holger Windelov of Tropica Aquarium Plants. Other recipients since include Prof. Ning Labbish Chao, the director of Proyeto Piaba (the Rio Negro-based organisation dedicated to the development of a sustainable Amazonian ornamental industry); Anil Kumar (now with InfoFish) who was in charge of most of the ornamental aquatic activities of the Indian government’s Marine Products Export Development Authority; the UK’s OATA; and the head of Singapore’s Agri-food and Veterinary Authority Dr. Niam Tong Tao..

New protocol for sharing of genetic resources
July 2011: by John Dawes

How will guppies, swordtails, angels and other popular (and not-so-popular) aquarium fish fare under the CBD
Protocol on Benefit-Sharing?


THE ABS Protocol has nothing to do with assisted braking but is rather an acronym for Access and Benefit Sharing.

The ABS Protocol, the full title of which is the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair Trade and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, includes the rules and procedures that need to be followed for the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Strategic Plan to be implemented over the 2011-2020 period.

On the surface, everything sounds sensible. However, there are huge areas that need to be resolved, some of them of exceptional complexity.
The Protocol, for instance, gives states sovereign rights over their genetic resources. For our industry, this means that the countries of origin of the numerous fish, invertebrate and aquatic plant species in trade will be in a position to determine how access to these is controlled. These countries could therefore allow free access (unlikely?), restricted access (more likely?) or access at a price (even more likely?) to their genetic resources.

The Protocol considers the utilisation of genetic resources as consisting of “research and development on the genetic and/or biochemical composition of genetic resources.” While this doesn’t specifically refer to the commercial breeding of ornamental aquatic species, such activity could be interpreted as research and development because more often than not, wild-type species are selectively bred into varieties. Compare, for example, the mind-boggling array of the most popular species like guppies, swordtails, goldfish and koi.

Even if we were only talking about a single new species entering the trade for the first time, the procedures that need to be followed to comply with the requirements of the Protocol are not likely to be straightforward. So if the Protocol needs to be applied to long-established species like the guppywhere details of origin of the stocks currently in trade cannot be determined, and where more than one country of origin may be involved, the complexity escalates.

And even if agreement were to be reached, would there then be a retrospective component to this with backdated licence/royalty payments or other arrangements being demanded?

Then once everything is agreed and rubber-stamped, the thorny issue of non-Parties still needs addressing. There are 193 Parties to the CBD, but what about the rest – the most notable being the US?

According to the Protocol, the Parties “shall encourage non-Parties to adhere to this Protocol and to contribute appropriate information to the Access and Benefit-sharing Clearing-House”. The Clearing-House serves as a means for the sharing of information and provides access to information made available by each party. It cannot, and does not, make any mention of non-Parties, so it will be very interesting to see how this pans out in due course. Whatever happens, it may take quite some time in coming…

The Protocol will come into force 90 days after it has been ratified by 50 of the 193 members of the CBD, and will remain open until 1 February, 2012.

July 2011: by John Dawes

Transgenic fish (these are Taiwanese creations) will fall
under the Supplementary Protocol


The issue of genetically modified fish has come under the spotlight again, this time with eyes on the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. In short, this provided international rules and procedure on the liability and redress for damage to biodiversity resulting from living modified organisms (LMO).

The treaty now requires the signatures of of 40 Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) members for ratification and, once this has been achieved, will come into force 90 days later – it opened for signature at the UN Headquarters in New York in March, and will remain open until March 6, 2012.
Obviously this treaty has an impact on the ornamental aquatic industry, specifically the sector that deals in genetically modified aquarium fish. The two main, and substantial, markets for these fish are the US and the Far East.
Europe, for its part, has GMO (LMO) legislation in place, which makes it illegal to import any genetically modified, or transgenic, fish, unless it carries all the necessary legal documentation and fulfils the assurances demanded for all GMOs. In the case of genetically modified fish, this is practically impossible to obtain, not just because of the conditions that need to be satisfied, but also the costs involved, which make the whole exercise economically unviable. So, as things stand at the moment, no such fish are being legally imported into the EU.
Once the Supplementary Protocol is implemented, it will be even more unlikely for any prospective importer to obtain the necessary permits. It will also add a new dimension as the Supplementary Protocol addresses the complex matter of cross-border movement of LMOs, especially if these organisms were to cause damage to the biodiversity of the country into which they are imported.
According to René Lefeber, who also co-chaired the Nagoya-Kuala Lumpur negotiations, should LMOs cause environmental damage, the government must intervene and ensure that the importer or user of the living modified organism takes adequate measures to prevent further damage.
If natural recovery does not occur, the importer or user is responsible for restoring the environment to its original or comparable state.
A tall order indeed… and one that is certain to discourage any importer harbouring hopes of an
easing of the situation in Europe, and one that will undoubtedly send out a powerful message even to those who, quite legally, already trade in genetically
modified aquarium fish.
Significantly, the US is not a member  of the CBD and is therefore not bound by its treaties or protocols, but all the other 193 Parties will be bound by these, and other, criteria...

June 2011: by John Dawes

The Louisiana red swamp crayfish, or red lobster (Procambarus clarkii)
features on most (all?) European lists of invasive alien species


There was a time, and not that long ago, when few European countries had legislation regarding the import, sale and release of invasive alien species. Today, despite the fact that we are still waiting for a sound definition of what constitutes an invasive species, more and more countries are implementing such legislation.

Last July, Norway issued a World Trade Organisation Notification, with the proposed implementation date of January 1, 2011. The Spanish pet trade organisation also joined forces with the country’s Ministry of the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs to create a catalogue of invasive species.

Turning to Norway first, it aims to prevent the import and release of organisms “that have or may have adverse impacts on biological or landscape diversity”. Note that no mention is made of the invasive aspect of such organisms.

Such organisms are classified under four headings:
•  List I: Organisms for which no permit is required for import for specific purposes. This list applies only to the import of organisms that are not to be released to the environment and which present a minimum risk of escape.
•  List II: Organisms whose import is prohibited. This applies to the import of living and viable organisms. None of the species here may be offered for sale or distributed.
•  List III: Organisms whose release is prohibited. As with List II, this list applies to living and viable organisms, which cannot be offered for sale or distributed.
•  List IV: Organisms for which no permit is required for release.

The most relevant species for the ornamental aquatic industry appear in Lists II and III. Of interest is the Louisiana red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii), more commonly referred to as the red lobster. Along with its relatives within the family Astacidae, including the Mexican dwarf orange crayfish (Cambarellus patzcuarensis), all are prohibited. Among fish, popular pond species such as the common minnow (Phoxinus phoxinus), roach (Rutilus rutilus), rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) and tench (Tinca tinca) are prohibited.

This list is particularly interesting because it includes three species – the common minnow, rudd and roach – which are native to Norway, although FishBase rates the natural distribution of the rudd in the country as “questionable”.

Irrespective of this, because their distribution is restricted to certain parts of the country, their release is prohibited outside the natural range, while their release within the natural distribution range requires a permit. The same goes for the tench, which was introduced into Norway in 1820 from the Netherlands and is now well established in the country, to the extent that imports and releases are banned along the same lines as the other three.

On the aquatic plant front, the Canadian pondweed (Elodea canadensis) and the Western or Nuttall’s pondweed (C. nuttalii) feature in List III.
In Spain, pet trade organisation Asociación Española de Distribuidores de Productos para Animales de Compañía (AEDPAC) is collaborating with the Ministry of the Environment to establish a catalogue of invasive alien species in the country. The process began in 2007 as a result of a law passed to this effect. However, even a draft of the catalogue has yet to materialise, although the government said in April that the inventory would be ready that month.

AEDPAC is being considered by the Spanish authorities as part of the solution to the invasive species problem rather than as the problem itself. This is reflected in several ways, including the fact that it is participating in the establishment of the catalogue by:
• collaborating in the definition of ornamental invasive and alien species;
• contributing information regarding the ornamental species that are currently being imported into the country;
• distributing the information efficiently to all those involved in the importation of exotic species;
• including the catalogue (once it has been finalised) in the organisation’s code of ethics;
• liaising with other trade bodies, such as the European Pet Organisation and Ornamental Fish International on the subject.

This, according to AEDPAC, shows clearly that Spain is more advanced in terms of relevant legislation than the rest of the European Union, which is still in the throes of defining strategies while Spain is already compiling a catalogue of invasive alien species. Further, AEDPAC had already taken an important proactive step in 2009 by informing all its members of which species they should not, under any circumstances, import.

June 2011: by John Dawes

This year, 2,500 fewer open/folded brain corals
(Trachyphyllia geoffroyi) will be exported from Indonesia

The 2011 CITES quota for Indonesian button corals
(Cynarina lacrymalis), bottom of picture), remains unchanged

On April 7, CITES released its National Export Quotas for 2011. The list includes all Appendix-listed animals and plants and was first published in March, but updated in April with regards to species from Colombia, Indonesia, Niger, Surinam and Vietnam.

The Colombian quotas include the queen conch (Eustrombus gigas), but since only exports of meat and pearls are permitted and not shells, it doesn’t affect our industry. Neither do the queen conch figures for countries such as Nicaragua, or the quotas for Niger or Surinam which don’t contain any ornamental aquatic industry-related species.

However, the Vietnamese quotas include giant clams found within the industry (Tridacna crocea and T. squamosal) and three seahorses – Hippocampus comes (12,000 pieces), H. kelloggi (7,000) and H. kuda (77,000). No seahorse quotas were issued for Vietnam in 2010.

Of greater relevance are the coral quotas for Indonesia; three species of which are worthy of special note: Catalaphyllia jardinei, Cynarina lacrymalis and Trachyphyllia geoffroyi. Rumours are going round that they have been removed from the list and, as a result, are no longer subject to export controls.

This is most certainly NOT the case: all three remain on the list. In fact, with C. jardinei, the quota has been cut from 25,000 pieces to 22,500. The quota for C. lacrymalis remains unchanged at 7,250 pieces, but T. geoffroyi is also reduced from 50,000 to 47,500 pieces.

Indonesia is also allowed to export 450 tonnes of live rock and 900,000 pieces of substrate, ie. pieces of coral rock to which are attached invertebrates not included in the CITES Appendices and transported in water. Both figures are the same from 2010.

Also worth consulting are the figures for Fiji, which include several species of Tridacna clams, hard corals and hydrozoans (fire corals and live rock).

Apart from the above-mentioned seahorse species, two other fish species are mentioned: the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) which is receiving widespread protection, and the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus), with no specimens allowed for Sabah (Malaysia) and 3,600 specimens for Indonesia (5,400 in 2010).

While CITES lists the official quotas, individual Parties can impose additional restrictions. EU importers who want to check up on these can visit

May 2011: by John Dawes

Suckermouth catfish, known as janitor fish, are among the
latest invasive species to be causing concern in the Philippiness

Apple snails were introduced for aquaria and adopted for
human consumption, but with little success


“Despite constraints (of staff, expertise and facilities)… it is incumbent on the government in cooperation with the private sector, particularly the aquarium trade and aquaculture industries, to protect native aquatic species and the environment from ecological and economic ravages of invasive species with the maxim of prevention is better than control.”

No, this wasn’t written within the last week, last month, or even last year, but in the Oct-Dec 2002 edition of Asean Biodiversity. They are the words of Rafael D. Guerrero III, widely recognised for his work on tilapia sex reversal. He is an academician at the National Academy of Science and Technology in the Philippines, and is executive director of the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development at the Department of Science and Technology.

Yet it is only now that the Filipino government, through its Environment Department, has launched a three-year programme to investigate the status of invasive species in the country and devise strategies to control or eradicate them.

According to Anson Tagtag, a government wildlife specialist, the Philippines and some South-east Asian neighbours lag behind European countries with regard to invasive species control. Josefina de Leon, who is in charge of the Philippine government’s Wildlife Resources Division, claims that owners tend to throw away their pets/animals once they no longer want them. This still happens in the West, of course, but not to the extent that it used to or is happening in the Philippines.

A combination of lack of awareness or interest, allied to what is regarded as a lack of clearly defined import regulations, has resulted in a situation where it is easy to bring potentially harmful species into the Philippines, where it’s estimated there are 100 exotic species of animals and plants causing problems.

Among them are well-known aquarium and pond species, including suckermouth catfish (plecos), golden apple snails and the water hyacinth. In 2002, there had been more than 40 introductions of fish, crustaceans and mollusc species into the inland waters of the Philippines since 1907. These were intentionally introduced for food, recreation and mosquito control or inadvertently introduced in association with the imported species. The apple snail (Pomacea canaliculata) was first introduced from the US as an aquarium novelty in 1980. It was subsequently ‘adopted’ by the aquacultural community as a potential food species, but the industry collapsed in the early 1990s through lack of consumer demand.

A species causing great concern is the suckermouth catfish (Hypostomus plecostomus), known locally as the janitor fish, and regarded as a pest, especially in the Laguna de Bay area. Despite its size, which could easily make it suitable for human consumption, Filipinos have not taken to it, so there’s no chance of controlling the species through a food fisheries programme.

The water hyacinth (Eichhornia crasspies), on the other hand, has its uses. The fibres in its stalks can be used as an alternative textile material, and the whole plant can be used as a water purifier and indicator of pollution levels.

Rather belatedly, the Philippines is trying to come to terms with the problems. However, with around 100 species and just three years in which to carry out studies and devise control strategies, the newly-launched programme is certain to face major challenges.

