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protect vulnerable reef fishes


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#1 clippo

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 08:07 AM

Hi - I hope no one minds if I post this here.

Please consider visiting and signing my petition

protect the reef fishes of clipperton atoll

#2 Rocha

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 10:09 AM

Just to clarify, the tanker that they refer to in the link above was safely removed from the reef. There was minimal reef damage and no chemicals leaked.

On a secondary note, and I am sure this will cause some discussion, I really don't think we should worry too much about reef fish collection in Clipperton. There is only one species that is valuable to the aquarium trade there, which is Holacanthus clippertonensis, an angelfish. Also, there is only one collector that goes there with any type of regularity, a Mexican-based operation that goes there once a year at the most, but he hasn't been there for three years. It is VERY expensive to go collect reef fish in Clipperton, the place is very isolated (about 1300km from shore).

Now, since we are talking about the extraction of reef fishes, in this case for the aquarium trade, here is a thought. The aquarium reef fish trade is one of the best self-regulating fisheries that I know. Reef fishes (especially the rare and expensive ones) are NOT like food fish. If you dump 1,000 pounds of grouper on a the market one day, they will sell for $6 a pound, if you dump 20,000 the next day, they will sell for the same $6 because people eat grouper and food prices don't vary much. Now, if you spend thousands of dollars to organize an expedition to Clipperton and capture a few dozen Holacanthus clippertonensis, you will be able to sell them for say $500 each. If, instead of collecting a few dozen you get hundreds or thousands you will quickly saturate the market and Holacanthus clippertonensis prices will drop like rocks (there are not a lot of people out there willing to pay $500 for an aquarium fish). For this simple reason aquarium collectors don't over-collect rare species; for their own benefit they want to keep the prices high.

My point is, conservation, like everything else, should work around priorities. There are many, many other places in need of much more urgent protection (Philippines, Indonesia, don't get me started). Clipperton is very well protected by its isolation and the fact that there is no source of freshwater (hence no settlement) on the island. So I say in this case leave it alone.

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#3 Drew

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 01:16 PM

Luiz
In that vein of thought though, is it not possible that because that some guy will want to break the high market and offer the same species at $300 or $100 and sell 2000 of them to buyers who won't buy a $500 fish but want it? That could easily fund an expedition to Clipperton. I agree there are much more fragile areas that are biologically more important in Asia etc. I suppose we have to do the best we can to make the best of what is left.

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#4 Rocha

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 03:14 PM

Hi Drew, it is possible, but not very likely. The investment to catch (and keep alive) 2000 of these guys is just too high. Think about it, you need a much bigger boat, more divers, a better infrastructure on land, etc, and most collectors don't have that. Remember, we are speaking about angelfish, we can't just cram 100 of those in a small tank. And you have to have a distributor willing to take the risk too... Lots of variables.

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#5 xariatay

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Posted 09 March 2010 - 08:27 PM

Thanks for posting the petition, I have signed it.
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#6 clippo

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 01:58 AM

Luiz - good points, but based on the info I have, incorrect on several counts.

Firstly, the Clipperton Angel is Holacanthus limbaughi. Secondly, a US based collector visited the Atoll just last year and collected well over 50 clipperton angels (if you are really sure about the Mexican collector, please let me know the details of this operation and when they have visited). Due to a suspicious mislabelling of the fishes on transit through Mexico this shipment was impounded and as far as I know suffered almost complete mortality.

These fish sell for $5000 - $10000 dollars each(!) on the US market so a collecting trip can be extremely lucrative as far as I can see. This was the thing that really galvanised me to set up the petition actually.... they were discussing prices for these fish in the SAME THREAD that announced the tanker incident (before it was even known of there had been a spill) on reefcentral. There are several other endemic species that may also be collected too. Clip angels are classified as 'vulnerable' on the IUCN red list.

