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HELP SAVE Napoleon Wrasse

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Known to marine scientists as Cheilinus undulatus, known elsewhere as either the Napoleon Wrasse or the Humphead Wrasse and in Australia commonly known as the Maori Wrasse.  Napoleon Wrasse are the biggest of the of the wrasse family and may weigh up to 180 kg.  Those knowledgeable with their growth rates calculate that a fish of such size could realistically be a century old.  However, according to marine scientists, the average fish attains an adult life of about 50 years in the wild. Napoleon wrasse are now under threat from extinction because of the lucrative demand for live Napoleons in Asia. Unscrupulous traders finance illegal operations to harvest this fish with cyanide in Indonesia, the Philippines and most of the Indo-Pacific region. Besides threatening extinction of this gregarious animal, they are also destroying the remaining coral reefs of the world.

 

In some instances, 55-gallon drums are simply launched onto the reef, turning the area into an aquatic graveyard as the chemical kills corals, invertebrates and non-targeted fish indiscriminately.  In 1995, nearly two-thirds of the live fish that were sold in restaurants in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, which amounted to approximately 25,000 tons valued at US one billion dollars, were captured with sodium cyanide. According to reports from the WWF, over 6,000 cyanide divers squirt an estimated 150,000 kg of dissolved poison on some 33 million coral heads annually.  If the current demand of the live reef fish trade imposed on Napoleon Wrasse is allowed to continue, extinction is imminent.  Time is running out for the fate of this very special fish that is capable of associating and remembering their human friends.

 

Even without the pressures of the live reef fish trade, Napoleon Wrasse are by no means found in abundance in the wild. The Napoleon wrasse is currently listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List as a threatened species being adversely impacted by increased human activities that in future is susceptible of becoming critically endangered or extinct.

 

While we know that Napoleon wrasse are already extinct in a lot a reefs in South East Asia, we also know that there are still a few large Napoleon wrasse living in fragmented populations in Malaysia, Maldives, PNG, Red Sea and the Australian Great Barrier Reef. Herein lies the hope for genetic exchange, but the species occurs in only a few localities and the population size is uncertain. There are already increasingly numerous reports from divers that tame C. undulatus are rapidly ‘disappearing’ from some frequently visited reefs. There is now a strong need for some protected populations of C. undulatus to help replenish depleted areas in the future.

 

Whilst we cannot protect all the animals in the wild, we can protect and watch out for those known remaining populations. Protection of this species will further the development of eco-tourism activities that will facilitate interaction with these large charismatic animals in the wild. Experiencing a close encounter with one of these underwater royals a thousand times over by divers is a stark contrast to the commercial reality of selling an individual fish once it reaches the wholesaler.

 

For this reason, OceanNEnvironment, in collaboration with scientists in the Indo-Paciic region, has developed NAPWATCH, the Napoleon Wrasse International Monitoring Program. 

 

The objectives of OceanNEnvironment’s Napoleon Wrasse International Monitoring Program  (NAPWATCH) are:

 

1.          Individually identify each animal through its facial markings and with the assistance of dive operators, naturalists, divers, and marine science students, provide on-going monitoring research.

 2.                  To create a database of Napoleon wrasse from as many sites as possible in Australia, Maldives, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Red Sea and PNG through the voluntary assistance of divers and dive resorts.

 3.                     To create a GIS-based interface on the OceaNEnvironments web pages through which scientists, legislators and conservationists will be able to document the distribution and population sizes of Humphead Wrasse populations.

 

4.                     To lobby for the same level of protection for these animals as we have for whales, tigers and elephants.

 

 

Extinction is forever; but there is still hope.

 

Description of the Program:

 

1.                  NapWatch will be launched at a number of diving resorts in the Indo-Pacific region in April, 2000, and continue to add members monthly.

 

2.                  Each of these resorts will identify and nominate one key contact person (preferably a full-time staff member) who will form the link to OceaNEnvironment.

 

3.                  Posters supplied by OceaNEnvironment will be displayed in the dive centers at each resort to announce the programme, and divemasters will brief divers on voluntary participation before each dive.