There are laws in place to control imports of alien species. One states: “No foreign finfish, mollusc, crustacean or aquatic plants shall be introduced in Philippine waters without a sound ecological, biological and environmental justification based on scientific studies and subject to biosafety standards as provided for by existing laws.” Another says that the relevant authorities have the power to “Conduct fisheries quarantine and quality inspection of all fish and fisheries/aquatic products coming into and going out of the country by air or water transport”.

Clearly something is not working, with the result that problems have escalated. This is compounded by those who don’t want to cooperate with the programme. So we are not just talking about enforcement, but also about educating local government officials, senators and other relevant parties. It will be very interesting to see how the three-year programme develops – if it develops at all. .

May 2011: by John Dawes

The whole territories of Hungary and the UK join the latest list
of SVC-free EU Member States


Since 2008, Hungary has been carrying out a monitoring programme in a bid to improve its status with regard to Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC), an OIE notifiable disease. It has since been able to establish that its entire territory is free from SVC.

Late last year Hungary applied to the European Commission for SVC-free status and this was duly granted. Consequently, it now joins a growing list of EU compartments (countries, regions, farms, etc.) officially classified as being free of the disease.

Once a compartment is classified as free from a notifiable disease, it is allowed to export fish that are susceptible to the disease – in this case carp (including koi) and goldfish – to other disease-free compartments. Disease-free countries can impose import restrictions on shipments of such fish in order to prevent the introduction of the disease. All shipments must originate from disease-free compartments and must be accompanied by the relevant health certificate stating that the fish are free from the disease.

As recently as April 2010, the list of SVC-free EU Member States comprised Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and UK (territories of Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey). The UK was also listed in April 2010 as having an eradication programme in place for SVC and, as such, was approved to take national measures to control the disease.

Since then the UK has submitted information demonstrating that its eradication programme has been successfully completed and, consequently, has been regarded as free of SVC and listed in Annex I, instead of II. The number of EU Member States whose whole territories are now officially classified as SVC-free rises to six: Denmark, Ireland, Hungary, Finland, Sweden and UK which is listed as: “Whole territory of the United Kingdom; the territories of Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man.”

With regard to disease-free status for the other serious fish diseases included in the Commission Decision, the UK is listed as follows in Annex I:
Bacterial Kidney Disease (BKD):   
The territory of Northern Ireland; the territories of Jersey and the Isle of Man
Infectious Pancreatic Necrosis (IPN):    
The territory of the Isle of Man
Infection with Gyrodactylus salaris (GS):   
The whole territory of the United Kingdom; the territories of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man
The UK is further listed in Annex II for BKD as: “The territory of Great Britain”, indicating that, if the programme is successfully completed, it can apply for promotion of its entire territory to Annex I for this disease at a future date. Hungary, in contrast, does not appear in either Annex I or II for any of the listed diseases (other than SVC, of course).

April 2011: by John Dawes

Singapore exports are due to be subjected to a new quality
assurance scheme


Since 1983, Singapore has through its Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) had a quality assurance programme in place that allows the Authority to issue health certificates to licensed ornamental fish exporters, based on good management practice such as maintenance of high standard of hygiene and sanitation in exporters’ premises, and adherence to code of practice and operation guidelines for the accreditation scheme.

The Accredited Ornamental Fish Exporter Scheme (AOFES) allows the AVA to monitor premises for fish diseases through a monthly surveillance and sampling programme. At the time of writing, there are 46 members of the AOFES, which includes all of Singapore’s ornamental fish exporters.

The AOFES has worked pretty well up to now and is widely recognised as one of the best quality-assurance pre-export schemes. Nonetheless, EU and Australian representatives who visited Singapore last year had some reservations regarding the pre-export aspects of the inspection programme.

In typical Singapore fashion, the AVA has acted promptly to ensure that the country’s programme stays relevant and is accepted by overseas authorities as assuring quality fish and good health. The latest thinking on this matter was published in the AVA’s Ornamental Fish Newsletter last December.

A new scheme is to be introduced during the current year: the AVA Quality Assurance Scheme, with the acronym AQUAS. It is not the aim of this new scheme to scrap the current one and substitute it with a new programme. Rather, it will consist of a re-vamp of the AOFES.

One significant change is that AOFES is a “prescriptive top-down system administered by the AVA for the industry”, while AQUAS would offer “a consultative approach for the industry towards quality management for export of ornamental fish.”

Further, AQUAS would also allow co-regulation of activities between AVA and industry in achieving quality-enhanced fish for export. Singapore ornamental fish exporters are also to be more heavily involved in both implementing and documenting the AVA-approved quality assurance scheme. The AVA, for its part, would take on the responsibility of ensuring that the scheme complies with documented standards through regular audits. Three other benefits reported in the OFN report are: financial savings, lifetime membership of AQUAS and enhanced competiveness of exporters.
Meetings have already been held between the AVA and the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters’ Association, and more are planned to discuss and finetune the proposals. This being the case, we can expect a satisfactory resolution sometime during the coming few months.

April 2011: by John Dawes

Exports of Hawaii’s most popular export, the yellow tang, will
be banned if a proposed Senate Bill becomes law


If the outcome of a Bill going through the Hawaii Senate Committee on Water, Land and Housing (Senate Bill 580) turns out as the proposers hope, the Hawaii ornamental aquatic sector could collapse. Sounds over-dramatic? Well, no, not in the least!

Here is the wording of the key sentence from Section 1 of the Bill: “It shall be unlawful for any person at any time to knowingly sell or offer to sell, for aquarium purposes, aquatic life taken from any of the waters within the jurisdiction of the State.”

What can be clearer than this? Quite simply, if this Bill goes through as it stands, we can bid farewell to all those Hawaiian jewels that grace marine aquaria all over the world, including Hawaii’s main export, the beautiful and popular yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), to say nothing of the devastating effect it will have on the livelihoods of all those who service this sector.

When I came across this Bill (following an alert from PIJAC, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council), I thought I had missed something in the above text. Having assured myself that this was not the case, I started searching for possible exceptions that might offer some flexibility. Yes, there are exceptions, but with a very big “but”.

For instance, paragraph (b) of Section 1 states: “This section shall not apply to a person exercising a customary and traditional right for subsistence, cultural, or religious purposes.” In other words, it’s OK to gather Hawaiian aquatic live for these purposes, but collecting for home aquaria does not fall under any of these categories. Aquatic life can also be taken for human consumption and for use as bait, or (under permit) for “bona fide scientific or public display purposes”.

There are other exceptions, a couple of which appear to offer some hope. Under Section 2, two paragraphs deal with the issuing of permits to take aquatic life for aquarium purposes so long as certain criteria, mainly regarding collecting methods and welfare, are met. So what’s the problem with this? The problem is that a crucial part of paragraph (c) has been crossed out. The original paragraph read: “It shall be illegal to sell or offer for sale any fish and other aquatic life taken under an aquarium permit unless those fish and other aquatic life are sold alive for aquarium purposes”. But the paragraph now reads: “It shall be illegal to sell or offer for sale any fish and other aquatic life taken under an aquarium fish permit”. This means that you can collect as many marine organisms as a one-year permit will allow “for scientific study, for public exhibition, or for sale for any of these purposes”, but it will be illegal to sell them!

The Bill covers marine and freshwater aquatic life, and the term “aquatic life” embraces “any type or species of mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, mollusk, crustacean, arthropod, invertebrate, coral, or other animal that inhabits the freshwater or marine environment and includes any part, product, egg, or offspring thereof; or freshwater or marine plants, including seeds, roots, products, and other parts thereof.”

As often happens when all-inclusive attempts are made by people who are, perhaps, less well informed than they should be – basic biological principles are missed or ignored. In the above case, there are two such slip-ups: aren’t crustaceans arthropods, and aren’t corals invertebrates? This is the same sort of gaff as that other much-quoted and much-(ab)used one that refers to “animals and birds”, as if birds weren’t animals.

Such statements raise suspicions regarding the level of knowledge (or lack thereof) of those who propose such legislation; it can be an indication that they are not as conversant with the subject matter as they should be. In which case, there have to be doubts about the logicality of the proposals and/or the level of awareness of all the parameters involved by the proponents of the document(s) concerned.

In this instance, it appears that a wealth of data collected by the Division of Aquatic Resources in Hawaii “has been repeatedly overlooked by those legislators proposing bills to regulate or ban the trade”. So says Dr William Walsh at the DAR. He goes on to say that “none of the legislators have even bothered to ask for it.”

This is nothing new to us. There is a long history of proposals being made, either without consultation of all the relevant data or with the people most directly involved in the activity that is being controlled or prohibited. Ret Talbot, senior editor at CORAL Magazine, asks “Will a law to ban or seriously limit the trade in Hawaii be passed by lawmakers with little understanding of the fishery? Well, unless the mounting challenges to the proposal bear fruit, the answer is, ‘Yes!’, despite the fact that even anti-trade groups in Hawaii oppose the Bill, feeling that it doesn’t help matters ‘on the ground’ or ‘on the reef’.”

I just hope some degree of common sense will be brought to bear on what could turn out to be a calamitous situation.

March 2011: by John Dawes

Countries experiencing an invasion of the lionfish are
developing novel approaches to its control


It was bound to happen; it was just a matter of time. In fact, there were some within the industry (I include myself here) who have been expecting some enterprising company or other to hit on the obvious idea that a lionfish is a lionfish, wherever it comes from, and so there is now a novel opening in the trade and hobby for… Atlantic lionfish. This isn’t rocket science – it’s commonsense.

It was a little over a year ago that I wrote in one of my reports: “In the face of the continuing spread, it occurs to me that it would not be totally surprising if we were to hear of some enterprising diver/collector/dealer hitting on the novel idea of beginning to collect these exotic lionfish and placing them on the market. Their ‘added value’ factor, by being exotic, might just yield positive results.  Unlikely? Perhaps. Perhaps not…”

It is self-evident the continuing spread of Pterois volitans and P. miles along the Atlantic coasts of the US, Central America, Gulf of Mexico, northern South America and the Caribbean islands means a growing supply of healthy lionfish of all sizes.

Not surprisingly, as early as last summer, some specimens of Atlantic (Caribbean) lionfish began appearing in a few US retail outlets. Over ensuing months, this number has grown and now one Florida-based company has launched a campaign to get customers to buy Atlantic lionfish collected from these exotic populations, in preference to those imported from traditional Indo-Pacific sources. In addition, the company in question,, has instructed its collectors in Florida and Haiti “to send as many as they can to us”, thus aiding the company’s efforts to create a market.

Availability on its own does not, of course, create market demand. Quality, price and added value all contribute as well. In the case of Atlantic lionfish, they satisfy all these criteria. By being collected closer to home, transportation time and costs are reduced. This is an undoubted help in getting the fish from collecting area to point of sale more rapidly than those that have to travel half the world, with the accompanying health/quality benefits.

Cheaper transportation costs also mean that there is scope for offering these exotic lionfish at lower prices, so the possibilities are endless. Indeed, it appears that this is the case, with Atlantic lionfish reportedly going for around $10 less than the cheapest Indo-Pacific specimens.

And there’s the ‘added value’ factor to be considered. Human nature being what it is, we tend to be attracted by anything that is offered as being ‘different’. Were this not the case, our insatiable demand for ever-more-ornate types of bettas, or goldfish, or guppies, or whatever would not exist. Where Atlantic lionfish are concerned, the mere fact that they are exotic makes them attractive to many (most?) consumers. With the passage of time, it would also seem reasonable to expect to find some discernible differences between Atlantic and Indo-Pacific lionfish as the forces of natural selection make themselves felt.

In the case of the Atlantic lionfish, the founder population consisted of just six specimens that escaped into Biscayne Bay in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, so the chances of differences occurring between their now-widely distributed offspring and their Indo-Pacific counterparts are pretty good. Should this happen, a whole new window of opportunity will open, one that someone, somewhere will undoubtedly exploit.

There’s the other possibility that someone, somewhere might begin exploring the possibility of exporting Atlantic lionfish to customers worldwide. I repeat… “Unlikely? Perhaps. Perhaps not...”.

March 2011: by John Dawes

Lookdowns are the latest captive-bred marine fish to hit the market

The List of marine species being captive-bred for home aquaria continues to grow. Not surprisingly, most are reef-bound or bottom-hugging species, reflecting the almost total dominance of such fish in the hobby. More open-water  – though still reef-associated – species are rarer, with juveniles of the yellow jack or trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus), a 75-cm shoaler, being one of the most popular, despite the ultimate size that adults can attain.

A little while back, reports began appearing that captive-raised specimens of a relative of this trevally, belonging to the same family (Carangidae), would soon become available in commercial quantities: the lookdown or threadfin (Selene vomer). These reports have become more frequent and better documented in recent months. The reefbuilder website ( announced last June that captive-raised stocks would soon come on to the market. A similar item appeared on the Advanced Aquarist website ( last December.

Note that these reports refer to ‘captive-raised’ rather than ‘captive-bred’ fish. There is an important distinction. Captive-raised fish are collected as larvae or early juveniles from the wild and then raised in captivity. Captive-bred fish go a significant step further in that they are the result of adults spawning in captivity, followed by the hatching of the eggs and the raising of the larvae under captive conditions. This, obviously, presents a much stiffer challenge…or series of challenges, to be more precise.

As far back as 2003, Florida-based company Proaquatix ( managed to breed the lookdown in captivity. However, quantities were small and the fish ended up in public aquaria. Another Florida-based company, Algagen ( has also bred the species, but again, not in large numbers. However, Proaquatix has now managed to breed the fish in sufficiently large numbers to be able to offer it to the trade, according to a report in CORAL, posted on December 16, 2010.