As far as I know, the tanker hasn't leaked but the last I read it hadn't been removed from the Atoll yet. If you have a source for new information, please post it here. To be frank, even if the tanker hasn't leaked, Clipperton and it's various forms of life face pressures from all directions. The shark population has been decimated, there are rats on the Atoll, flotsam.. even abandoned munitions. The French (who have supposedly managed and protect this location so well) have considered nuclear testing there or other kinds of destructive development. Try as I might, I can't get any information out of the Jean Louis Etienne expedition that went there a few years ago. Nor will any of the other various people who have supposedly studied these fishes answer requests to share information. The Etienne expedition didn't even produce an English version of the DVD of the trip (not even subtitles). It makes me angry that this place isn't being given greater attention as it is an important location (although perhaps not with the eye catching diversity of other locations).

Edited by clippo, 10 March 2010 - 02:16 AM.


#7 Drew

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 04:43 AM

The Ichty guy on Jean Louis' expedition were Bernard Saret(?) or Séret. I can't remember. There was also another guy he was working with, Philippe Béaret or Béarez. You may wish to contact them instead of Jean Louis.

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#8 Rocha

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 06:12 AM

Hi Clippo,

You are correct, the fish is Holacanthus limbaughi, I have no idea where my head was when I wrote Holacanthus clippertonensis :drink: . The source for the news that the ship was removed is this:

http://www.lloydslis...eId=20017756065

And also an e-mail that I received from Tahitian authorities last week.

So, in your post above you mention several things other than reef fishes. Why protect only the fishes? I would be much more inclined to sign it if it was a petition to transform Clipperton in an off limits biological reserve. Nothing allowed, no tourism (which it doesn't support anyways), no shark fishing, etc. That I agree would protect the ecosystem as a whole, but I don't see a lot of advantage in protecting only the reef fishes (which as I mention in my first post, are very safe with current levels of extraction).

Even though I have never been to Clipperton, I have traveled extensively and made reef fish populations surveys throughout the planet, including many locations very similar to Clipperton in size and isolation. Everything I know about population dynamics in fishes indicates that extracting 50 angels (or even 500) would not make a dent in the population. If the population is small enough that extracting 50 is a problem, then that population is genetically doomed anyways.

Cheers,

Luiz

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#9 clippo

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 06:52 AM

thanks Drew - I will try them.

thanks Luiz - the thing that worries me is that repeated collections are occuring, and have the potential to increase. It's not just 50 fish - its the 50 fish that were lost in the last shipment, the unspecified number that may have been taken by the Mexican collector every year apart from the last 3, and the imminent planned collection/s. I've read about another collection around the yr2000 mark in which many fish were lost but I am still trying to find specific details on that. On it's own I agree it doesn't appear significant but when you take into account other threats - use of the species for bait, fluctuations in predator populations, potential large scale wipeouts from unusual events (like a tanker spill), climatic changes etc.. then it does become an unnecessary population reducer in my opinion. I could have launched a campaign to create a biological reserve but to me that doesn't address the IMMEDIATE threats. Other problems are being dealt with I believe... for example the sharks are slowly returning - however I wonder if they'd be returning quicker if we stopped taking their prey items. In short, a ban (even a short term one) couldn't do any harm could it... apart from to the pockets or egos of the collectors and their clients. Let's not forget this is recognised as a 'threatened' species.

I would love to be able to get hold of some hard data regarding the population of these fish. I am aware that Connie Limbaugh visited the location in the 50s.. and then Dr Robertson and Dr Allen visited in 1994. It would be interesting to compare the data from those expeditions with the findings of the Etienne expedition. So far no-one has even been able to give me an estimate of the number of these fish in the wild... so I don't know how anyone can definitively say that taking 50 a year isn't going to be detrimental (if you are privvy to that information though, pleas let me have it!). There don't seem to be figures on how many have been used for baiting purposes either.

Edited by clippo, 10 March 2010 - 07:15 AM.


#10 Rocha

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:20 AM

Hi Clippo,

I was one of the experts on the recent IUCN workshop to evaluate this species. We asked Ross Robertson (with whom I work closely) about his feel for what the population levels were in the 90's and he said that the fish was very abundant. We did, however, leave it as Vulnerable, as we did all species with such a small range.

