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”


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

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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Big Day for Handful of Marine Species at CoP 17


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) is in the home stretch. A total of 62 proposals involving more than 500 species are being considered during CoP17, which is taking place in Johannesburg South Africa. The various proposals are designed to increase or decrease controls on international trade in animals and plants. Amongst the 62 proposals, six concern marine species, and all are scheduled for discussion today. The six marine proposals are as follows:

Proposal 42: Silky Shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)

Proposal 43: Thresher Sharks (Alopias spp.)

Proposal 44: Devil Ray (Mobula spp.)

Proposal 46: Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni)

Proposal 47: Clarion Angelfish (Holacanthus clarionensis)

Proposal 48: Nautilus (Nautilidae spp.)

All six proposals are to include the species in question on Appendix II. A CITES Appendix II listing would mean that trade in the species would be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. The CITES Secretariat recommends that Proposal 42 (silky shark), Proposal 44 (devil ray), Proposal 46 (Banggai cardinalfish), and Proposal 48 (nautilus) be adopted and that Proposals 43 (thresher shark) and 47 (clarion angelfish) be rejected.

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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UK Trade Association Opposes CITES Listing for Endangered Reef Fish

Banggai Cardinalfish Cropped

All Photographs taken in the Banggai Islands by Ret Talbot

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA), a UK entity created to “promote and protect the ornamental aquatic industry” announced its opposition to a CITES listing of the popular marine aquarium fish known as the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni). The meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP) to CITES, during which the proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish will be discussed, begins tomorrow in Johannesburg, South Africa. This EU-sponsored attempt to list the Banggai cardinalfish under CITES follows a 2007 failed attempt proposed by the US. Indonesia opposed the 2007 proposal, and they also oppose the current one. The Banggai cardinalfish is endemic to Indonesia.


CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) is an international agreement between governments that seeks to insure international trade in wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival in the wild. The EU proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish under CITES Appendix II would mean that trade in the species would be controlled in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival. While the US has listed the Banggai cardinalfish under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), there are currently no restrictions on trade despite largely ineffective grassroots efforts to better manage the fishery in Indonesia, as well as largely ignored Indonesian fishery regulations. Appendix I listings are reserved for animals threatened with extinction and for which trade in that species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances.

A Troubled Past for the Banggai Cardinalfish


Since its re-discovery by the aquarium trade in the mid-1990s, the Banggai cardinalfish rapidly became one of the most popular saltwater aquarium fishes. The species consistently ranks amongst the top 10 most imported marine aquarium fish species to the United States, which is believed to be the largest market country for the trade. The data show the negative effects on wild populations as a direct result of the aquarium trade are significant, leading the US to list the species as “threatened” under the ESA earlier this year. While the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) acknowledged the threat to the species from the US aquarium trade has dropped dramatically, owing to a large aquaculture operation meeting that began meeting a majority of US demand for the species in 2013, the Service remains concerned about the synergistic effects of all threat factors. At this time, the NMFS has not imposed any restrictions on the import, sale or possession of the species in the US, but this may change.

Some critics of the ESA listing have expressed concern about the fact that the listing will do little if anything to curtail international trade. Given the many examples of illegal wildlife trafficking in China, and considering that China is becoming a larger consumer of reef fishes for aquaria, others share concerns that unsustainable fishing for the species will continue and perhaps even increase despite the fact US imports continue to drop. Proponents of a CITES listing say the action could begin to address some of these concerns by controlling international trade through a quota-based system.

OATA’s Opposition to a CITES Listing

oata-logoOATA’s opposition to the listing is based, in part, on concerns of how a CITES listing would affect the aquarium trade in the UK. “If this proposal is successful,” states OATA in a press release, “it will undoubtedly affect our industry through higher import charges and could prevent the import of wild caught Banggai cardinal into the EU.” In addition, OATA claims the proposal to list the Banggai cardinalfish on Appendix II “does not show any likely benefits of a listing.” Although the proposal points to an overall 90 percent decline in abundance of the species in its endemic range from an estimated pre-harvest level, OATA maintains “it is unclear what the main factors for the decline are.”

In its thorough status review of the Banggai cardinalfish, NMFS acknowledges myriad threats to the species, as well as a decline in demand from US markets, but the Service concludes the synergistic effect of all threat factors, including an indisputable decade of dramatic over-utilization for the aquarium trade and ongoing habitat destruction in the species’ extremely limited native range, places the Banggai cardinalfish at a moderate risk of extinction and justifies a listing.

