USGS Confirms 36th Non-Native Marine Fish Species Found in Florida

Today the the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced a West Pacific Ocean fish species commonly known as the blotched foxface rabbitfish (Siganus unimaculatus) was successfully captured off Dania Beach, Florida.  According to the USGS, this is the first record of the species outside of the western Pacific Ocean.

While there is no indication that species has established itself in Florida waters, scientists are not taking any chances. “The lionfish has definitely changed the way we think about marine fish invasions,” said Pam Schofield, USGS Fish Biologist. “Lionfish spread incredibly fast and now it occupies an enormous invaded range where it negatively impacts native marine life. We know that we need to be vigilant when it comes to future introductions.”

The live capture of the blotched foxface rabbitfish was a coordinated effort between USGS and Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) and occurred within 24 hours of the species first being spotted by scuba diver.

“Any organism outside its normal range has the potential to cause negative impacts,” said Lad Akins, Director of Special Projects for REEF. “If we wait to see what those impacts are going to be, it’s too late–they’ve already happened.”

The rabbitfish is the 36th non-native marine fish species documented in Florida waters. Most of the non-native reef fish species are, according to the USGS, the result of intentional or accidental releases of aquarium fishes. Non-native marine fish occurrences are documented in the USGS’ Nonindigenous Aquatic Species database.

 

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CITES Adopted Draft Decisions on Banggai Cardinalfish – A New Chapter?

Over the past several days, I have been reporting on the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). My focus has been primarily on the marine species proposed for regulation under CITES with an emphasis on the Banggai cardinalfish, a species I have covered extensively here and elsewhere. Now that CoP17 is over, a new chapter begins for the Banggai cardinalfish, and the following is really the beginning of that story. 

On Monday, the European Union withdrew its proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) under CITES Appendix II. The withdrawal occurred following Indonesia’s acceptance of a series of draft decisions, which are outlined below. On Tuesday, during the CoP17 plenary session, the withdrawal and the draft decisions were officially adopted (see video above), beginning a new chapter for the species.

Species included on Appendix II are those that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. The inclusion of the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II was supported by the CITES Secretariat, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States and numerous other Parties, NGOs and observers who believe the Banggai cardinalfish meets the criteria for inclusion. The proposal was opposed in severely abbreviated committee consideration by Indonesia, the only range state for the species, as well as by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) and Kuwait. Aquarium trade associations also generally opposed the proposal, although Ornamental Fish International (OFI), which had a representative present at CoP17, said “we are open to possible new information that could emerge during the CoP.”

Of the 62 proposals considered at CoP17, only six, including the proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish, were withdrawn.

The final adopted draft decisions agreed to by Indonesia are as follows:

Directed to Indonesia

  • 17.X1 Indonesia should implement conservation and management measures to ensure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni, and report progress on these measures to the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.

Directed to the Secretariat

  • 17.X2 Subject to external funding, the Secretariat shall commission a study to assess the impact of international trade on the conservation status of Pterapogon kauderni and to advise on suitable conservation and management measures, as appropriate.
  • 17.X3 The Secretariat shall share the results of the study as referred to under decision 17.X2 with the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.

Directed to the Animal Committee

  • 17.X4 The Animals Committee shall, at its 30th meeting, review the progress report submitted by Indonesia as referred to under Decision 17.X1, as well as the results of the study as referred to under Decision 17.X2, and make its recommendations to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Directed to donor Parties and other relevant organizations

  • 17.X5 Donor Parties and other relevant organizations, including FAO, are invited and encouraged to provide support to Indonesia and to the Secretariat for the purpose of implementing Decisions 17.X1 to 17.X3.

The 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee will likely be held during the spring or summer of 2018. The role of the Animals Committee is to provide technical support to decision-making regarding species of animals that are subject to CITES trade controls. The members of the Animals Committee represent the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania) as well as one specialist on nomenclature. Members are elected at the CoP, with the number of regional representatives weighted according to the number of member nations or “parties” within each region and according to the regional distribution of biodiversity. COP18 will be held in 2019 in Sri Lanka.

Mixed Reaction to Withdrawal of Proposal

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, OFI praised the EU’s decision to withdraw its proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II and instead to propose the draft decisions listed above.

OFI…wholeheartedly supports the agreement that was adopted yesterday; to give Indonesia the possibility to implement conservation and management measures, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, Parties and organisations, including the FAO, in the time leading up to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.

Svein A. Fosså, an aquarium and pet trade consultant who represented OFI at CoP17 and who is also a longstanding observer in Animals Committee meetings, was pleased with the EU’s action and the draft decisions, saying “We could hardly have expected a better outcome, for the species, for the trade and for the livelihoods in Indonesia.” 