 

4.                  Datasheets will be given to each of these contact people to hand out to divers, professional and recreational alike, after each dive on which a Napoleon Wrasse was sighted.

 

5.                  Data sheets will require a brief sketch of the facial characteristics, a brief comment on what the individual was doing (activity), the number of individuals in the group (allows scientists to determine social structure), approximate size, and other notable comments. The form can be completed in a few minutes.

 

6.                  Repetitive sightings of the same individual are welcome. It allows scientists to ‘average’ categories such as size, and interpret behavioral patters.

 

7.                  The contact person will then remit the information back to OceaNEnvironement, where a database linked to a map and web pages will be updated.

 

8.                  Humphead wrasse facial markings are unique, much like fingerprints. With a description of the main facial characteristics, linked to a graphics-supporting database, OceaNEnvironment will be able to track re-sights of individuals over time, and estimate population sizes. It will also be able to track the ‘disappearance’ of known individuals.

 

 

 How you can help: 

 1.                  Join our NapWatch member program.

 

2.                  Help us document the remaining numbers of Napoleon wrasse in the wild by reporting your sightings to NapWatch.  The information that is required for the database includes: specific location of the fish (time, depth, location of reef), number of individuals in each group, description of size and distinctive facial markings. The database will be the primary instrument with which OceanNEnvironment will lobby for total protection of the species in the region, as well as to assist marine scientists with information on behavior, density and distribution of Napoleon Wrasse.

 

3.                  Do NOT patronize restaurants that serve Napoleon wrasse and discourage others from doing so.

 

 

The Napoleon Wrasse Crisis

By Michael AW

 Albeit my roots from the south east of Asia, I am deplored and disgusted with the fact that Asian gastronomical habits of sharks fin, bear paws, tiger penis, black rhino horns and monkey brains have threatened many unique animals into the endangered list or near extinction status. However none of these tastes have inflicted more devastation on the environment than the procurement of live fish from coral reefs in the Indo-Pacific basin specifically Indonesia, Philippines, and Malaysia. The rich communities from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan have an insatiable appetite for Napoleon Wrasse (Chelinus undulatus). Not only are they threatening the demise of one of the most intelligent fish, they are at the same time creating holocausts in the remaining coral reefs of the world.

 These rich incorrigibles can be recognized by bad fashion sense, Mercedes Benz, Rolex watches, and fiddling with or shouting into one of those Mickey Mouse mobile phones. Mostly of insignificant statures, they bolster their own confidence and advertise their wealth by being seen indulging in Napoleon Wrasse; paying as much as US$1500 for a 1m sized fish. Obviously the size of their wallet is not relative to their brains; perhaps a single green pea would be a better equation. Insisting on seeing the fish alive and in some instances insisting on viewing one with an exposed pulsating heart before purchase, at trendy restaurants such as the Happy Valley they have no qualms paying US$400 for the lips alone. As always the bigger and more expensive, the tastier and the better way of ‘showing off’ their wealth and success.

 

While the rich incorrigibles are stuffing wallets with blood money between bulging mouthfuls of succulent meat, poverty stricken fishermen all over Indonesia and Philippines are risking their lives raiding the reef to death for napoleon wrasse and groupers. The first time I witnessed one of these ‘fishing’ operations was on a remote reef along Toli Toli, North Sulawesi. Young boys barely 18 years old dressed in ragged clothes were busy dissolving tablets in plastic bottles. To them, the white tablets are "obat", magic potion that miraculously lulls recalcitrant fish to sleep. To the well informed, these are 20-gram doses of sodium cyanide similar to those used in capital punishment in the United States.

 

Scientific evidence obtained by Dr. Robert Richmond of the University of Guam, (Sept. 13, 1995, pers. comm.) reports that corals (Pocillopora damicornis) exposed to cyanide (four parts per thousand) for 10 minutes began to bleach within four hours. Nine out of ten specimens died within four days. When exposed to concentrations of 0.1 part per thousand for 30 minutes, corals bleached within three to four days and tissue loss began after nine days. When exposed to concentrations of 1 part in 10,000,000, corals began to die after three weeks. The concentration in one of those fisherman’s freshly prepared squirt bottles is typically about 20 parts per thousand, or two hundred thousand times more concentrated than the lowest concentration eliciting coral mortality in his experiments.