For its part, the CITES Secretariat states:

[T]he supporting statement shows that the species has continued to decline in the past nine years, and questions the effectiveness of the attempts to manage the species nationally. The species remains in demand for the ornamental fish trade, noting that that demand is partially met by captive-bred specimens. Its very restricted range, very low dispersal ability and the ease of depleting a local population with relatively little effort are important vulnerability factors that increase the risk that the species might become eligible for inclusion in Appendix I within a short period of time.

OATA has consistently defended the aquarium trade’s reliance on wild-harvest fishes by claiming that the trade in wild fishes creates economic incentive to conserve. The UK-based trade association has now applied this same argument in their opposition to a CITES listing for the Banggai cardinalfish. “There are other threats to the species such as habitat destruction which most likely are more significant than the trade,” OATA states, “and that can be expected to increase if the trade incentive for protecting the species is lost.” While there are isolated situations where a sustainable aquarium fishery has been shown to be a benefit to conservation, the data show such a scenario is far from the norm in the marine aquarium trade, where the vast majority of fishes originate from two countries about which there is the most concern when it comes to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fisheries.


In the Banggai Islands, the Banggai cardinalfish is considered a low value fish that is frequently harvested and sold as a secondary source of income for a very limited number of fishers. In some cases, the same fishers harvesting Banggai cardinalfish are also engaged in other activities that are further contributing to the destruction of the species’ habitat. To suggest that regulating the number of fishes traded through a CITES listing would lead to greater habitat degradation and less protection for the species is wholly unsupported.

Finally, OATA opposes a CITES listing of the Banggai cardinalfish because Indonesia does not support the proposal. “Indonesia considers that such a listing will do nothing to support their national management of the species,” says OATA. “We feel it is inappropriate that the European Union should take this approach without the support of the country of origin, particularly when it could unnecessarily affect fishing communities who may not have many other livelihood options.”

Researchers who have studied the fishery have shown time and again that despite numerous efforts to better regulate the fishery, those efforts have largely been ineffective. Informal agreements and national fisheries law have continually been subverted, and both illegal and unsustainable harvest remain a significant concern. Further, there is no evidence to suggest that a large group of fishers make their living exclusively from collecting Banggai cardinalfish. In fact, the opposite has been reported. While it is essential to keep in mind and support local fishers and fishing communities when considering any regulations, the fishery must show signs of moving along a path toward greater sustainably. Despite hard work and admirable grassroots efforts, this has repeatedly been shown not to be the case in the Banggai Islands.


While OATA’s opposition to a CITES listing of the Banggai cardinalfish is discouraging, it is hardly surprising. The marine aquarium trade has demonstrated a near pathological unwillingness to address the most pressing issues it faces. While the continued use of cyanide to harvest fishes and the largely uncontrolled importation of non-native species that pose a significant risk to native ecosystems are certainly issues that need immediate attention, even more pressing is addressing trade associations’ consistent opposition to any common sense measures that would demonstrate to the general public, conservation biologists, regulators and others that the trade is willing to reform and put itself on a path to greater sustainability. Only then will the trade have the opportunity to truly realize a vision of being a force for good when it comes to reefs, the species that inhabit them and the adjacent coastal communities.


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Shellfish Exemption Bill Advances in US House of Representatives

sea-urchin-north-havenA bill that would exempt sea cucumbers, sea urchins and certain mollusks from export and import licensing requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives today. H.R.4245 was introduced by Representative Chellie Pingree of Maine in December 2015 and was amended in the House to also exempt squid, octopus and cuttlefish from licensing requirements. Representative Bruce Poliquin of Maine co-sponsored the Bill, which passed under suspension of rules.

The Bill’s proponents argue exempting these animals would eliminate “redundant, time-consuming and costly federal inspection and licensing requirements for certain species that are exported for seafood purposes.” They point out that exemptions already exist for “shellfish,” including oysters, clams, lobsters, and other commonly traded seafood, and that not exempting the echinoderms and mollusks targeted by H.R.4245 unfairly disadvantages fishers, producers and exporters of those species.

“These inspections have resulted in the loss of a highly valuable and highly perishable product,” Representative Pingry told the Good Catch. “There is really no need for sea urchins to be inspected but not shellfish. There isn’t any scientific basis for singling out this species and it just doesn’t make sense.” The Maine sea urchin fishery is historically a boom-bust fishery. While it has ranked as high as the State’s second most lucrative commercial fishery, it ranked just 7th last year with only $4.3 million in total statewide landings. Most of the catch is exported to Southeast Asia.