The project began with adult lookdowns collected from the wild, which were subsequently subjected to a light/dark cycle that replicated conditions in the wild. Once it was felt that the fish were adequately prepared, they received a ‘hormone application’, which presumably means they were injected with hormones. CORAL reports that the first egg collection was estimated at 300,000, which took only 24-30 hours to hatch.

Lookdown fry develop exceptionally long dorsal fin filaments, which cause considerable problems in aquaria as fish can become tangled up with each other, or can end up being trapped by surface tension. These filaments and other extensions such as spines are quite common in fish and invertebrates that spend time as part of the plankton and help organisms float by increasing drag.

Young lookdowns can also develop swimbladder problems in aquaria and this, added to the dorsal fin complications, leads to overall survival rates being around the 3.3 per cent mark. While this is not a particularly high percentage, it demonstrates that despite the fin and gas problems being encountered, it is still possible to raise sufficient juveniles to get the captive-bred lookdown project launched on a commercial basis.

No doubt the current challenges will be overcome, and when they are, we are bound to hear much more about captive-bred lookdowns, especially as this species is a very fast grower that can attain a length of 2.5cm (commercial size) in just eight weeks and can compete price-wise with wild-caught specimens.

February 2011: by John Dawes

The queen conch (Eustrombus gigas) features on the Philippines
list of species whose collection and subsequent export is prohibitedl


The Philippines has issued a revised prohibition order on the harvesting, possession, selling and export of CITES-listed aquatic species. So exports of hard corals (Scleractinia), organ-pipe corals (Tubiporidae), fire corals (Milleporidae), lace corals (Stylasteridae), blue coral (Heliopora coerulae), black corals (Antipatharia), Tridacna (giant) clams, queen conchs (Eustrombus gigas) and all species of seahorse (Hipopocampus spp) are prohibited.

For those who are not aware, international trade in species deemed by CITES to be under threat in the wild is controlled by its Appendices I, II and III. Trade in Appendix I species is prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances such as provision of proof that specimens are captive-bred. Trade in Appendix II species is closely monitored and requires the issue of certificates. Species are included in Appendix III at the request of a party (country) that already regulates trade in that species and needs the cooperation of other parties.

Now CITES makes allowances for any party to impose stricter domestic measures with regard to Appendix-listed species if it deems its own populations to be under greater threat than indicated by their listing in the Appendices. To do so, parties have to issue a notification via the CITES Secretariat of their decision.

Which is what the Philippines did on Nov 29 last year, dividing the notification into two sections, one for specimens of terrestrial fauna, and the other (the one relevant to our sector) for specimens of aquatic species.

The notification stated: “The fishing or harvesting, possession, selling and export of specimens of CITES-listed aquatic species are prohibited. However, an exemption may be granted for limited quantities if collection has been authorised by the prior issuance of a special permit and the export is for scientific purposes.”

It also urged other parties “to help the Philippines in implementing the bans… and to inform it of any attempts to import into their territories specimens subject to the prohibition”.

Interestingly, the text is identical to an earlier notification issued in February 2008 with regards to aquatic species, which this latest notification now replaces – the only change is in the text relating to terrestrial species. However, because both terrestrial and aquatic species are covered by the same notification, the new document has had to be circulated.

In practice therefore, this latest notification leaves things as they have been since February 2008. It is important to stress that these prohibitions stand, irrespective of the fact that none of the above-mentioned organisms feature on CITES Appendix I.  All are included in Appendix II, which normally allows monitored trade to take place, and none is included in the latest list of EU suspended species published in Commission Regulation (EU) 997/2010 on 5 November 2010.

February 2011: by John Dawes

Countries experiencing an invasion of the lionfish are
developing novel approaches to its control


Lionfish (Pterois miles and P. volitans) have achieved popularity as aquarium fish – and a degree of notoriety because of their invasiveness along the Atlantic coasts of the US.

It is now generally agreed that the source of the invasion was an aquarium in Florida destroyed by Hurricane Andrew back in 1992. According to this oft-circulated story, about half a dozen lionfish escaped and caused the subsequent population explosion. Others dispute this story and say the fish were illegally dumped; it seems such claims will never disappear completely, despite a lack of evidence.

The FishBase website ( describes P. miles, the devil firefish or lionfish, as having been introduced into US waters from unknown sources between 1975 and 1999, with subsequent introductions occurring from the US to Bermuda, Jamaica and Puerto Rico from 2000 to the present. The website also reports an introduction from an unknown source at an unknown date into Israel.
As for P. volitans, FishBase reports the source of the specimens released by the 1992 hurricane into Biscayne Bay, Florida, as unknown. It also reports four further introductions having occurred, this time from the US into the Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica and Puerto Rico, between 2000 and the present.

So there are at least two separate introductions, with P. miles appearing in US waters well before P. volitans. I mention this because some believe that all the lionfish currently found in US waters come from the single Biscayne Bay escape. For this to happen, though, both species (and both sexes) would have had to be present in the original 1992 half dozen fish… an unlikely, though not impossible, situation. 

Many strategies have been employed to control their spread. At one point it was suggested that as lionfish make good eating, they could perhaps be targeted for the table. While no large-scale commercial fishery has developed, the Bahamas, Florida and several places in the Caribbean now organise lionfish derbies.

A typical derby consists of paying clients competing in lionfish hunting tournaments, with prizes for the largest fish caught, the highest number caught and so on. Participants then go to a party where the main celebratory meal is, obviously, lionfish.

An indication of the extent of the lionfish population can be gauged by the number caught by a three-man team from Abaco Island. They bagged 289 fish in a single day’s hunting in 2009, and topped this with 345 the following year!

In its on-line edition, Coral magazine ( reports that last June, teams on 21 boats from Florida and the Bahamas caught 941 lionfish. Prizes amounted to more than $5,000, with the largest fish measuring 43.4cm and weighing in at nearly 2kg.

In Jamaica, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries estimates that there are over 30,000 fishermen competing for its natural marine resources, which are stretched to breaking point. The ministry is now urging the consumption of lionfish, and the government has launched a public education campaign to support this.

Elsewhere, as in the Bahamas, lionfish already fetch around $12 per pound, a higher price than what is paid for many other food fish, while in Nassau, a company is reportedly offering to buy lionfish fillets for distribution in local markets.
It appears that what began as a novelty situation, where divers and snorkellers could pay to see exotic lionfish on tropical Atlantic reefs, is now turning into a win-win situation, with the reduction of lionfish populations and the creation of new markets.

Entrepreneurs are never at a loss with ways of exploiting a potentially lucrative situation, and the lionfish invasion is proving to be no exception. I wonder if there are any entrepreneurs within the ornamental aquatic sector who are, perhaps, beginning to assess the feasibility of exporting lionfish for consumption rather than aquarium purposes?

January 2011: by John Dawes

Imports of wild-caught specimens of certain populations of six
seahorse species into Europe are currently suspended


In early November, the EU published its latest Regulation regarding species whose import as wild-caught specimens into the EU is suspended: Commission Regulation (EU) No. 997/2010 of 5 November 2010 suspending the introduction into the Union of specimens of certain species of wild fauna and flora.

This time round, more species were removed from the list than added, though no fish were removed. Only three species have been added: two box turtles, Cuora amboinensis from Vietnam and C. galbinifrons from Laos and Vietnam, and an orchid, Dendrobium nobile from Laos. Only specimens from the countries mentioned are subject to import suspension. Imports from other countries are permitted, as long as they observe all other requirements.

The regulation also incorporates an annex that lists earlier suspensions, including one wrasse and six seahorses, all from Indonesia, though with regards to Hippocampus kuda, the suspension also applies to Vietnamese populations.
• Cheilinus undulatus, the humphead wrasse, is officially listed as Endangered by the World Conservation Union (IUCN,) can grow to nearly 2.5 metres in length, weigh up to 190kg and can live for over 30 years. It is only suitable for public aquaria.
• The six suspended seahorses are: Hippocampus barbouri (Vulnerable), H. comes (Vulnerable), H. histrix (Data Deficient), H. kelloggi (Data Deficient), H. kuda (Vulnerable) and H. spinosissimus (Vulnerable).  The terms in brackets signify the IUCN status of each species over its entire range and not specifically Indonesia or Vietnam.

If the overall geographical status were to be the main criterion used in arriving at a decision regarding importation, then none of the species would be suspended. They would merely be subject to the same monitoring levels as all the other seahorse species, which are listed by CITES under Appendix II. However, EU Regulations regarding importation contain provision for taking additional restrictive measures where these are deemed necessary.

Among these provisions, the Competent Authority or Management Authority can decide to allow imports if it is deemed that this “would not have a harmful effect on the conservation status of the species or on the extent of the territory occupied by the relevant population of the species” or if “there are no other factors relating to the conservation of the species which militate against the issuance of the import permit”.

This decision is taken “after examining available data and considering any opinion from the Scientific Review Group”. It is these latter factors that have resulted in the listing of the above-mentioned populations of the six seahorse species over recent years.

It is also important to stress that the full list of fish species whose import is restricted or prohibited does not just include the above seven. Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97 contains four Annexes: A, B, C and D. The two most relevant here are Annexes A and B, the former containing (mostly) those species which appear on CITES Appendix I and the latter including (mostly) those that appear on CITES Appendix II. Each of these categories has a number of paragraphs, some of which allow imports, even if the species in question appears on Appendix I. A notable example of such a species is the dragon fish (Scleropages formosus), certified captive-bred specimens of which may be imported, even though the species is listed in Appendix I.

For a full list of all the species included in the Annexes, search for Council Regulation (EC) No. 338/97. For a full list of those which are included in CITES Appendix I and II, visit the CITES homepage ( and then follow the instructions for accessing the Appendices.
The aforementioned Cheilinus undulatus, along with all Hippocampus species, including those to which the EU suspensions apply are all currently listed under Appendix II, though it is possible that if the IUCN rating of Endangered for C. undulatus persists, it may eventually end up in Appendix I.

January 2011: by John Dawes

Exports of goldfish (these are pearlscales prior to export) and
koi to the EU are in full swing once more


As I reported earlier, representatives from the EC Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) visited Singapore in November 2009 to evaluate the animal health controls it had in place for aquaculture animals destined for export to the EU. While crediting the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) – Singapore’s Competent Authority – for its organisation, resources and powers to carry out official controls relating to the export of live ornamental fish, the FVO felt that there were shortcomings in the transportation chain. This had nothing to do with Singapore’s own production and export, but rather with its imports of some fish from third countries destined for subsequent export.

Following publication of the FVO report in March 2010, prompt unilateral action was taken by the Singaporean authorities. By May, it had ceased issuing certificates for exports of goldfish and koi to a number of EU Member States that are KHV- and SVC-free, or already have KHV and SVC surveillance or eradication programmes in place, namely Denmark, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and the UK (goldfish and koi), and Hungary and Germany (State of Saxony only) for koi.

This step was a temporary measure while the Singaporean authorities carried out a full audit and installed the necessary procedures to address the non-compliances highlighted in the FVO report. Once the necessary amendments had been completed, the proposed action plan was submitted for approval, which was subsequently given.

In the words of the UK’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) published on the e-fishbusiness website ( “The Singapore Authorities have satisfied the FVO that appropriate procedures are now in place and the prohibition has been lifted with immediate effect.”

The implemented measures include:
• A system to ensure that corrective actions are taken within specified timeframes and penalties introduced for non-compliance, including suspension from Singapore’s Accredited Ornamental Fish Exporter Scheme.
• Inspection of all consignments to be exported within 72 hours prior to export – and transmission of results to the certification unit issuing the export health certificates.
• Introduction of import health certificate requirements for live aquaculture animals which are susceptible to, or which may act as vector species for, any of the diseases covered by European Union legislation.

The certificate requirements came into force last July. To widespread approval, exports of goldfish and koi from Singapore to the EU are now back in full swing.

December 2010: by John Dawes

Is it really true that 99 per cent of all marine ornamental fish die
within their first year in captivity?


We often come across claims that the vast majority of marine aquarium fish die within their first year in captivity. This statement has been made so many times that it has been accepted more or less as fact, and without question, by people both inside and outside the marine hobby.
But… is it really true?

One recent, highly publicised claim of marine fish mortality was made by Robert Wintner, known as ‘Snorkel Bob’, on the Sea Shepherd website (, where he is an advisory board member of the organisation. Entitled ‘The Dark Hobby; Can We Stop the Devastating Impact of Home Aquaria on Reefs Worldwide?’, the article was based largely on collecting activities in Hawaii where he has his business, and claimed that 99 per cent of all marine aquarium fish die within a year.

Snorkel Bob is an anti-whaling campaigner and, as it turns out, an anti-marine-aquarium campaigner reportedly set on bringing an end to marine hobby. He has been carrying this message on a tour organised to promote his latest book, Some Fishes I Have Known.

His article is full of anti-aquarium accusations, but I single out just the mortality one because of an interesting survey carried out by CORAL, a well-informed marine aquarium magazine on the web ( Its editors wondered if Snorkel Bob’s statement rang true with people who actually keep marine fishes. They therefore posted a Marine Fish Survival Survey on their site and invited CORAL readers to respond to seven questions, each with multiple choice answers.
The questions were:
• Do you agree with this statement? “99% of marine aquarium fishes die within their first year after purchase”.
• In your own experience, how long does the average new fish live under your care?
• What is the longest-living fish currently in your care?
• What do you believe are the leading causes of premature deaths of marine fishes in aquariums?
• What can the marine aquarium hobby do to increase the survival of fishes?
• How long have you been keeping marine fishes?
• What is your status as an aquarist?