As far as collection goes, consistent (but sustainable) collections are much better coped with by fish populations than single large collections, and that's what I am trying to say regarding reef fish in the aquarium trade, that extraction levels are probably not going to be a threat for most species. 50/year certainly is not...

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#11 james

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 07:21 AM

Interesting thread! Back when I lived in San Diego the "holy grail" of sportfishing trips was a 23-day trip to Clipperton to fish for big yellowfin tuna and wahoo. Clipperton angels just weren't on the list back then :-) Times sure have changed.

I tend to agree w/ Luiz that targeting ONLY reef fish for protection seems like a half measure. If there is hard data that the ecosystem needs protection then protect the WHOLE thing (my opinion only).

Collection of reef fish using barrier and hand nets is a very non-intrusive thing, and can be done sustainably. I'm not sure I agree about the self-regulating facet though Luiz - if that was the case then the Bangaiis wouldn't be in trouble. I think it's the remote location that helps so much in this case.

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#12 Rocha

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 08:31 AM

I'm not sure I agree about the self-regulating facet though Luiz - if that was the case then the Bangaiis wouldn't be in trouble. I think it's the remote location that helps so much in this case.

Cheers
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Bangais were in trouble because they were cheap (so the collectors wanted to sell a lot for profits)! And a *very* small natural population limited to an easily accessible place 100X smaller than Clipperton. And the fact that they are mouth-brooders with much smaller clutches than angelfish... Self-regulating works for rare species in isolated (or deep) locations, nobody wants to go to Clipperton to collect fish and sell them for $50 when they can do that at the coast, but if they sell thousands of them the price will inevitably drop....

Now back to the Bangais, they are almost completely out of trouble thanks to captive breeding. Captive bred stocks were even released in the wild and the populations are much bigger now than they were a few years ago. I have been doing assessments and evaluating conservation status of reef fishes for the IUCN for the last 10 years, and I cannot think of a single case of extraction for aquaria being the main cause of a species getting into the red list, with the exception of the Bangai Cardinal, which is recovering now.

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#13 james

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 09:33 AM

Luiz,

I just went back and read through all the posts I could find about Clipperton angel imports (don't tell my boss!) What a trip!

In any case, I think your comments about the Bangaii support my point, rather than counter it. But that's just my opinion. I remember when the Bangaiis were first imported back in the 90's and they were definitely not cheap.

It doesn't change the fact that aquarium fish are sustainably collected and exported/imported from many places thank goodness.

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#14 clippo

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 01:18 AM

thanks guys - Luiz that is very useful information. So how large is the population estimated to be then (hundreds, thousands?) are they uniformly distributed around the Atoll? Any other specific information you can share would be very useful (I've emailed Dr Robertson but had no reply).

Although I can see your point about collections being relatively harmless, I still stand by my view that it is unnecessary and potentially more damaging than assumed due to other threats (that may not have been in existence with other species mentioned). I also think it is unethical and inhumane given the likelihood of high mortalities in shipments as evidenced by previous commercial attempts.

The idea of campaigning to protect the whole Atoll was something I considered but at the time I couldn't actually find out if it was ALREADY protected. So, with an imminent collection looming, I decided to focus in on that. Depending on the information I am able to assemble it is something I'd like to consider in the future though. if anyone is interested in helping me out, please join up the Facebook group via the petition.

#15 MikeVeitch

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 01:57 AM

Banggais are an invasive menace here.... way too many of them.

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#16 Drew

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 02:34 AM

LOL stop looking at your own backyard only Mike. The spread of Banggai is mostly human caused. It was endangered from the over harvesting in the 90s. Then they were spread to your neck of the woods first then later Bali just for access for export since Banggai is a bit remote. The population in Banggai Islands has been decimated in several areas.
The interesting thing is they're growing pretty well in the areas they've been released, so the Vagelli/Allen predator list is probably correct since their habitat is now in areas where you don't see too many Pterois Sp or Gymnothorax Sp. in the urchin fields like Police Pier in Lembeh or the artificial structures like in Secret Bay in Bali. In fact, I noticed they were there in Secret Bay from 2001 or 2, around the time Gerry and Alejandro were pushing for protection in the late 90s/00.
I can't remember the details but I think there has been some controversy about LINI (the NGO created to protect the Banggai islands) and it's representation of population facts for the last 3 years.
I'm pretty sure that the BC deserve to be on that list, especially in the Banggai Islands where I think only half of the islands have populations and many are dwindling due to collection and habitat destruction.