The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which is responsible for implementing licensing requirements under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), opposes the legislation. “The Service does not exempt sea urchins and sea cucumbers from import/export requirements because they are not a shellfish or a fishery product,”ays Laury Parramore of the USFWS Division of Public Affairs. According to USFWS, “shellfish” is defined as “an aquatic invertebrate with a shell” and a “fishery product” is defined as a “dead fish or fish product.”

Central to USFWS’s opposition to the Legislation are concerns about illegal wildlife trafficking. “International wildlife trafficking is a growing concern, and unregulated sea cucumber shipments compound this problem,” says Parramore. “The Service, working with government partners in Mexico and other Central American nations, has identified a highly profitable black market for trans-shipment of sea cucumbers through the United States to Asian markets.”

According to the USFWS, the shellfish exemption is purposefully narrow to discourage smuggling and illegal trade in protected species, invasive species and other wildlife, and to protect the legal trade community. Populations of various species of sea cucumbers are severely overfished, and one species of sea cucumber is currently included on Appendix III of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Other species are protected in their countries of origin. Maine’s sea cucumber fishery is a relatively new fishery dependent largely on Asian markets.


In addition to illegal trade in sea cucumbers, USFWS law enforcement officials say the data show shipments exempted from licensing requirements under the ESA are already used by wildlife traffickers to hide illegal trade. According to Parramore, “the Service already has detected smuggling of primate parts, injurious live mitten crabs and walking catfish, CITES and ESA-listed shark fins and shark parts in exempt shellfish and dead fish shipments.”


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#KeepEmWet Isn’t Just for Anglers Anymore

Left: 1861 sketch in The Illustrated London News ; Right : 2016 photograph on High-End Saltwater Fish and Coral Facebook page.

Left: 1861 sketch captioned “Dealers inspecting a Negro slave auction in Virginia” in The Illustrated London News ; Right : 2016 photograph on the High-End Saltwater Fish and Coral Facebook page.

Perhaps it’s the case that people engaging passionately in a hobby–and interacting primarily with other hobbyists–are, at least to a certain extent, tone deaf to the optics of certain practices considered “normal” in that hobby. Consider, for example, the way a non-angler may view an angler’s social media post of a fish held high out of the water, dry fingers in the gills and belly squeezed tight for a photograph. Catch-and-release hook mortality data aside, if that non-angler is inclined to be anti-fishing, the photograph certainly does the angling community no favors whether or not the fish is harmed. In other words, the optics are bad.

In the saltwater aquarium hobby, it is fairly common on social media to see pictures of a particularly striking fish held out of the water or held against the wall of the aquarium for a photograph. In these situations, the aquarist is concerned with showing off the features that make the individual fish unique or particularly desirable, usually in the hopes of fetching a high price for the fish. The buyer, of course, scrutinizes these pictures to assess if the price, which can run into the thousands, is justified. The seller, the buyer and all the lookie loos who like and share the picture on Facebook see all this as “normal.” They certainly don’t view it as reprehensible. Again, however, the way non-aquarists–and especially non-aquarists inclined to be anti-aquarium keeping–view these pictures does the aquarium community no favors whether or not the fish is harmed. Once again the optics are bad.

A classic example of poor fish handling from Montana Matt’s “Top 10 Ways You Shouldn’t hold A Trout” blog entry.

Some may scoff. They may say looking at the optics of these images–and how they may be viewed (and used) by detractors regardless of the effects on the fishes–is just more political correctness in a world full of squeamish people. Others will chastise this blog entry’s opening image for the implicit comparison to slavery–a comparison frequently employed by the vegan movement, as well as groups such as the Animal Liberation Front, and easily co-opted by anti-aquarium activists if these images persist. Keep in mind we’re talking about optics here, and we’re talking about a hobby that is in the midst of a PR crisis.

The data are clear when it comes to angling–#KeepEmWet (i.e., limiting air time, reducing handling and keeping fish away from dry surfaces) reduces the number of fishes that die after being released. Is it the same for aquarium fishes? I know of no peer-reviewed, reputable studies, but I’ve certainly observed supply chain chain practices, including photography and beyond, that fall far short of the aquarium trade’s equivalent of #KeepEmWet best practices, and I wonder how this poor handling in the supply chain from reef to reef tank affects mortality. Speculation aside, I’d argue aquarists need go no farther than the optics of posting, liking and sharing these pictures in the service of sales, especially when a hobby as embattled as saltwater aquarium keeping is concerned.