Within a week, no fewer than 79 per cent of respondents had disagreed with Snorkel Bob’s claim. According to 36.8 per cent, the average lifespan of marine fish in aquaria is three years or more, with only three per cent reporting a lifespan of less than one year.
The main causes of mortality were, in descending order:
• Poor husbandry by owners (25%)
• Disease: Parasites (18.1%)
• Failure to acclimatise to captivity (16.7%)
• Harassment by other fishes (14.8%)
• Accidents and equipment failure (10.7%)
• Malnutrition: Starvation (7.9%)

Close to one in five hobbyists had kept marines for over 20 years, with 12.8 per cent in the one-to-three year bracket. The majority (just over 45 per cent) had kept marines for up to 10 years. Nearly 80 per cent were amateur aquarists, 7.9 per cent were professional aquarists or biologists, and 5.5 per cent were linked in one way or other to retail stores.
With regard to improving survival rates, the responses were:
• Better-informed marine hobbyists (31.5%)
• More captive-bred fishes (28%)
• Better use of quarantine (15.8%)
• Better quality of imported fishes (13.9%)
• Better feeds and feeding routines (6.1%)

On average, the longest-living fish kept by home aquarists lived for around 6.3 years, while, among public aquaria respondents, lifespans of 30+ years (tomato clown), 25 years (flame angel) and 19 years (green moray) were reported.

It may be argued that CORAL readers are not typical of the marine aquarium keeping community. This point has, in fact, been raised in comments posted on the CORAL website where figures of 90 per cent mortalities are mentioned – but so are even higher losses in the wild.
Space dictates that these associated topics and links – including comments by Snorkel Bob and a Hawaiian fisherman who takes issue with him – cannot be discussed here. I urge interested readers to follow them via the article and survey pages.

Marine fish mortality is a hot topic, but often lacking in data. CORAL must therefore be complimented for attempting to quantify, albeit in a limited manner, a complex, controversial subject. Hopefully it will lead to further studies, some which may shake some of our long-held but probably inaccurate beliefs.

December 2010: by John Dawes

Gouramis and numerous other species will now ‘enjoy’ a two-year EUS legislation reprieve

As the end of the moratorium on Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome (scheduled for December 31, 2010) approached, concern mounted within the ornamental aquatic sector. A major worry has been the fact that there are discrepancies between the list of EUS-susceptible species drawn up by the European Commission and that by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

We are not talking about minor differences either… there’s over 95 per cent discrepancy between the respective species lists! Just imagine the chaos that would result if the EC had gone ahead regardless and implemented the new requirements from January 1 next year as planned, and the EC has, until very recently, maintained this was possible. Improvements have been made to the EC list, as I reported last month, but new obstacles have arisen through the inclusion of goldfish and koi.

To no one’s surprise, the EC issued a Draft Commission Regulation: Amending Regulation (EC) No. 1251/2010 which extends the date of the moratorium by two years, to December 31, 2012.

This is a sensible move, not just because of the above-mentioned discrepancies, but also in the light of past mistakes where premature, half-cooked legislation has resulted in major disruption to trade and in unworkable and un-implementable measures.

In addition, Recital 31 of Regulation (EC) No 1251/2008 – the Regulation regarding conditions and certification for the placing on the market and import into the EU of aquaculture animals – highlighted the need for further studies to be undertaken “to more precisely assess the risk associated with the import of ornamental aquatic animals intended solely for closed ornamental facilities”.

Since these studies have not yet been completed, it would be illogical to proceed with implementation.

Consequently, member states may authorise the import of species susceptible to EUS for closed systems from third countries or territories that are members of the World Organisation for Animal Health. So for the moment, EU importers can ship in fish without the two-year EUS-free requirement. Between now and December 31, 2012, the EC will complete the necessary studies and hopefully come up with a realistic list of susceptible fish species. We await the results with great interest!.

November 2010: by John Dawes

Will ex situ cultured corals become the norm in the future?

Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the number of projects dedicated to the propagation and culture of hard corals. Most of these are aimed at bringing cultured corals to the ornamental aquatic marketplace, although some have been more of an academic, scientific or reef conservation nature.

With perhaps the exception of a few projects, the vast majority have been established in close proximity to the reefs from which the mother colonies are obtained. This ensures that cultured corals experience the same environmental conditions as the reefs around them.

One recurring argument against the establishment of ex situ coral farms concerns the costs involved in running closed systems in northern Europe or other areas a long way from the tropical regions where the corals occur naturally. Lighting, filtration and temperature control have been seen as important limiting factors affecting the production of artificially propagated and cultured hard corals at realistic prices.

The Dutch government, however, has opted to give the green light to a coral cultivation project as part of its policy of supporting biodiversity-protecting innovations. The proposal was submitted by Dutch company EcoDeco bv, a company which develops ecological technology and which believes: “Just taking a better look at her (nature’s) principles, teaches valuable lessons that can and should be applied to achieve stunning results in a responsible manner.” It states that its goal is to guarantee the highest, most natural and most stable water quality possible in closed systems.

Last year, the company together with Wageningen University and Coral Publications submitted a proposal for a coral nursery whose aim was “to provide the aquarium industry with sustainably aquacultured corals, thereby reducing negative impact on the declining Asian reefs”.
In June this year, the project was approved by the Dutch Ministry of Aquaculture, Nature and Food Quality and in September, construction began on a small test nursery to evaluate the viability of the exercise.

The trial period will last 18 months. If successful, the first aquacultured corals should come on stream in about two years’ time.
If, as I mentioned earlier, the costs of ex situ coral culture are prohibitive, how come this project believes it can succeed?

The answer lies in the considerable cost reductions involved. There is, for example, no mechanical filtration. Instead, the aquaria or beds are fitted with Dynamic Mineral Control systems that filter the water but don’t remove the plankton, something that mechanical filtration does. The lack of mechanical filtration, with its high costs, is seen as a key factor in making the project cost-effective, as is the need for few water changes.

To this must be added recent scientific knowledge regarding coral biology obtained via Wageningen University’s involvement in the international Coralzoo project. This has helped identify key factors in coral nutrition and other requirements which, according to the university, allows branching stony corals to grow at the rate of over one per cent of their body mass per day. Such corals can therefore double in size in ten weeks.

Next in line for the project participants will be live rock aquaculture “as demand from the industry remains high and the collection of such rock goes at the expense of coral reefs”. While there may be a difference of opinion within the industry regarding the negative effects of harvesting hard corals and live rock from nature, there can be little doubt that if this project manages to produce viable results at cost-effective prices, it will pave the way for other similar undertakings in future.

November 2010: by John Dawes

Differences of opinion regarding the list of EUS-susceptible
species have plagued legislation discussions since the beginning


Yet again our ornamental aquatic industry representatives are having a significant influence on developments in Brussels regarding fish import health requirements. As regular readers will know, we are in the late stages of a moratorium regarding Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome (EUS), a fish disease that can have devastating effects. The original idea was to introduce European import controls on a wide range of fish which, it was stated, are susceptible to EUS. However, the list of species deemed to be susceptible has been a matter of heated debate ever since the original proposals were made in 2007.

Had the original list – which included such popular aquarium fish as gouramis and tiger barbs – been approved, the controls would have come into effect in August 2008. There was such an outcry at the apparent illogicality of certain inclusions and at the lack of convincing evidence that the introduction was delayed. Following a series of meetings, at which our representatives played an important part, a moratorium was announced, delaying the implementation of the EUS requirements until January 1 next year.

Despite the breathing space, disagreements have persisted, an important one centring on the fact that the European Commission list of susceptible species differs from that of the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE). Nevertheless, the EC has maintained that these differences will be resolved in time for the new requirements to come into force.
However, new complications have arisen. While the EC list has been reduced (a clear improvement), it now includes goldfish and koi (a definite step back). If this were to go ahead, it will mean that EU importers can only import koi and goldfish from countries, regions or farms officially pronounced as being EUS-free. The result, as things stand at the moment, would be that no goldfish or koi would be allowed into Europe.

So, what happens now?
Well, to give the EC due credit (and following further input from our sector), a meeting of Member States in September resulted in a postponement of the EUS legislation. As I write these lines, the EC plans to put forward a formal proposal at a further meeting in early November.

Whether this would (if the proposal is approved) still provide sufficient time for implementation of the legislation in January remains to be seen. However, bearing in mind that differences still remain, it doesn’t look too realistic at this stage that there will be sufficient time to iron out all the difficulties by the deadline. We could therefore be facing further delays in this long-winded saga.

October 2010: by John Dawes


Bettas have now been added to their close relatives,
the gouramis, as requiring additional risk managementrs


“Stakeholders who believe there is a significant deviation from the IRA process set out in the IRA Handbook 2007 (update 2009) that adversely affect their interests may appeal to the Import Risk Analysis Appeals Panel (IRAAP) – a body independent of Biosecurity Australia.”

This statement comes from the introductory summary of the 150-page Provisional Final Import Risk Analysis Report, published in July, relating to the import of freshwater ornamental fish into Australia. The import risk analysis (IRA) relates to the perceived biosecurity risks associated with gourami iridovirus and related viruses.

During the earlier consultation phase, there was vigorous input from ornamental aquatic industry individuals and organisations regarding what were seen as significant flaws in the draft document. According to the Provisional Final IRA Report, it takes into account stakeholder submissions received on the draft report during the consultation, and there is no reason to doubt that these have been taken into account.
However, it would appear that submissions made by non-ornamental aquatic industry agencies and/or organisations have had a greater influence in shaping the content of the Provisional Final IRA Report, than those made by our sector.

The fact is that if this document is accepted in its present form, it will have serious implications for ornamental fish imports into Australia. Owing to the comprehensive nature of the report, it is quite impossible to review it in any detail here. However, I’ve selected one topic which illustrates this cause for concern.
Under recommended quarantine measures, it says that all imported live poeciliids, cichlids and gouramis must be:
• Batch-tested post-arrival in Australia and found to be negative for megalocytiviruses, or
• Sourced from a country, zone or compartment that is recognised by Australia to be free of megalocytiviruses (based on active surveillance).

Imported fish which are batch-tested will have to remain in quarantine until the results are known. If these are positive, the fish will either have to be returned to source or destroyed. The definition of “batch” is “a shipment of imported fish of a single species (contained in one or more bags) sourced from a single exporter on a single day”. So if ten species of poeciliids, cichlids and/or gouramis are imported, even from a single supplier on a single day, these constitute ten separate batches. Extrapolate from this to several shipments from separate exporters on several days and the numbers soon rocket!

The question then arises as to how many fish from a batch need to be tested. The answer is provided by Appendix 5. If a batch consists of 19 fish, all must be batch-tested, leaving none alive to be sold! If the batch consists of 20 fish, only 19 will be tested, leaving the grand total of one fish left for sale.

Once we move up the scale, the numbers of fish that do not need to be tested increases, but even so, relatively high numbers are involved, eg. 43 out of a batch of 84-90 fish, 50 out of 163-184 fish and so on. It is only at the highest end of the scale that significant numbers are left available for sale, eg. 57 tested out of 692-1,194 fish and 59 tested for batches of 4,108 and over.

The financial implications are considerable for any importer, who will have to pay not just for fish that will be killed for testing, but their transportation to Australia and for the testing itself.

While accepting that the idea is to help prevent the import of exotic diseases, batch testing will result in the destruction of countless perfectly healthy, paid-for fish. It is too early to know what impact this move will have on imports, but it is not unreasonable to expect import trade to suffer.

To every cloud there’s always a silver lining, though. In this instance, that import levels are likely to drop is likely to stimulate domestic breeding of ornamental fish. Another bright note appears to relate to poeciliids in that BA has “re-evaluated the risks associated with poeciliid ranavirus (GV-6) separately from poeciliid megalocytivirus and concluded that the risk associated with GV-6 meets Australia’s ALOP (Appropriate Level of Protection) and does not require additional risk management”.

However, this doesn’t help much in practice as we still have the megalocytivirus ‘factor’. In effect, poeciliids will still require risk management, similar to cichlids and gouramis. On the negative side, paradise fish and Siamese fighters have been added to the gourami list, so if the document becomes law in its present form, exporters to and importers into Australia face a challenging future.

At the time of writing, the content or number of appeals submitted (if any) had not yet appeared on the Biosecurity Australia website. (The deadline for submission of appeals was August 23). The full document may be accessed via:

October 2010: by John Dawes


Lease extensions appear to be on the cards for
Singapore’s Jalan Kayu fish exporters


As regular readers will be aware, the fish farm leases of 17 of Singapore’s leading ornamental fish exporters based at Jalan Kayu expire at the end of the year. In my last report, I highlighted the fact that the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) was allocating four land plots for tender in another part of the island. However, these plots are too small for current needs. Ten other plots were therefore to be released and opened to tender.

However, several concerns have been expressed by the Jalan Kayu incumbents. One is the possibility of new bidders putting in tenders for the new plots. Should this happen, competition will be super keen for the land, which could lead to established players failing to secure a plot.

Perhaps in order to minimise this risk, 14 Jalan Kayu farm owners have submitted 19 bids for the first four plots released. The remaining three companies are apparently considering shutting down – a possibility I highlighted in my earlier report. I do not, however, have any details at this time regarding the identity of these three farms.