It should be noted that many in favor of the withdrawal also note the precarious nature of the species’ conservation status and even acknowledge, as the FAO does, that it meets the criteria for inclusion on Appendix II. Nonetheless, they feel a listing was not the right path forward and that the draft decisions listed above are a much better outcome than forcing a CITES listing on the only range country despite its stringent opposition.

Not everyone was as optimistic though.

“I would say that the fact that in eight years there has not been significant improvements to stocks makes me wonder about the ability for us to help this species recover [without a CITES listing],” says Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium in Boston. Tlusty’s project to better monitor the aquarium trade is a winner in this year’s Wildlife Tech Challenge. “Are we preserving the status quo, or will the call for more effort and data to understand this species actually move the needle towards improvement?” Tlusty’s concerns are concerns that were also expressed by the US delegate in support of the EU proposal to grant the Banggai cardinalfish CITES protection. As the US delegate made clear prior to the EU withdrawing its proposal, Indonesia’s efforts to better manage the species to date have proven largely ineffective.

During CoP14 in 2007, the US withdrew its own proposal to include the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II, citing Indonesia’s renewed commitment at that time to better managing the trade in the species. “At that time, we were convinced that the national conservation management plan presented by Indonesia would help stem the decline of this species,” the US delegate said on Monday. “However, since then, the national conservation measures seem to be insufficient, and CITES regulation would compliment the measures that are in place by Indonesia.”

The US delegate went on to note that in the intervening years since the US withdrew its own proposal in 2007, the conservation status of the Banggai cardinalfish under Indonesia’s management has not improved. “We would note that the FAO Expert Advisory Panel…since the first evaluation, has found now that local extinction has occurred at five sites across the Banggai archipelago with an additional seven sites where there are declines in abundance.” [View the full intervention by the US in support of the EU proposal in the video below.]

While they may differ in their degree of optimism, both Fosså and Tlusty are hopeful that the draft decisions put in place at CoP14 will indeed move the needle in terms of the conservation status of the species. Although we likely won’t know the results until the Animals Committee reviews the progress report submitted by Indonesia, as well as the results of the study commissioned by the Secretariat regarding the conservation status of the species, there is some comfort in the fact that there is now at least an international framework with set deadlines in place. Perhaps it will insure that we don’t see a hat trick at CoP18 insofar as withdrawals of Banggai cardinalfish proposals are concerned.

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this entry said Svein A. Fosså sits on the Animals Committee. Fosså is an observer in Animals Committee meetings, but not a formal member. He intends to be present at AC30.

 

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CITES CoP17 Marine Species Scorecard

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For the last several days, I’ve been covering the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). While all the proceedings are important–this is arguably one of the most important gatherings worldwide of people with a stake in the wildlife trade–my specific, professional focus was on just a few of the 62 proposals. As a journalist who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability, I was most interested in one of the most unrepresented groups of animals in CITES: the fishes.

This morning I published a blog entry titled “Big Day for a Handful of Marine Species at CoP17.” A little later, as technical issues with the voting system delayed the agenda, I published an entry titled “Listing More Species of Marine Fishes on CITES ‘Critical.'” As these two blog entries suggest, I do believe CITES could play a larger role in managing marine species that struggle under the weight of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Today is the last day for CITES proposals to be considered during CoP17, and given the import I was placing on the fish proposals, I was growing increasingly anxious as time for discussion and debate was rapidly running out. I learned via text and various social media channels, that my anxiety was shared by a number of colleagues who were in the committee meeting in Johannesburg that I was watching via webcast from the coast of Maine. Would they even get to the species in which some of us were most interested? Would there be time for a comprehensive discussion and debate about those species? In addition to hearing from the Parties who both support and oppose the proposals, would there be time to hear from observers such as various NGOs, trade groups and the like?

As it turned out, by the time they reached the species about which I was most interested given that it’s one I have researched, followed and reported on most extensively since 2009 (including traveling to its endemic range in Indonesia in 2012, they were essentially out of time. Earlier today I covered the bare bones details of what happened with that proposal, and I’ll be publishing a deeper analysis in the coming days (once I’m no longer living in Maine on South African time with an alarm set for 2:30 am each morning), but for now, I want to just publish the scorecard for those of you who may not have been following the proceedings.

So how did today turn out for marine species?