Holding a marine aquarium fish out of the water for a photograph is generally unnecessary, especially if the purpose is to fetch the highest price. Photographing a fish pressed up against the side of an aquarium, in a container that is too small, has too little water or is clearly overcrowded and stressful to the animal for the purpose of showing off that fish to a potential buyer is a practice aquarists should readily and actively shun. Plus, if one really want to photograph that fish, that person has other options where the fish looks more natural and is less stressed. As fly fishing guide Derek Young (Emerging Rivers Guide Services) wrote in Orvis News last year:

An alternative I’ve been using is the Photarium from the Wild Fish Conservancy in Duvall, Washington. Originally designed as a tool for fish observation and study in the field, and in much smaller sizes, the clear plexiglass box is designed to keep the fish in the water and provide the opportunity for a photograph–without fingers and hands in the way, or the risk of dropping the fish on the boat on bank….. [I]t’s simple: net the fish, fill the box, place the fish in it, and take the photo. The fish doesn’t have to even leave the water. The fish appreciate it, and the images are truer to life and show the fish in a more natural state – gills wet and breathing in the water!

Of course the most reputable retailers of saltwater aquarium fishes do this already as a best practice. Sure it takes longer and requires more skill and forethought, but the end result is better for all concerned.

The best retailers , companies like LiveAquaria/Petco, photograph their fishes in more natural settings as a best practice. (Photo: LiveAquaria)

The best online retailers, companies like LiveAquaria/Petco, photograph their fishes in more natural settings as a best practice. (Photo: LiveAquaria)

So next time you see a picture on Facebook or Twitter of a seller handling a saltwater aquarium fish for a picture, consider the optics of that image, especially for non-aquarists. Then consider not liking or sharing the picture, and perhaps go so far as tagging the image with the hashtag #KeepEmWet, something that has become relatively common in angling circles.

I’m not suggested using the hashtag as a way of shaming the photographer/seller, but instead as a way to start a conversation–as a way to reinforce that aquarists respect the animals they keep. As Young says, “We’ve got a big opportunity…to foster the new energy that social media and sharing of fish photographs…gives us today. So the way we capture those epic shots should advance, too. We have…better cameras, and a better understanding of how fish handling out of the water affects survivability. Getting great fish photos and handling fish better can go hand in hand.”

Quality Marine is a wholesaler of marine aquarium fishes promoting #KeepEmWet best practices through their stunning photography shared on social media. (PHOTO: Quality Marine)

Quality Marine is a wholesaler of marine aquarium fishes promoting #KeepEmWet best practices through their stunning photography shared on social media. (PHOTO: Quality Marine)

There are those who will always be anti-aquarium keeping and anti-angling, and for them, those respective hobbies won’t suddenly be off the hook because hobbyists handle the fishes better. Time and again, however, I hear aquarists say they want to do everything in their power to be good stewards of the animals they keep–animals that, more often than not, are collected on reefs thousands of miles away. Given that a picture is worth a thousand words, #KeepEmWet appears a worthwhile step in the right direction.

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‘Dory’ Bred in Captivity for First Time (Excerpt)

The following is excerpted from my full article on this significant breakthrough in marine ornamental aquaculture published in National Geographic.

These blue tangs at the University of Florida's Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Florida are among the first 27 to be bred in captivity.  PHOTOGRAPH BY TYLER JONES.

These blue tangs at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab in Florida are among the first 27 to be bred in captivity.

Breeding the popular blue tang in captivity is an important step toward protecting wild fish and reefs from destructive practices.

For biologist Kevin Barden, blue tangs are an obsession that began when he was five years old and came face-to-face with one at Boston’s New England Aquarium. Now 29, he has played a leading role in cracking the code to successfully culturing the popular species.

Today, the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab, in conjunction with Rising Tide Conservation, announced that blue tangs—or Dory, as fans of the Disney movie will know—have been bred in captivity for the first time.

“This breakthrough has the potential to help reduce the overexploitation of the species and continue to address wildlife crime associated with cyanide use in the saltwater aquarium trade,” says biologist Andrew Rhyne, a winner of this year’s Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, sponsored in part by National Geographic, for coming up with a way that allows better monitoring of the marine aquarium trade.

No one knows how many blue tangs are taken from coral reefs across the Indo-Pacific each year for saltwater aquariums. No one knows how much reef is damaged annually by destructive fishing practices—notably the use of cyanide to stun the fish and make them easier to catch—commonly associated with capturing blue tangs. No one knows…

[Continue Reading in National Geographic]

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