Irrespective of the tender situation, there is a larger challenge facing the Jalan Kayu farms.

At the moment, all designated plots are just that, plots of land. Successful bidders will therefore have to install all the infrastructure, buildings, tanks and the thousand-and-one components that constitute a viable fish farm.

If time were unlimited, this would not be a major hurdle (other than a financial one). However, having to complete this by the end of this year is a major hurdle.
There are two main options: close for a period of time until the new farms are up and working, or secure a further lease extension from the SLA. The first is fraught with danger, since customers lost during this period will be difficult or impossible to recoup. The second offers more promise with the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters’ Association receiving an assurance from the SLA that it will work closely with the relevant agencies to extend the tenancies in Jalan Kayu.

While it isn’t clear how long this latest extension will be, it is encouraging to see that, yet again, the Singapore authorities are collaborating with the industry to find a solution to a difficult situation. In my last piece, I wrote that a solution would no doubt be found between now and the end of the year to ensure that the transition period is as painless as possible.

It seems I wasn’t far wrong.

September 2010: by John Dawes

Official assurances regarding the health of supplies of goldfish and other cyprinids are now required by Singapore’s Competent Authority

As reported recently in my column, an inspection by EU officials last November to Singapore found “serious shortcomings as regards imports into Singapore of aquaculture animals and products from several third countries, and the animal health certification of such animals and products intended for imports into the European Union”. As a result, Draft Regulation was drawn up that aimed to suspend imports of cyprinids (koi, goldfish, etc.) to Singapore.

Following intense discussions, the draft was taken off the table pending official news of remedial measures by Singapore. This, obviously, left Singapore in a vulnerable position, placing it under intense pressure to take such steps.

Everyone expected the country’s Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) to take prompt action… and this is precisely what’s happened.

On May 19, the AVA issued a World Trade Organisation Notification in which it detailed new health certification requirements for imports into the country.

These require the exporting countries to Singapore to certify the health status of fish with regard to Spring Viraemia of Carp, Koi Herpes Virus, Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome, Epizootic Haematopoietic Necrosis, and the crustacean ailment, White spot disease. Additionally, health certification for Furunculosis and Goldfish haematopoietic necrosis virus is now required for all goldfish exports to the country. Further, AVA has implemented a health inspection programme that must be carried out within 72 hours prior to export.

All the above came into force on July 15, and is seen by AVA as proof that it has taken the necessary measures to ensure that its exports meet EU health certification requirements.

As far as its own imports are concerned, Singaporean exporters who subsequently export fish to the EU face a challenge because they now have to source SVC-free and KHV-free supplies.

We also need to bear in mind that as of January 1, there will be new EU requirements regarding Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome, something that is likely to pose further difficulties for Singapore exporters. Discussions are ongoing regarding the actual list of species to be included, with concerns being expressed by several EU member states regarding discrepancies that exist between the proposed European Commission list and that produced by the World Organisation for Animal Health.

Nevertheless, once these differences have been resolved, Singapore importers who export fish to the EU will have to source stocks that are EUS-free. Therefore, while Singapore appears to have overcome the ‘cyprinid’ hurdle, another one is waiting in the wings to cause further headache.

September 2010: by John Dawes


The Impact Assessment concluded that alternative supplies of koi of comparable quality to current stocks originating from Japan would be unlikely

In July, Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) announced on its website that “an eradication programme will not be undertaken for KHV in England and Wales”. What this means is that England and Wales have now assumed Category V (ie. infected) status with regard to KHV with immediate effect.

The decision was taken after an Impact Assessment was carried out earlier in the year with the aim of establishing a health status for KHV disease in England and Wales, which takes account of the interests of aquatic businesses, while establishing appropriate control/trade parameters.

Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) is a viral disease that affects all varieties of the species Cyprinus carpio. As such, it not only affects the common carp but also its two main varieties developed for angling purposes, the leather and mirror carps, as well as those developed for ornamental purposes – ghost carp and koi.

KHV was made a notifiable disease by Council Directive 2006/88/EC, meaning that all outbreaks are required by law to be notified to the authorities, who will then implement appropriate measures. Such measures can include eradication procedures and the prohibition of movement of fish from infected sites.

The Import Assessment considered the only two realistic options: Category IV status would consist of an eradication programme, while Category V status would consist of accepting that England and Wales are infected.

The team looked at costs and benefits and concluded that attempting to eradicate KHV would cost somewhere between £278,000 a year (as an absolute minimum) and £21,270,000. Over the estimated 20-year eradication period, this would translate into a total cost of somewhere in the region of £4.3 million and £220 million! In terms of monetary implications for stakeholders, these could be either no benefits at all (the most optimistic estimate), or losses totalling as much as £48.2 million.

In considering costs, the Impact Assessment also looked at the potential effects an eradication programme would have on imports of koi from two major suppliers: Israel and Japan. It concluded that supplies from these countries would most likely be disrupted.
While supplies of Israeli carp, including koi, would probably recover in about three years, with any shortfall expected to be picked up by new suppliers, the situation facing Japanese koi was quite different. Because Japanese koi quality is deemed a “unique status within the ornamental industry”, it was felt that alternative producers of similar quality fish from outside Japan would be unlikely to be meet any shortfall in Japanese supply.

The UK government would, of course, also incur costs in implementing a targeted surveillance strategy as well as the actual eradication programme.

In the end, it was concluded: “The most likely form of eradication programme would have close to zero effect on reducing the number of new clinical outbreak cases seen per year.” As a result, going for Category IV status would be unlikely to achieve the desired outcome of eradicating the disease. Consequently, Defra opted for Category V status.

This means that the existing health certification controls remain in place with regard to imports of koi, both from within as well as from outside the EU. Further, exports of koi from Great Britain to places of a higher health status will be prohibited, but with an important exception: farms in Britain that have achieved KHV-free status are exempt from this prohibition.

Until the issue is reviewed next year, arrangements have been made “that will allow a systematic collection of monitoring information for future policy review”.

August 2010: by John Dawes

Acropora, of which there are 127 species, now needs to be identified just to genus level

After the problems caused by the delay in the publication of hard (stony) coral quotas following this year’s Conference of the Parties, the CITES Secretariat has now published a list of corals which only need to be identified to genus level.

The issue of genus/species identification first saw the light of day a little over eight years ago when the CITES Animals Committee adopted two lists: one of corals that could be identified to genus level, and one that included those that could be identified to species level. These lists were subsequently adopted by the full CoP of 2002 and circulated via a Notification in April 2003.

There have been difficulties with these lists, since many corals are extremely difficult to identify to species level without detailed examination by specialists in the subject. Generally speaking, personnel at Border Inspection Posts do not fall into this category, and so requiring them to be able to identify corals to species level is both unfair and impossible.

A step towards reducing the difficulties was taken at this year’s CoP, with the CITES Secretariat being instructed to re-issue the Notification, but deleting the list of corals that should be identified to species level. The result is the publication of Notification No. 2010/014: Trade in stony corals – List of coral taxa where identification to genus level is acceptable.

Interestingly, Para 3 includes the following sentence: “Nevertheless, these taxa should be identified to species level where feasible.” Who decides whether or not a particular coral taxon can be identified to this level? Is it border staff, the exporter, the importer, the exporter’s Competent Authority, the importer’s Competent Authority? And what if there’s a difference of opinion regarding the level of identification? Presumably, since the Notification lists the genera concerned, it will be acceptable to use just generic names, irrespective of whether or not it is “feasible” to identify a particular coral to species level?

We also need to bear in mind that the list covered is still the 2002/2003 list, albeit without the species-level taxa. Needless to say, it is already a little out of date, and the Animals Committee has been instructed to update the list. Once this is done, the CITES Secretariat will circulate the updated list.

For ease, here is the list of the 49 genera covered by Notification 2010/0014, with the number of species in each genus shown in brackets:
Acanthastrea (10), Acropora (127), Agaricia (7), Alveopora (12), Anacrapora (5), Astreopora (11), Balanophyllia (56), Barabattoia (3), Caulastrea (4), Coscinaraea (9), Ctenactis (3), Cyphastrea (7), Dendrophyllia (21), Distichopora (23), Echinophyllia (8), Echinopora (9), Euphyllia (dead) (9), Favia (18), Favites (9), Fungia (25), Goniastrea (8), Goniopora (20), Leptastrea (6), Leptoseris (14), Lobophyllia (7), Madracis (15), Millepora (17), Montastrea (9), Montipora (56), Mussissimillia (3), Mycetophyllia (5), Oculina (9), Oxypora (3), Pavona (17), Pectinia (5), Physogyra (dead) (2), Platygyra (9), Plerogyra (dead)  (4), Pocillopora (7), Porites (41), Psammocora (11), Scolymia (5), Siderastrea (4), Stylaster (75), Stylocoeniella (3), Stylopora (5), Symphyllia (7), Tubastrea (6), Turbinaria (12).

NOTE: Some entries have “dead” alongside the genus name. This refers to the identification of dead
specimens being acceptable at genus level. Live specimens must still be identified to species level.


August 2010: by John Dawes

The Banggai Cardinal Fish Action Plan is under way in Indonesia and offers encouraging possibilities for the species, unlike the scenario depicted by the Marine Policy paper

According to a group of 17 US scientists and one Canadian, “the United States has an opportunity to leverage its considerable market power to promote more sustainable trade and reduce the effects of ornamental trade stress on coral reefs worldwide”.

They feel that international law has failed to protect coral reef organisms, saying that Qatar’s March 2010 CITES Conference of the Parties did not take action to regulate trade in key groups of corals.

Adding to their concern, they say that only a few groups of the thousands of coral reef species in the marine ornamental trades are currently listed in CITES Appendices. “In the meantime, many thousands of other species traded will remain unexamined and unlisted, exacerbated by limited management in source countries.”

The list of authors of this report published online in the journal Marine Policy includes some well-known names within the marine aquarium hobby, though not necessarily within the trade.

Significant by their absence are representatives from the ornamental marine trade sector – whether individuals or organisations. Some organisations, such as Humane Society International, Conservation International and the Reef Stewardship Foundation, are represented among the team of authors, but the omission of either trade organisations, or of organisations with knowledge of the trade, eg. the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC), could be seen as a missed opportunity. This is especially so as there is no indication of any consultation or discussion having taken place between any of the authors and the trade sector.

Even the briefest of discussions with organisations like Pro-Vision Reef, Ornamental Fish International, MAC or any of a host of others would have helped to avoid some misleading statements, such as that represented by the quote which appears in the second paragraph of this piece alluding to “thousands of coral reef species in the marine ornamental trades”.
Reference is made by the authors to a 2003 UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre report, From Ocean to Aquarium, stating “over 1,500 species of fish, 500 of invertebrates and hundreds of coral species, as well as live rock” are being traded.

However, figures in said report are actually 1,471 species of fish, 140 species of coral and “more than 500 species of invertebrates”. They don’t refer to “over 1,500 species of fish” or “hundreds of coral species”, so why infer that this is the case?

There’s also cause for concern with regard to the reference made to populations of the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) “being substantially reduced or eliminated throughout much of the species range”. That paper in question is some eight years old, and no note appears to have been taken of subsequent papers, developments, surveys or projects being undertaken to monitor and safeguard wild populations of this species.

Prominent among these is the Banggai Cardinal Fish Action Plan (BCF Action Plan), backed by the Indonesian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Affairs. The Action Plan was agreed several years ago and is now under way. Also involved is the Indonesian Institute of Oceanology. According to Ron and Gayatri Lilley of the Indonesian Nature Foundation: “Efforts toward achieving a sustainable Banggai cardinalfish fishery for conservation of the BCF, and as a local marine resource for the marine aquarium trade, remain strong.”
This, clearly, is somewhat different to the scenario depicted by the authors of the Marine Policy paper.

Better balance could also have been achieved through open consultation with the trade on other factors, such as mortality rates and on steps that have been implemented to improve all aspects of the trade, or on the collaborative efforts that exist between the industry and the scientific and conservation communities. These are, disappointingly, only given a few lines in section 5.3 of the paper.

The ornamental aquatic industry acknowledges that although giant strides have been taken over the years to upgrade standards throughout every link of the chain of custody, much remains to be done. Encouragingly, the industry is now seen by more and more non-trade agencies and governments as part of the solution to a whole range of issues, rather than as the problem. Had this been acknowledged by the group of scientists who compiled the undoubtedly well-intentioned Marine Policy Short Communication, this could, quite possibly, have resulted in a better-informed, better-balanced and overall more helpful all-round contribution.

REFERENCE: Tissot BN, et al. How US ocean policy and market power can reform the coral reef wildlife trade. Marine Policy (2010) doi: 10.1016/j.marpol.2010.06.002.

July 2010: by John Dawes

From 31 July, the new health certificates apply to all ornamental aquatic animal imports into the EU

On July 31, the transition period allowing the use of the former health certificates for ornamental aquatic animal imports into the EU comes to an end. The new certificates have been in use since May 15, and from the end of the month, the old ones will cease to be valid. Exporters/importers using old versions will not be able to get their shipments through from then on.

The new certificates were supposed to have come into effect last year. However, a series of delays – some caused by complications regarding the translation of the text into all the languages of the EU Member States – have repeatedly put the date of implementation back.

The fact that they are now to be the only versions accepted across the EU does not mean that all outstanding problems have been ironed out. Of particular note is the matter of the inclusion of species susceptible to Epizootic Ulceration Syndrome (EUS). When first drafts of the certificates were circulated, a list of so-called EUS-susceptible genera was included, causing great concern and intense consultations as it was felt that such a draconian step was unwarranted.