 

The boys I met at Toli Toli were led to believe that they are supplied with the latest state of the art fishing equipment. They proudly show off rubber masks of the Mike Nelson era, 50m long yellow hooka hoses with torn mouthpiece and the concoction of magic portion. Armed with this kamakazi set-up, the boys comb the reef for up to 8 hours a day continuously hunting for the prized catch of Napoleon Wrasse and large groupers. The curse of crippling bends from excessive nitrogen was never explained to them.

 

When a target is located, a cat and mouse game begins. Once pursued, the wrasse retreats to hide among coral crevices. The magic fluid is then pumped into the nooks and crannies to paralyze the fish. Allowing a minute or two for the magic to perform its trick, they then proceed to rip away the live coral surrounding the hole. By then smaller fishes in the vicinity are also affected, flipping in crazy loops, only to sink, quivering, to impending death.

 

By breaking the coral they force into the hole to recover the fish now sedated by the cyanide solution. Should surrounding corals pose further obstruction, they are ruthlessly wrenched away to allow a hook to be speared through the fish’s thick lips to tow it to the surface where it is dropped into a tank of seawater. For their efforts the team gets paid US$8 for an 80cm-sized fish, which easily yields about US$1000 in Hong Kong. So to speak, they are getting the crumbs for the risk; fatalities and paralyses are acceptable occupational hazards.

By 1994, Napoleon wrasse had become the newfound blue gold from the sea and the easiest and cheapest way to harvest them alive is still sodium cyanide. The live reef fish trade has become such lucrative business that the returns justify high risk and prosecution. As long as there is demand, unscrupulous traders and their cohorts of middlemen will continue to finance operations with cyanide and boats in remote villages to decimate the population of these fishes from every possible reef within range. Two to six 20 gram cyanide tablets are used mixed with seawater in a one-liter squirt bottle. The poison is shot directly at the target fish, stunning them to enable capture of them alive. In some instances, 55 gallon drums are simply launched onto the reef, turning the area into an aquatic graveyard as the chemical kills corals, invertebrates and non-targeted fish indiscriminately. In 1995 nearly two-thirds of fish sold in restaurants in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore were captured with sodium cyanide which amounted to approximately 25,000 tons, valued at US one billion dollars. According to reports from the WWF, over 6,000 cyanide divers squirt an estimated 150,000-kg of dissolved poison on some 33 million coral heads annually. A Nature Conservancy report filed by Dr. Robert Johannes of Tasmania in 1996 estimated that total annual live reef fish exports in Asia are currently between 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes. Hong Kong is the largest market with total production, landings, and imports of live reef fish estimated to be approximately 15,000 tonnes, Taiwan at 7,000 tonnes and Singapore with 1,000 tonnes. This is however a very conservative estimate as it is not possible to assess the overall market accurately due in part to the lack of official and unofficial information regarding shipments of live fish by sea. The true figures could be considerably higher.