  • Proposal 42 to include the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) on Appendix II was adopted by a vote of 111 to 30.
  • Proposal 43 to include the thresher sharks (Alopias spp.) on Appendix II was adopted by a vote of 108 to 29.
  • Proposal 44 to include the devil ray (Mobula spp.) on Appendix II was adopted by a vote of 110 to 20.
  • Proposal 46 to include the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) on Appendix II was withdrawn by the EU.
  • Proposal 47 to include the Clarion angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis) on Appendix II was adopted by a vote of 69 to 21.
  • …and not a fish, but Proposal 48 to include the Nautilus (Nautilidae spp.) on Appendix II was adopted.

In addition, there were some important decisions made concerning the humphead wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) and some coral species.

All of these decisions were made in committee and will need to be confirmed in the CoP17 plenary, but, overall, most would agree it was a pretty good day for marine fishes.

Stay tuned for full coverage here at the Good Catch Blog and at the Good Catch Blog Facebook page.

 

 

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EU Withdraws Proposal to Include the Banggai Cardinalfish on CITES Appendix II

The European Union withdrew its proposal near the end of the day today to include the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The withdrawal came after Indonesia opposed the proposal during the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to CITES.

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The EU representative offered to withdraw the EU’s proposal to  include the Banggai cardinalfish under CITES Appendix II at CoP17 after Indonesia opposed the proposal.

The EU offered to withdraw its proposal upon the agreement of so-called draft decisions. “Should these decisions be adopted by CoP17,” said the EU’s representative, “we would be ready to consider withdrawing our proposal to include the species in Appendix II.”

 

The draft decisions are as follows:

  • Indonesia should implement conservation and management measures to insure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni and report progress on these measures to the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.
  • Subject to external funding, the Secretariat shall permission a study to assess the impact of international trade on the conservation status of Pterapogon kauderni and to advise on suitable conservation and management as appropriate.
  • The Secretariat shall share the results of the study as referred to above with the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.
  • The Animals Committee, at its 30th meeting, shall review the progress report submitted by Indonesia as referred to above, as well as the results of the study referred to above, and make its recommendation to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties
  • Donor parties and other relevant organizations, including FAO, are invited and encouraged to provide support to Indonesia and the Secretariat for the purpose of implementing the above decisions.
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Indonesia adopted the EU’s draft decisions and committed to reporting the progress of conservation and management measures to insure the sustainability of the species.

Indonesia responded to the EU’s draft decisions by saying, “Indonesia will adopt the draft decision proposed by EU and will report the progress to the 30th Animal Committee meeting.”

“With the agreement of Indonesia as the only range state for this species,” stated the Committee Chair, “I am assuming that we will have a consensus agreement of these draft decisions.” The Chair then asked for opposition to which Brazil responded with the following:

We will not block the consensus on this but we’re uncomfortable of having decision introduced at 7:30 [pm]. I think this information–the communication–can be a bit improved. If Indonesia is happy with this decision we will be happy to go with it, but we would prefer that this information be made available to parties ahead of time so we can examine them.

Conceding that the “procedure is not ideal,” the Chair nonetheless continued, saying “obviously we get to the agenda items when we can, and we had a very full agenda–again we still have a number of items to get through.”

With 11 proposals still on the agenda, and the meeting having already run two and one-half hours over, there was palpable frustration amongst some Parties and observers consistent with that which Brazil had expressed.

In a rush to get through the remaining 11 species in 30 minutes, most substantive debate regarding the proposals went by the wayside. For example, the next proposal, which sought to list the clarion angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis) under Appendix II (and which the Secretariat had recommended be rejected in favor of a possible Appendix III listing by Mexico), was adopted with 69 votes in favor, 21 votes against and 15 abstentions. The clarion angelfish is listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a population trend deemed “stable.” Many experts agree the clarion angelfish does not meet the criteria for inclusion in Appendix II. The Banggai cardinalfish, on the other hand, is listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a “decreasing” population trend. Many experts agree this species does meet the criteria for inclusion in Appendix II, and it is proposed for listing as “threatened” under the US Endangered Species Act.

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Stay tuned to the Good Catch Blog for a more detailed analysis of the withdrawal of the Banggai cardinalfish proposal and what it means for the species and the trade in marine aquarium fishes.

 

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Proposal to List Thresher Sharks under CITES Adopted in Committee

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Sri Lanka spoke today in favor of a proposal to list thresher sharks (Alopias spp.) at CoP17 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

A proposal (CoP17 Prop. 43) to list the genus Alopias, commonly known as the thresher sharks, under CITES Appendix II was adopted today in committee at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to CITES. The Committee’s decision must be confirmed in the CoP17 plenary. If the proposal is confirmed there will be a 12-month delay in implementation.