Eventually it was accepted by the EU legislators that a moratorium should be introduced to allow the issue to be investigated more thoroughly, especially since all the barbs (Puntius), gouramis (Trichogaster and Colisa), spiny eels (Mastacembelus), some ‘sharks’ (Labeo) and all snakeheads (Channa) had been included. The moratorium is due to expire on December 31 and, while progress is being made, we can expect things not to go fully the way of the ornamental sector.

There may be a significant reduction in the number of species (not genera) that will make up the final list (for example – there may be exemption for some barbs, gouramis, spiny eels, ‘sharks’ and spiny eels) but there are also likely to be some unwelcome inclusions.

Once the matter has been implemented, changes will have to be made to the certificates and to Directive 2006/88/EC, but in terms of textual modifications – though not their consequences – these will be minor. In the meantime, all the above-mentioned genera, plus Catla and Mugil species, will continue enjoying the period of grace afforded by the moratorium.

July 2010: by John Dawes


Following last November’s EU deligation visit to Singapore, it was proposed to
suspend the export of koi and goldfish to all Member States


Exports of goldfish (these are Sarasa comets) and koi to five EU Member States,
including the UK, have been self-suspended by Singapore


Singapore is, once more, in the news. After the complications facing exporters who have to vacate their Jalan Kayu premises before the end of the year, as reported in the last issue, they now face another challenge: the proposed suspension of certain fish exports to the EU.

This latest development came following an inspection by EU officials to Singapore on November 16-19 to assess the health controls for aquaculture animals destined for the EU. The focus of attention was fish susceptible to the diseases listed in Part II of Annex IV to Directive 2006/88/EC. Among these are Epizootic Ulcerative Syndrome (EUS) and Spring Viraemia of Carp (SVC).

Imports into the EU are only allowed from countries that feature on what might be termed a ‘clean list’ with regard to these diseases. Up to now, Singapore has been on this list. However, the latest visit “revealed serious shortcomings as regards imports into Singapore of aquaculture animals and products from several third countries, and the animal health certification of such animals and products intended for imports into the European Union”.

As a result, it was felt that Singapore authorities could not guarantee the health status of such animals as required by EU law. Consequently, the EU produced draft regulation aimed at suspending imports from Singapore “of live fish belonging to the Cyprinidae family of aquaculture origin intended for… open ornamental facilities as well as of certain ornamental fish belonging to that family for closed ornamental facilities”.

The species in question are: goldfish (Carassius auratus), Crucian carp (C. carassius), koi (Cyprinus carpio), grass carp (Ctenopharygodon idellus), tench (Tinca tinca), silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis).

In practical terms, this means that if the draft regulation were to be approved, EU member states (with the exception of the UK) would not be able to import koi from Singapore. The UK will not be able to import either koi or goldfish from Singapore.

The difference between the UK and the rest of Europe arises from the former’s stance that all coldwater fish imported into the UK are deemed destined for open, rather than closed, facilities, irrespective of where they end up. Therefore, while the rest of Europe regards goldfish as being destined for closed facilities, the UK regards them as destined for open facilities.

Circulation of the draft regulation resulted, not surprisingly, in intense consultations between our trade organisations, Ornamental Fish International (OFI) and the UK’s Ornamental Aquatic Trade Organisation (OATA), and the European Commission, the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore and the Dutch Chief
Veterinary Officer. Thanks to these interventions and the discussions between the European Commission and the AVA (Singapore’s Competent Authority responsible for issuing health certificates), the draft is said to be off the table.
This does not, however, mean that it can’t be re-activated and taken beyond the draft stage. Rather, it provides some breathing space for Singapore to carry out the required changes to meet EU health demands. Indeed, it has already taken some important steps.

It should be noted that the deficiencies that the EU inspection team found were in connection with imports into Singapore from several third countries, and not in connection with Singapore-produced fish. It was concern about the health status of these imports into Singapore, which are then exported, that led to the EU Commission feeling that the Singaporean Competent Authority couldn’t guarantee the health status of these subsequent exports.

Bearing in mind the impact that the suspensions would have on Singapore’s fish export sector, to say nothing of Singapore’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively to crises, it may not be long before we learn that a practical solution has been found. This will undoubtedly include a review of import procedures, among them the types, frequency and intensity of fish health inspections at points of entry into Singapore, as well as modified requirements regarding import certification. Singapore importers may now also need to source new suppliers who can meet the EU requirements.

The first steps in the process have already been taken, with Singapore ceasing to issue health certificates for koi and goldfish destined for the five European countries which have an ‘anti-SVC’ programme in place, namely, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Sweden and the UK. This means that koi imports from Singapore into these countries are momentarily suspended. Other EU countries which don’t fall into the ‘anti-SVC’ programme category can, for the moment, continue to import these fish from Singapore.

The AVA is working feverishly as I write to devise and implement all the measures that it feels are necessary to meet the EU requirements. Once done, it will inform the EU authorities accordingly and, if they are approved, trade in both goldfish and koi will resume to the five above-mentioned countries.

Conversely, failure to meet the requirements could result in the Draft Resolution being re-activated and implemented as a full Regulation. There is, however, an air of optimism and confidence that, in typical fashion, Singapore will live up to the globally respected high reputation for efficiency and will come up with an effective and acceptable formula. We await further developments.

Thanks to: Alex Ploeg, OFI Secretary General, for clarifying a number of points related to this item.

June 2010: by John Dawes 

The late publication of export quotas by CITES resulted in the recent interruption of exports of Indonesian hard corals. Thankfully, on April 15 the new quotas were released and exports of Indonesian CITES Appendix II-listed hard corals resumed. The 32-page document can be accessed at:

Among this list of 54 genera and species of hard corals which may be exported within stated quotas are Acanthastrea spp. (not identifiable to species level), 1,000; Acropora spp. (not identifiable to species level), 13,000; Catalaphyllia jardinei, 25,000; Cynarina lacrymalis, 7,250; Echinopora lamellose, 500; Merulina ampliata, 5,093; Nemanzophylia turbida, 12,610; Physogyra lichtensteini, 11,000 and Tubastrea spp. (not identifiable to species level), 7,500.

In addition, 900,000 pieces of Indonesian substrate – ie. pieces of coral rock to which are attached invertebrates of species not included in the CITES Appendices and that are transported in water (just as live corals) – may now be exported.
With regards to live rock – defined as pieces of coral rock to which are attached live specimens of invertebrate species and coralline algae not included in the CITES Appendices and which are transported moist, but not in water, in crates – the list allows for 450,000kg to be exported.

Two genera of hydrozoans (fire or stinging corals and lace corals) are also included: Distichopora spp., 1,455; Millepora spp., 1,940. Hydrozoans look like hard corals, but are more closely related to jellyfish and stinging anemones, hence the use of common names such as fire or stinging corals for some.

On the one hand, the official issuing of quotas is to be welcomed, at least in the sense that legal trade can now resume, albeit within the limits set by the quotas. On the other, such lists give cause for doubts regarding the validity or, indeed, relevance of some of the quotas… even the basis on which they are determined.

I’m not talking of quotas such as 15,000 or 4,500, or any in which round figures are given. However, how does one reconcile figures such as 5,093 for Merulina ampliata or 12,610 for Nemanzophyllia turbida with the actual status in the real world? Are we really expected to believe that an export total of 5,093 specimens of M. ampliata – instead of 5,090, 5,200 or any ‘rounded’ figure! – is a true reflection of the level of protection deemed necessary for the species, its abundance or rarity in the wild? Can such levels be estimated as accurately as the figure ‘93’ implies or even the ‘10’ as in the 12,610 pieces allowed for N. turbida?

Of course not! So why is such an approach deemed appropriate in determining quotas, be they of hard corals or any other controlled-trade organism? Worth a thought… or two?

June 2010: by John Dawes

Major moves beckon for Singapore’s ornamental aquatic sector.

How about this for a scary headline: Ornamental fish trade in danger of drying up. As often happens, this dramatic headline sacrifices accuracy in the name of securing readership. The story in question appeared in The Straits Times, Singapore’s leading newspaper, and refers to the running out of ornamental fish farm leases at the end of 2010 in the Jalan Kayu area of the island.

This matter is not new; it has been doing the rounds since around 1993, in fact. What’s happened in the past is that the leases have been extended several times. However, the land has now been assigned for new roads and industrial development by the Singaporean authorities, with the result that no further extensions will be granted.

This move will affect 16 exporters, among which are several of Singapore’s longest-established, best-known and largest companies. Note that I refer to “exporters”. I make this point to emphasize the fact that the majority of these Jalan Kayu-based establishments are not breeding farms. They are, mostly, bases at which fish, invertebrates and plants arrive from breeding centres elsewhere in Singapore, neighbouring Malaysia and other countries in Asia… and from which they are exported.

So even if none of these companies were to find alternative accommodation, supplies from breeders would not dry up. It might prove more difficult to process shipments, but supplies would, largely, still be there.

This is not to say that the government’s decision is consequence-free for the ornamental aquatic sector. It does have consequences.

For a start, all the Jalan Kayu bases will have to be relocated. Some are already involved in the process. It is conceivable that some may choose to shut down, but as yet, I am not aware of any company deciding to go for this option. It is also possible that some will reorganise their operation, perhaps linking up more closely with their own breeding centres elsewhere.

Nevertheless, the situation is a complicated one. On the one hand, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) announced in April that it had released four sites occupying 1.72 hectares at Lorong Chencharu, in Yishun, for tender. However, the total area occupied by the present incumbents at Jalan Kayu stretches over six hectares. Not surprisingly, the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters’ Association (SAFEA), which has been discussing the issue with the authorities over the past year, has raised serious concerns.

And SAFEA is not alone in raising concern. Following the publication of The Straits Times article, several comments appeared in the Singaporean press. One referred to the “gradual but sure extermination of a ‘made-in-Singapore’ international product” and accused the government of being reluctant to support the industry, despite the fact that the ornamental fish sector “is worth a lot and businesses are apparently thriving”. Another accused the SLA of being heartless, while yet another suggested moving the ornamental fish sector to the Iskandar Development Region in the neighbouring Malaysian state of Johor.

The SLA subsequently responded via a letter to the press signed by Julia Poh, head of corporate communications, on behalf of SLA chief executive, and Goh Shih Yong, deputy director, media division, of the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), on behalf of the CEO. In it, they said that the SLA and AVA had identified sites based on exporters’ preference and that in addition to 1.72 ha, they have “earmarked another 10 state land parcels with a total land area of 4.65 ha… for aquarium fish export centre use or other agricultural uses”.
These plots were due for release at the end of May, and they said the SLA and AVA “will continue to work closely with the fish exporters on this relocation”.

Some solution will, no doubt, be found between now and the end of the year. However, although the total area released will be 6.2 ha (0.2 ha more than is currently occupied at Jalan Kayu), the letter’s inclusion of the term “…or other agricultural use” could, in my view, be disquieting, since any allocation that exceeds 0.2 ha to these “other” agricultural uses would result in a net decrease of area disposable for the ornamental aquatic export industry, which is currently worth around S$100 million (£47.3m) annually.

However, I think we can safely say that although there are no signs that Singapore’s exports of ornamental fish will dry up, a great deal of talking and negotiating will be required between the sector and authorities to ensure that the transition period is as painless as possible.
May 2010: by John Dawes

Scleropages formosus will remain as….Scleropages formosus!

Despite all the negative press about the recent 15th CITES conference in Doha, Qatar, there was good news for our trade. Representatives from a number of our sector’s organisations were present at the conference and while – as official observers – they were able to participate in certain discussions, they were unable to vote. Despite this obvious limitation dictated by the CITES operating rules, key decisions regarding both the dragonfish (Scleropages formosus) and hard corals went the way we feel they should have gone.

Had the proposal to recognise four separate dragonfish species – rather than the single one traditionally accepted by CITES – been adopted, this would have resulted in enormous complications, not just for individual exporters and importers, but for exporting and importing countries as well. To say nothing of the government CITES-administrating agencies in all countries through which the species is exported and imported.

The proposal was opposed by all the trade organisations present, as well as the countries within which the CITES-Appendix I-listed dragonfish is captive bred. The opposition did not just arise out of administrative concerns, but also out of doubts regarding the actual validity of the proposed four-way split (something that I have commented on in previous instalments).

Well… following discussions at which the four-way split proposal was considered, the chair of the CITES Animals Committee and the CITES Secretariat itself tabled a Draft Resolution which incorporated the proposal to keep the current reference for Scleropages formosus. Consequently, the reference to the scientific paper proposing the split is now erased from the final document.

So to huge relief, we stick with just one species for all types of dragonfish. It must be said that CITES is not actually saying that the scientific paper is wrong, it’s saying that, for trade purposes, it will remain as Scleropages formosus. Whether scientific evidence deemed by CITES to be of a sufficiently convincing nature will be presented at some future date is unknown

May 2010: by John Dawes

Hard coral names will be updated and standardised following this latest CITES meeting


The USA had tabled a proposal based on the difficulties currently being experienced with coral identification. Clearly if the coral trade is being monitored/controlled, it is important to be able to identify coral species at points of entry as well as exit in exporting countries.