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#17 Rocha

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 09:20 AM

This discussion is getting very interesting, James, what I meant to say with the BC case was that the Banggai is not your typical reef fish, most reef fish are broadcast spawners with much higher fecundity, so even if we had, say a wrasse or angelfish, with the same distribution as the BC, those extraction levels would probably not deplete the population the way they did the BC. Now, don't take me wrong, I am not defending the aquarium industry and I know for a fact that it has an impact. What I am trying to convey is that the impact of the aquarium industry is the least of our problems when we compare it to the impact of fisheries or even El Ninos or global warming.

Back to the case at hand, the estimate on Clipperton angels that I got from Ross was tens of thousands distributed throughout the island. This is what usually happens to endemic fish in small isolated locations, they are usually released of competition (because of the impoverished fauna) and have large populations.

About Clippo's quote below:

I also think it is unethical and inhumane given the likelihood of high mortalities in shipments as evidenced by previous commercial attempts.


How is the above different from any other location? There is mortality and inhumane treatment in all reef fish collections, this is by no means restricted to Clipperton. Fish are taken from beautiful natural reefs and put in small plastic bags for days, and then in small glass containers for the rest of their lives (if they survive). Maybe you should start a petition to stop all reef fish trade :drink:

Drew:

I'm pretty sure that the BC deserve to be on that list, especially in the Banggai Islands where I think only half of the islands have populations and many are dwindling due to collection and habitat destruction.


We have two IUCN lists, a global threat list and a regional list. The Banggai is off the global list since it is very unlikely that it will go extinct now. But it is regionally threatened at the Banggai islands... We do this all the time, there are a lot of large parrotfish that are endangered in the coral triangle only (due to overfishing) but doing fine elsewhere.

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#18 Drew

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 10:42 AM

Thanks for that Luiz. I thought there were 3 IUCN lists: Global, Regional and National.

Banggai Cardinal Fish IUCN listing

Funny they don't differentiate on the website.

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#19 james

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 12:20 PM

Luiz: just to be clear that was a quote from Clippo, not from me. I think the aquarium fish collected from the Eastern pacific have it pretty easy actually - if they're lucky, they get to make the trip back to MX in an open-system live-well. Then it's a short trip up to LA to a wholesaler. Compare that to the PI or Indonesia...

I agree with you somewhat about broadcast spawners vs mouth-brooders. Broadcast spawners can put out hundreds of eggs a night even. But how many of them survive to settlement and a decent size? Vs mouth brooders where the young have a good size and what I would imagine a very high survival rate after they are ejected.

Boy are we off on a tangent!

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#20 Rocha

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Posted 11 March 2010 - 03:49 PM

Haha, we are totally off! You are right James, there are a lot of studies that indicate the survivalship of mouthbrooders versus broadcast spawners is actually very similar because of the parental care investment of mouthbrooders. But that is in a perfectly balanced ecosystem. The ability of a population to recover (or even maintain its numbers) from impact is much higher in broadcast spawners, there is a direct correlation between the number of juveniles that survive and the numbers of adults in the area. In other words, competition influences it a lot, especially in reef fishes.

Real world example: the Banggai Cardinal has the capacity to "make" 10 new cardinals per month, 5 of which survive. The clipperton angel has the capacity to make 300, but only 5 survive because the reef is already saturated with angels. Say you fish out 100 cardinals and 100 angels, now a lot more of the 300 angels (say 50 or so) will survive because of newly open suitable habitat, versus the constant 5 from the cardinals.

Drew, the IUCN is horrible when it comes to website updates. They take ages, in the last 2 years a group of specialists (inlcuding Ross Robertson, Howard Choat, Jack Randall, and myself) evaluated and put more than 500 species in red list categories (most least concern), but none of that was uploaded yet... I will look into the Banggai cardinal case and see what is going on.

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