The proponents of the proposal include Bahamas, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, the Comoros, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, the European Union, Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, GuineaBissau, Kenya, Maldives, Mauritania, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Senegal, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Both Japan and Iceland opposed the proposal.

The CITES Secretariat had recommended that the proposal be rejected with the following information:

Based on the information available at the time of writing, Alopias superciliosus does not meet criterion A of Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 2 a for its inclusion in Appendix II. The supporting statement does not refer to criterion B. If Alopias superciliosus were to be included in Appendix II, A. vulpinus and A. pelagicus would meet the criteria in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 2 b criterion A, for their inclusion in Appendix II in accordance with Article II, paragraph 2 (b) of the Convention (look-alike). The Conference of the Parties, through Resolution 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), may consider the precautionary approach and in case of uncertainty regarding the status of a species or the impact of trade on the conservation of a species, shall act in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned. The Secretariat recommends that this proposal be rejected (as the species do not meet criterion A of Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 2 a.

Note to Parties Important new information on the status of Alopias spp. has become available since the submission of Proposal 43. Taking this into account, the proponents may consider if it would be appropriate to submit an updated proposal at the next meeting of the Conference of the Parties and whether the species might meet criterion B.

Earlier today, a proposal to also list the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) on Appendix II was adopted in committee.

Stay tuned to the Good Catch Blog for more detailed analysis.

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Proposal to List Silky Shark under CITES Adopted

At the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to CITES, the proposal (CoP17 Prop. 42) to include the silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis) in Appendix II was adopted in committee. The Committee’s decision must be confirmed in the CoP17 plenary.

The proponents of the proposal include Bahamas, Bangladesh, Benin, Brazil, Burkina Faso, the Comoros, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, the European Union, Fiji, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, GuineaBissau, Maldives, Mauritania, Palau, Panama, Samoa, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Ukraine. Qatar, Japan, Iceland, Indonesia, China, and St. Kitts and Nevis opposed the proposal. The proposal was adopted by secret ballot (requested by Japan) with 111 votes in favor of the proposal.

The CITES Secretariat recommended that the proposal be adopted with the following information:

Based on the available information it is unclear whether Carcharhinus falciformis meets the criteria in Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), Annex 2 a criterion A, for its inclusion in Appendix II when read in conjunction with the footnote with respect to the application of decline for commercially exploited aquatic species in Annex 5. However, the Conference of the Parties, through Resolution Conf. 9.24 (Rev. CoP16), resolved that Parties by virtue of the precautionary approach and in case of uncertainty regarding the status of a species or the impact of trade on the conservation of a species, shall act in the best interest of the conservation of the species concerned, and the Secretariat recommends taking a precautionary approach.

Stay tuned to the Good Catch Blog for more detailed analysis.

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Listing More Species of Marine Fishes on CITES “Critical”

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Thresher sharks (Alopias spp.) are proposed for listing on CITES Appendix II during CoP17. [Scientific Illustration by Karen Talbot (C)  www.KarenTalbotArt.com]

Significant action for marine fishes – by CITES, FAO, the RFMOs and many other organizations – is critical and will depend on a sea change in attitudes by resource managers and policy makers, towards proactive action for their conservation and sustainable use.

-Vincent et al in Fish and Fisheries (2013)

Of the roughly 5600 species of animals protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), only 103 are so-called “fishes” from the groups Elasmobranchii (including sharks and rays), Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes) and Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes). Of these, 16 are listed under Appendix I, and 87 are listed under Appendix II. Appendix I listings are reserved for animals threatened with extinction and for which trade in that species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Trade in species on Appendix II is allowed but controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with its survival.

The small number of marine fishes protected by CITES is a controversial topic given the increasing awareness of the threats posed by fishing and the trade in fishes and fish-related products, especially marine species. For its part, while CITES included several species of fishes during CoP1 in 1976, the Parties failed to add any additional marine fishes until 2002.

While some question the relevance and applicability of CITES as a tool that can compliment other fisheries management tools, others argue forcibly that using CITES as a tool to insure sustainable fishing is critical. While CITES is not a silver bullet to address overfishing and illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, it has, according to the authors of a paper titled “The role of CITES in the conservation of marine fishes subject to international trade” in the journal Fish and Fisheries, “a significant opportunity to make a contribution to conservation of marine fish species and to complement national fishery management initiatives.”

The five proposals to list marine fish species (plus one proposal to list a freshwater ray) are therefore significant at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to CITES. Stay tuned for breaking news and full coverage here at the Good Catch Blog, at the Good Catch Blog Facebook page and on Twitter.

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