However, with species names changing in the light of new knowledge, anomalies have arisen, such as the names of genera and species listed on CITES permits not being present on the official list contained within the relevant CITES Notification issued back in 2003. In addition, the CITES Species Database now includes whole genera of hard corals that don’t appear on the Notification list. As a result, said Notification is now badly outdated. This, of course, has enormous implications for the coral trade, from collectors, to filling in of CITES permit applications, to the issuing of CITES export and import permits and so on.

As such, the USA proposed that the Animals Committee tackle the issue, starting with the identification of existing coral references that could be used as standard nomenclatural references for CITES-listed corals, among them all those traded for home aquaria. In addition, the notification should be updated to take in all the recent revisions in coral nomenclature.

These moves should make the whole trade in hard corals less confusing and more feasible than it currently is. At least, we all hope so. This, again, is good news for the trade.

May 2010: by John Dawes

Arapaima, seen here as fillets arranged around a large tucunaré,
Cichla ocellaris, is a popular food fish in its native lands


Arapaima gigas… or is it something else?

Now that the classification of the dragonfish has, thankfully, been left well alone, we face a similar situation over the arapaima or pirarucu (Arapaima gigas). The arapaima is thought to be the largest-scaled freshwater fish known to science, yet it does have a place within the ornamental aquatic sector, albeit a modest one.

At the moment, the arapaima is listed under CITES Appendix II, requiring the appropriate export and import documentation for legal trade to occur. Between 1977 and 2004, CITES recorded the export of 87,045 live specimens for ornamental purposes – quoted by L. Castello and S. Stewart in the Journal of Applied Ichthyology, Vol. 26, Issue 1, Nov 25, 2009. The authors estimated their value (at trade prices?) to be around US$1.74 million. Today, baby arapaima sell in some countries for at least US$125 each, with juveniles and adults fetching higher prices.

As for food harvests, volume used to be as high as 1,400-1,600 metric tons annually in the 1930s, declining to a little over 300 metric tons in 1985, since when data is virtually lacking. This lack of data, plus the declining harvest trend, led Castello and Stewart to take a closer look at the arapaima, feeling that current levels of exploitation are not sustainable.

Today, though still wild caught, there are growing numbers of breeding farms in Brazil, Colombia, Guyana and Peru. One online establishment alone claims it can produce 10,000 fish each month. According to the Institut de Recherche pour le Dévelopment: “With breeding under better control, Arapaima farming could become one of the world’s most profitable forms of fish farming, with up to 4,000 fry per brood reaching as much as 12kg each after only 12 months’ growth.”

Anyway, Castello and Stewart studied populations of arapaima in Brazil and Guyana and examined specimens preserved in several large international collections, including type materials in Paris and London, and non-types in Manaus and several US museums. The data “suggests that all four nominal taxa are valid”.

The four nominal taxa were originally described in 1847 by Cuvier and Valenciennes: Vastres agassizii, V. arapaima, V. cuvieri and V. mapae. These were all subsequently lumped together as Arapaima gigas. However, now that Scleropages formosus has been left alone, does Arapaima gigas still face the possibility of reverting to its original four taxa?

May 2010: by John Dawes

The debate regarding South American freshwater stingrays, such
as these wild-caught Potamotrygon motoro, will re-open


Potamotrygon motoro and P. motoro x leopoldi hybrid
(the darker specimen) bred in the Far East


Several species of wild-caught South American freshwater stingrays have, for a time, been available on a limited basis, with world demand for these fascinating fish rising in recent years. It is not absolutely clear whether this is as a result of the numerous stingray breeding farms that have been springing up in the Far East, or whether the farms have sprung up because of the demand.

Either way, there’s been a long-running underlying concern based on the lack of data from the ‘range states’, ie. the countries in whose waters the stingrays occur, regarding “the level of commercial exploitation for food and commercial markets and on the quantities… in international trade”. This statement was included in the document that arose out of a workshop held in Geneva in April, attended by representatives of the range states, the ornamental aquatic industry and the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

Other issues discussed included the value and potential shortcomings of listing South American freshwater stingrays in CITES Appendix III, the risk posed to the South American ornamental freshwater fish industry by captive breeding establishments outside the region (ie. the Asian farms) and the potential for addressing these through restrictions on exports of adult stingrays for breeding purposes.
As a result, the debate has been re-opened with three main recommendations.

Range States should:
• Take note of the workshop’s findings and conclusions and increase their efforts to improve data collection on the scale and impact of the threats facing stingray species and populations from collections for the ornamental trade;

• Consider implementing or reinforcing national regulations regarding the reporting of capture and international trade of freshwater stingrays for all purposes… and standardising these measures across the region, for example, through existing South American inter-governmental bodies;

•Be encouraged to consider the listing of endemic and threatened species of freshwater stingrays (Potamotrygonidae) in CITES Appendix III as needing the co-operation of other Parties (ie. members of CITES) in the control of trade. This would additionally serve to support domestic measures for species entering international trade and to improve and enhance trade data collection.

As a result, South American freshwater stingrays are back in the melting pot. They will, undoubtedly, be discussed at further CITES Animals Committee meetings and elsewhere, and we can expect further proposals at the next CITES meeting in two years. In the meantime, the trade in wild-caught specimens will, presumably, continue in its present format (which varies from country to country), the same applying to exports/imports of Asian farm-bred specimens.

Realistically speaking, this latest CITES conference did not go badly with regard to topics that relate directly to the ornamental aquatic industry. But just how positive the latest coral and stingray resolutions will prove to be in the long run, remains to be seen.

The dragonfish decision, however, was a very significant and positive one. We must therefore (once more!) applaud all our sector’s representatives, both from national as well as international trade organisations, for attending and fighting our corner with commonsense and good science.

March 2010: by John Dawes

A group of ryukins: Note the pronounced hump, something that is currently lacking in the Japanese transparent goldfish.

Genetically modified or transgenic Zebra danios (Danio rerio) were originally created for scientific research. It was only when their potential for the ornamental sector was realised that they were developed into several colour forms, followed by medakas or rice fish (Oryzias latipes). Imports of both these fish into Europe are banned. However, the point with regard to this piece is not their legality/illegality with respect to Europe, but the fact that they were originally created for scientific purposes.

Well, we are now facing a similar situation with goldfish. No, not transgenic goldfish but transparent or, to be more accurate (in my view), translucent goldfish.

The new variety has been produced at Japan’s Mie University by Associate Biology Professor Yutaka Tamaru and his research team. This variety – which allows internal organs like the heart to be visible through the flesh, gills and some say blood as well – has been developed for scientific purposes. However, there can be no doubt that these pale, translucent fish could find a place in the goldfish sector, which is always hungry for innovations.

Further, since the pigment-less characteristic should be maintained through life (at the moment I feel it’s too early to state this categorically, since the only fish in existence are still young), Tamaru believes that it will be possible to monitor the above throughout the life of each fish. He also believes that “…it would be easier to observe how illness could affect its organs. It would be easy to make goldfish produce proteins, look into them in the living body and make use of them for drug discovery research”.

The new creation is also being viewed as a replacement for animal dissections in classrooms.

Scientists have spent two years crossbreeding “pale goldfish” to get to this point. It should therefore be feasible for goldfish breeders within the ornamental sector to do likewise. There are, after all, suitable candidates for such breeding programmes such as the white and black telescope-eye goldfish, which I photographed some time back in Singapore.

There are also fish with almost translucent bodies, such as the white dragon fish (Scleropages formosus) with transparent/translucent gill covers that I also photographed in Singapore. If you look carefully, you can see a patch on its belly (the gut and other internal organs) and the ‘shallow-v’ outlines of the body muscle bundles. Other possible candidates are light-coloured calico or nacreous goldfish with few body scales.

Indeed, it would not be surprising if some transparent/translucent goldfish were to make an appearance at Aquarama 2011. In fact, it’s very possible that more than one of the highly creative Asian goldfish breeders are already working on transparent fish. We won’t know, of course, until such fish become available since new breeding programmes are, understandably, kept secret and only announced once sufficient stocks are produced to meet demand.

The only picture of the new transparent goldfish which appears to have been released to date can be viewed on several websites, among them:

Some reports refer to the new fish as a ryukin. It’s not. The official photo – albeit of a young fish – is more of a fantail than anything else. If you do manage to access the above website, compare the published photograph with that of a group of ryukin published here.
March 2010: by John Dawes

Goodeids (pictured is Ameca splendens) do not appear on the
approved list. Is this because the family has been assessed,
or merely through oversight?

New Zealand has recently published legislation relating to the import of ornamental aquatic organisms. Interestingly enough, ‘Importing Ornamental Fish and Marine Invertebrates from all Countries’ ( standards/fisornic.all.htm#d) takes a different approach to most equivalent documents published elsewhere.

It doesn’t, for instance, list banned or restricted species. Instead, it includes a long – a very long! – list of all the freshwater, marines and invertebrates whose import into the country is permitted, in short, a Positive List. Therefore if a species is on the list, it can be imported; if it’s not, then it can’t be imported. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

However, on reading through the list one discovers that goldfish (Carassius auratus) and koi (Cyprinus carpio) are NOT on it, indicating that their import is banned. Other notable absentees include most coldwater fish along with a host of species we tend to refer to as ‘coldwater tropicals’, ie. tropical species that can withstand low, or relatively low, water temperatures.

Species like the paradise fish (Macropodus opercularis) and its relatives belonging to the genera Pseudosphromenus and Parosphromenus are also excluded, except for one species of the latter (the Liquorice gourami, P. deissneri), although all 19 species in this genus have basically the same requirements and tolerances. Also excluded are the White Cloud Mountain minnow (Tanichthys albonubes), and the medaka or rice fish (Oryzias latipes) and its relatives.

Also notable is the absence of all the goodeids. However, whether this is because they are deemed as potentially ‘noxious’, or because the authorities are not really aware that modest quantities are traded in many countries is not made clear. Stocks of the butterfly goodeid or ameca (Ameca splendens) are easily obtained throughout Europe and the US. Significantly, the new regulations make no mention of freshwater invertebrates such as decorative shrimps, snails, etc. And for this article I’ve only concentrated on the freshwater list.

New Zealand used to have a list of prohibited species, but it was deemed too confusing. Yet this Positive List suffers from an inherent weakness in that by not including new species as they come on stream, it bans their import simply by omission. The consequence is that by erring to such an extent on the side of caution, new species are almost regarded as guilty until proved innocent as to whether they pose a potential or real threat to New Zealand’s native fish fauna. There is also the complication of the law (apparently) being interpreted differently on the North and South Islands.

All this comes on top of New Zealand’s strict quarantine laws which require freshwater fish to be quarantined for six weeks, and marine fish and invertebrates for three. No doubt, we’ll be hearing much more of this complicated situation as the law is implemented on a day-to-day basis at ports of entry over the coming month.

February 2010: by John Dawes

Curly pondweed: excellent oxygenator…and invader

The headline of an article published in the on-line edition of the Winnipeg Free Press in November ( reads: Once aquarium plant, now threat to lakes.  The plant in question is the curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) and the article goes on to say: “An invasive species introduced into North America in the 1980s as an aquarium plant has surfaced in a Manitoba lake and threatens to choke off that lake and others.”

On reading this, I felt there was something ‘not quite right’ with the last statement, so I checked further.  In my earliest searches, I found maps showing that this plant, which is Eurasian in origin, is distributed virtually all over the North American continent.  Immediately, of course, this raises the question: Could this plant be so invasive that it has spread over a whole continent in a little over two decades?
The answer is, obviously, No!

Potamogeton crispus was not introduced into North America in the 1980s.  In fact, it was introduced in the mid-1800s – around 1840.  Further, it was not introduced as an aquarium plant, but, according to many references, in connection with fish hatcheries.  For example, A Guide to Invasive Aquatic Plants of Connecticut, published in 2005 (, says that its introduction was ‘likely related to distribution of fisheries stocks…’  According to this particular document, ‘it has also been spread by deliberate plantings…and may have been distributed by birds…is sometimes transported on boat trailers…is sold through aquarium and horticultural supplies and sometimes is shipped as a contaminant in orders of other aquatic plants’.

A second document, the Aquatic Plant Information System (Version 2), produced by the Engineer Research and Development Center for the Aquatic Control Research Program of the US Army Corps of Engineers in 2001, refers to the intentional planting mentioned in the above paragraph as ‘intentional planting for wildfowl and wildlife habitats’.  It also refers to the plant being spread ‘possibly even as a contaminant in water used to transport fishes and fish eggs to hatcheries’.

Another 2005 document: Rapid Response Plan for Curly Pondweed (Potamogeton crispus) in Massachusetts, states that the species ‘is reported from all states except Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and South Carolina.  The first collection…was in Wilmington, Delaware in 1860…The likely pathways for introduction include (my emphasis) the fish hatchery industry and the aquarium trade’.

So, while our industry may be regarded as a potential contributor to the introduction of P. crispus into North America, it is one, and only one, of several potential pathways.  Significantly, it is unlikely to have been a contributor to any of the early introductions, since these occurred well before there was any significant trade between the European aquarium sector (or, to be more precise, the pond/water garden sector) and the US.

This is not to say that we can categorically absolve ourselves entirely from (perhaps) having contributed in some way to its spread.  However, even if this were to be shown to be the case, the extent of our industry’s influence, compared to that of other potential pathways cited, while not being clear, is very likely to be considerably smaller than that of, say, the fish hatchery industry, which produces vast numbers of fish for sport/recreation and human consumption purposes.