In the October of 1994, together with Howard Latin, Conservation Professor from Newark NJ, we conducted a 500 sq. mile survey off the coast of northeastern Borneo towards the Philippines in the Sulawesi Sea. Though time did not permit a quantitative survey of the reefs, from the 20-day field trip we found 90% of the reefs dead, some irrevocably damaged beyond recovery for at least the next 50 years. Much of the dead coral remained standing, although in significant areas, the coral had been reduced to rubble by dynamite explosions. Although dynamite fishing was so common in the area that blasts could be heard while diving, the sea gypsy community on Palau Puan attributed much of the damaged to cyanide usage. I was depressed to come across a boat where a Bajau woman was busy gutting the meat of about 100 beautiful clams with brilliant blue and green mantle (Tridacna crocea). I interviewed her as she stored the meat in a plastic container, the clam casings were tossed over the side, on top what was already a mountain of empty shells which resembled the aftermath of holocaust. Without hesitating she told us that since the islands have been raided by outsiders using ‘obat’, cyanide there are no more fish in the area, barely enough resources from the sea to sustain the village. Predictably the raiders collected groupers and Napoleon wrasses. After 45 dives during the 20-day trip, we did not see a single Napoleon Wrasse. In fact in the entire expanse of Malaysia water, sightings of Napoleon Wrasse are now restricted to only Layang Layang and Sipadan Islands. "That's the only two places we know of in Malaysia which still have them. It's now very critical for that specie," reported Giles Mackey, Seas of Borneo Expedition UK team leader, after having conducted an extensive survey on human effects on the bio-diversity of 30 reefs along the entire coast of Sabah, Malaysia.

 

The findings from our field trips in 1995, 96 and 97 in Indonesia are consistent with Dr. Johanness report; Tukang Besi, Thousand Islands and Taka Bonarate, some of the remotest reefs in Indonesia, are all affected by dynamite and cyanide damage. In December 1997, I surveyed the entire coastline of Borneo Island from Balikpapan to Derawan and failed to sight a single Napoleon Wrasse.

The damage caused by the live fish trade has had a vicious long-term impact on the community and the environment. Research has shown that reef communities typically take several decades to recover completely from severe damage; that is if they are allowed to recover under ideal conditions. But conditions in this region are never ideal. The sea sustains millions of poor villagers and their livelihoods have depended on the reef for many generations. With the current economic climate in Indonesia, poverty is rising at an unprecedented rate. So, the few food fishes and invertebrates that begin to recolonize cyanide-affected reefs are sought with increasing urgency. Understandably, under such circumstances, fishermen will use any fishing method available to them to feed their families. As long as such conditions persist, the reef communities cannot recover.

 

Coral Reef Alliance, a is promoting retraining as a solution to the cyanide problems. Successes are too few and far between; many retrained fisherman backslide as cyanide and dynamite use is easier, more productive and they feel that it’s unfair to have to make sacrifices when others don’t. The Philippines and Indonesia have an excellent collection of environmental laws but a poor enforcement record. As resources for policing are near to non-existent, coping with facilitation payments (call it bribes) is common. Even at world renown marine parks like North Sulawesi’s Bunaken Island, declared a marine reserve 1981, to date no provision has been made for management or policing.

 

To make the sale of Napoleon Wrasse illegal is the most obvious action to save the fish from extinction and may curb the degradation of coral reefs by cyanide. But Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore have a long history of allowing trade in endangered species and it will be unrealistic to expect these importing nations to restrain the businessmen and consumers who want to have these "luxury" fish for consumption. Take Singapore for instance, world renown for law enforcement on its bans on everything from illegal drugs to chewing gum - imposing effective controls would mean the demand of some cyanide free import certificates from merchants and random testing of live fish - the cost and legalities of which may well offend neighboring nations, does not justify the benefits. Singapore does not have much of her own coral reef resources. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore have a long history of allowing trade in endangered species and it will be unrealistic to expect these importing nations to restrain the businessmen and consumers who want to have these "luxury" fish for consumption. Take Singapore for instance, world renown for law enforcement on its bans on everything from illegal drugs to chewing gum - imposing effective controls would mean the demand of some cyanide free import certificates from merchants and random testing of live fish - the cost and legalities of which may well offend neighboring nations, does not justify the benefits. Singapore does not have much of her own coral reef resources.Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore have a long history of allowing trade in endangered species and it will be unrealistic to expect these importing nations to restrain the businessmen and consumers who want to have these "luxury" fish for consumption. Take Singapore for instance, renown for law enforcement on its bans on everything from illegal drugs to chewing gum - imposing effective controls would mean the demand of cyanide-free import certificates from merchants and random testing of live fish. The cost and legalities of this might offend neighboring nations therefore, seemingly does not justify the benefits. Thus despite 20 years of preservation efforts with threats of punitive and deterrent measures from authorities, the curse from destructive fishing continues to destroy the marine environment. The lack of tangible success realistically reflects the coercive measures needed. As long as there are poverty stricken people who are sustained by the sea and as long as there is demand by the rich and wealthy for ‘luxury’ fish, dynamite and cyanide will continue to send coral reefs to irreversible degradation.