So far, I have not seen any conclusive evidence or data regarding our industry’s contribution, but one of our readers may have done so – in which case, please enlighten me!  Whether there are any data or not, though, we must continue, as ever, to advise in the strongest possible terms against the release of any aquatic organism, be it plant or animal, into non-native waters.  Not only is this illegal in most (all?) countries, it is also unethical, irrespective of the invasive potential of the species concerned.

In the case of P. crispus, its current distribution over most of the North American continent shows it to be highly invasive.  Not only is it a very hardy plant, which can tolerate both high and low temperatures, but it is also a species that can grow to two metres in length, has a firm rooting system and can spread via even small fragments.  It is also a perennial plant (survives for years) and is a fast grower that can choke ponds and prevent light from reaching other plants (but not during the summer months, when it dies back).  On the positive side, it is a good oxygenator, which provides shelter for small fish and other aquatic creatures, which, in turn, provide food for larger fish, amphibians and migrating waterfowl in spring.


Will gouramis, cichlids and livebearers be given the green, amber, or red light once all the submissions following the IRA draft report have been considered by the Australia’s Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine?

Shortly after I wrote my last piece on the Draft Import Risk Analysis Report on Importation of Freshwater Ornamental Finfish: review of the biosecurity risks associated with gourami iridovirus and related viruses (*see Footnote) issued by Biosecurity Australia (BA), the full texts of all the submissions received by the Australian authorities were published on the BA website (see:

To access these (very interesting!) submissions, click on Import Risk Analyses on the above homepage.  This will open up a sub-menu from which you need to select Current Animal IRAs and Policy and Scientific Reviews which, on clicking, will take you to a page which includes four options.  Select Ornamental Finfish and click on this, which will open up the relevant page, from which you need to select Submissions in response to draft IRA report.

At the time I wrote my above-mentioned piece, we in the industry only had advance knowledge of three submissions: those from the Pet Industry Association of Australia (PIAA), Ornamental Fish International (OFI) and the Agri-food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) of Singapore.  It turns out – not surprisingly, of course – that quite a few other interested parties sent in submissions as well and not all, by any means, in agreement with the views expressed by PIAA, OFI and AVA.  In total, there were 18 submissions, most from official organisations – both trade and non-trade – with four listed as coming from individuals (but see below).

The submissions fall into two main categories: those supporting tighter control measures and those that feel that at least some of the IRA’s conclusions are based on poor science.

As expected (and I’m not saying this in any negatively critical manner, purely as an observation), those in favour of the proposed tighter controls include official Australian government agencies: the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, Biosecurity Queensland, Department of Fisheries (Western Australia), Department of Primary Industries (New South Wales),  Department of Primary Industries (Victoria), Department of Primary Industries and Water (Tasmania), National Aquaculture Council and Primary Industries and Resources South Australia (PIRSA).  The last of these is concerned with recreational fisheries, i.e. fishing, as is another supporter of the proposals, RECFISH Australia, which ‘represents the substantial interests of recreational fishers (approximately 3.5 million fishers in an industry worth approximately $1.9 billion)’.  Of the above submissions, some actually call for even more stringent controls than those proposed in the draft IRA report.

Of the four individual submissions – all representing established businesses – no fewer than three are in favour of the proposals.  One comes from a fish hatchery that is apparently the only establishment from the Australian mainland that is allowed to transport goldfish varieties to Tasmania because its stocks are considered disease-free with regard to pathogens considered as being exotic to Australia.  Another supporter is a firm that specialises in native Australian plants for aquaria, while the third is a producer of free range barramundi ‘for restaurants and discerning customers’.

On the ‘reservations’ side, i.e. those that are critical of one or more aspects of the draft IRA report, we find, in addition to those agencies/organisations I’ve already mentioned in earlier pieces (i.e. PIAA, OFI and AVA), the Department of Fisheries (Thailand), the Ornamental Fish Association of Australia, the Singapore Aquarium Fish Exporters’ Association (SAFEA) and an individual submission from a private ornamental fish company.

Overall, the submissions supporting the draft report, which proposes stricter import and quarantine controls that could result in major restrictions on imports of cichlids, livebearers and gouramis into Australia – or their total prohibition –outnumber those that are critical of it by two to one.  It is also significant (or may be so) that there are some real ‘heavyweights’ among the supporters, as government departments obviously are, along with organisations that represent major revenue-generating industries, such as the fishing/angling one.

Undoubtedly, the trade organisations, plus the private ornamental fish company, have put forward strong, well-argued cases, especially regarding the need for ‘good science’ to be observed/applied before any legally binding final document is produced.  However, as we know only too well, good, strong, well-reasoned arguments don’t always win the day.

Biosecurity Australia, therefore, has a dauntingly difficult challenge on its hands. How will it balance the obvious need to protect Australia’s native fish fauna with the need to allow legal, ethical trade to continue – and without breaching international trade agreements, such as those highlighted by OFI, PIAA and SAFEA in their submissions?  One thing seems pretty certain: no stakeholder or interested party is likely to be fully satisfied with the final decision(s) whenever it/they may come.

*Footnote – The full text of the draft import risk analysis that has given rise to deep concerns within the industry (as I have reported in previous editions) owing to its potentially devastating implications for both exporters of certain ornamental fish to Australia, as well as its importers, is accessible at

January 2010: by John Dawes




Some of the relatives of the rainbow or patriot
crab (Cardisoma armatum) – seen here   underwater –

are at high risk of extinction

RECENT years have seen a surge of interest in freshwater crustacea, mainly micro-shrimps, following the ‘nano aquarium revolution’ that continues to gain great popularity.  While this has not resulted in a level of demand even remotely approaching that for fish and marine invertebrates, there is, nevertheless, a niche freshwater crustacea market that is likely to continue well into the future.

Most of this sector is taken up by shrimps, but there is a subsector that consists of freshwater crabs, plus some terrestrial species, such as Cardisoma armatum, from West Africa, that spend time both under and above water.

According to a recent study carried out by scientists from the Zoological Society of London, Northern Michigan University, National University of Singapore and other institutions (see Reference), of the 1,280 species currently known, no fewer than 227 ‘should be considered as near threatened, vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered’.  (see Freshwater crabs ‘feel the pinch’ by Matt Walker, on the BBC - Earth News website:

I carried out a count on the World Conservation Union (IUCN) website ( and of these, 33 are in the critically endangered category – among them, the orchid island crab (Geothelphusa  lanyu), the green crab (G. lutao) and the Singapore freshwater crab (Johora singaporensis) – while 52 are listed as endangered and 106 as vulnerable, leaving another 36 as near threatened and the remainder in the least concern and data deficient categories.

Placing these in terms of their risk of extinction, 33 species face an ‘extremely high risk of extinction in the wild’, 52 face a ‘very high risk’ and 106 face a ‘high risk’.  Near-threatened species are those that are ‘close to qualifying for or [are] likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future’.  ‘Widespread and abundant taxa’ make up the least concern category.  Other species, about which ‘there is insufficient information to make a direct, or indirect, assessment of [their] risk of extinction’ make up the data deficient category.  Together, these two last categories currently account for 1,053 species of freshwater crabs.

According to the scientists, ‘about one-sixth of all freshwater species have an elevated risk of extinction, only one-third are not at-risk, and although none is actually extinct, almost half are too poorly known to assess’.  They further report that ‘out of the 122 countries that have populations of freshwater crabs, 43 have species in need of protection’.  To put the extent of threat into perspective, we are told that the proportion of freshwater crab species that is threatened with extinction is ‘equal to that of reef-building corals, and exceeds that of all other groups that have been assessed except for amphibians’.

Reassuringly for us, the main factors that threaten freshwater crabs have nothing to do either with the trade or hobby demand, since this is quite low.  However, numerous species have restricted distribution ranges, with many not being totally aquatic, spending varying periods of time on land in habitats that are susceptible to ‘deforestation, alteration of drainage patterns, and pollution’.  Any single one of these factors can spell danger for a range-restricted species; combine one or two and the problems, obviously, soar.  No country illustrates this more forcefully than Sri Lanka, where no fewer than 40 of its 50 species of freshwater crabs are deemed to be threatened.

This and other examples cited by authors, is used ‘to underline and prioritise and develop conservation measures before species decline to levels from which they cannot recover’.  Ben Collen, from the Zoological Society of London, who was one of the scientists involved in the survey, backs this up: “We must set clear goals to reverse these trends and ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out the small things that provide us with great benefits, such as nutrient cycling.”

This last comment refers to the dietary habits of freshwater crabs, many of which feed on leaf litter, algae, detritus, fruits, or even carrion.  This makes them easy to keep in aquaria-terraria (the set-up will vary according to the species kept), something that, allied to the attractive coloration of many species, is certain to ensure their niche in our industry and hobby – that is, until or unless all-encompassing legislation is formulated to protect those species which are in genuine danger of extinction.

Neil Cumberlidge, Peter K.L. Ng, Darren C.J. Yeo, et al, Freshwater crabs and biodiversity: Importance, threats, status, and conservation challenges. Biological Conservation, Vol. 132, Issue 8, August 2009, pages 1665-1673.


IT IS well over a year since I reported on a scientific paper that had been published in December 2003 proposing that the single species of dragon fish (Scleropages formosus) be split into four separate species (see Reference).

I ended that report by saying that, sooner or later, the matter would need to be addressed.  Until this happened, the dragon fish would be in a state of limbo.  I also emphasised that: “Quite when it will wake up from this state is an unknown factor at this stage.  But awake it will…and probably sooner than most people expect.”

Well, the dragon could very soon wake up as I predicted.  In fact, it could have already done so by the time we go to print.  If it does, the resulting decisions that could be taken could have major implications for this high-end sector of the ornamental aquatic sector.
But…let’s take a step back before analysing this further.

The dragon fish has been officially listed by CITES as being endangered since 1975. International trade in wild-caught specimens is, therefore, strictly prohibited. However, trade in captive-bred specimens originating from officially-registered farms is permitted, as long as they meet strict criteria.
This situation is widely known and understood, just as it is also universally known that several colour varieties of the species occur naturally and that wild stocks of the species occur in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.  There is also one reference to the species occurring in the Philippines, but there is considerable doubt about the validity of this claim.

The differences between the wild populations extend beyond colour, since each type also possesses several morphological characteristics which are not shared with the other varieties.  These differences – which apply to certain bones, e.g. the lower jaw, as well as to the head parameters and distribution and length of the fins, among others – have been known for a long time, of course.  Despite this, all types of dragon fish have traditionally been regarded as belonging to the single species, Scleropages formosus, irrespective of their morphological and colour differences. The December 2003 scientific paper, though, claims that the above-mentioned types are not just variable forms of one species, but actually consist of separate species: Scleropages macrocephalus, S. aureus, S. legendrei and S. formosus itself.

In my above-mentioned report, I said: “The scientific paper has never been referred to, as far as one can determine, either at the CITES Animals Committee meetings which have taken place since its publication or at any CITES Conference of the Parties (CoP).  However, this may now change, since, in March 2006, FishBase (the major on-line reference fish website) included the three new dragon fish for the first time.  It may take some time – as such matters often do – but now that the information is more widely available via FishBase, it would not be unexpected if moves were to be initiated at some time to regularise the situation.”

On September 30, 2009, CITES took a first step in this direction when it issued a Notification to the Parties on Standard Nomenclature.  This Notification consists of a list of scientific papers which include reference/proposals regarding changes in nomenclature to be discussed at the forthcoming CoP to be held in Doha, Qatar, between March 13-25, 2010.  Among these papers is the December 2003 Scleropages one.

Although Notifications can be withdrawn, we should assume that the subject will be discussed. If so, there appear to be three main possible outcomes:
♦ The proposal may be rejected
It may be accepted in full
It may be provisionally accepted or postponed, with a specified period provided for full analysis and consultation before a firm proposal is made at the following CoP (CoP 16).

If the proposed new names are adopted by CITES, there will, at the very least, be significant changes to the dragon fish sector.  These could, for instance, involve a considerable amount of additional paperwork filling in separate permits for each colour form (now species) with accompanying costs.  But this would only be the beginning.

How, for example, does one deal with fish that can’t easily be placed in one or other of the new species?  If the exact parentage of these variants is known, then they can be placed within one species or other.  But, this is often not the case, owing to crossbreeding over many generations.  Up to now, all these crossbreeds have, of course, been regarded as belonging to the single species, S. formosus…so what happens to these fish now?  Or, will there be moves to stop all crossbreeding?

And what about the blue Malaysian or Bukit Merah blue dragon fish from Pahang and Bukit Merah in Perak, Malaysia?  This particular dragon fish was not studied by the scientists of the 2003 paper.  It, therefore, remains as S. formosus – but only by default.  Will it now be looked at with a view to re-classifying?  If the nomenclature changes were to be adopted but the ‘blue’ dragon were to be left as it currently stands, this would make little biological sense, but if it is re-assessed, what then?

There are other issues involved which, space (unfortunately) doesn’t allow me to explore.  However, I hope the above helps place the significance of the Notification into some perspective.  As I indicated earlier, we can’t be certain that the matter will be discussed, or that it will be accepted if it is discussed.  Our hopes for a sensible outcome rest, as ever, with our representatives who will be attending the CITES CoP and who are preparing thoroughly (as they always do) to present a well-documented well-reasoned case for commonsense, based on solid science.

Laurent Pouyaud, Sudarto and Guy G. Teugels. The different colour varieties of the Asian arowana Scleropages formosus (Osteoglossidae) are distinct species: Morphologic and genetic evidences. Cybium, Revue Internationale d’Ichthyologie, Vol. 27, No. 4, 31 Dec. 2003.