 

At the other end of the scale, lured by the big dollars, Australia is legally exporting Napoleon Wrasse to Asia. Despite being listed by the International Conservation Union of Natural Resources (ICUN) Red List as a threatened specie whose impact is increased by human activities and in an unforeseeable future is capable of becoming critically endangered or even extinct Napoleon Wrasse are not protected in Australian waters. This may have much to do with balancing the country’s trade deficit.

 

I have seen live Napoleon Wrasses in restaurants of Sydney’s Chinatown. On one occasion, an 80cm fish was seen squashed into a small tank at the Golden Century Restaurant with a price tag of $1000. Currently there are no restrictions in harvesting the specie on a commercial basis; neither is there any restriction on the export of Napoleon wrasse. However recent conversation with Mark Elmer of the Queensland Fisheries Management Authority reviewed that a proposal has been made to restrict both commercial and recreational harvest to a limit of one fish per boat per day basis. At the time of writing the plan is still under scrutiny by their solicitor but may be in place within the next 3 to 12 months.

 

Seemingly it is a vast improvement, but theoretically a screwed businessmen dead set on a get rich scheme may operate a fleet of skiff out to the Ribbon reefs and specifically target to catch a single wrasse each! If we are serious on protecting the specie, why not just accord them the same protective status as the koala. Of course Napoleon Wrasse are not as cute as neither the koalas, that possess such enduring antics like performing a poo whilst in deep sleep.

 

Despite all the good intentions, the crux of the problem has not been addressed. Tons of research documents, marine park zonations and education won’t save the coral reefs, won’t save Napoleon Wrasse, and won’t feed the people. Criticism won’t either. Those people that make money and as well those who enjoy the coral reef environment unfortunately are not paying for their privileges.

 

Marine tourism must finance local people to gain economically from the protected area in which they live. Marine parks cannot co-exist in the long run, without local people supporting the cause. Multilateral organisations such at the World Bank, WWF and US Aid have invested big dollars, but little has gone into developing institutional frameworks and local entrepreneurial skills necessary for these people who practice destructive fishing. Local people are important stakeholders in their environment too. As cited by Dr. Harold Goodwin (University of Kent, UK), more of the benefits from conservation need to be delivered to local people. If local people gain from the sustainable use of their environment, like tourism through Napoleon Wrasse, they will protect their asset and may even invest future resources into it. In an analogy, it is better to milk the cow everyday, then to sell it once to the butcher!

 

Dr. Howard Latin, (Conservation Professor at Rutgers) stated in his paper on the issue, "If long-term conservation often depends on our capacity to persuade people that they will be better off protecting natural systems than degrading them, creation of markets for goods and services in an environmentally benign manner will be essential". If the focus of conservation efforts is directed to benefit the local people, like feeding them, or providing them with resources to benefit from marine tourism, the reef will save itself. Resort operators adopting villages, live-aboard vessels patronising the trades of local villages, while scuba certification agencies, airlines, hotels and equipment manufacturers contribute to environmental agencies that contribute directly to the local people, are measures to eradicate destructive fishing and ultimately save coral reefs. Meanwhile, in reports from the vaults of unpublished medical records, there are documented incidents of men and women in Asia, suffering from rotting genitals after prolonged consumption of cyanide -tainted Napoleon Wrasse.
 

Fish with an attitude!

There are often tales told over the dinner table of fishes adopting humans as friends. If I could make a nomination for the 'Pop Corn Award' of originality, it would go to a woman professional photographer that claimed that a particular green giant moray recognized her by smell even after years of separation. However, the Napoleon Wrasse is indeed a fish with a personality, inquisitive and definitely a thinking fish. I have known a few that have adopted human friends.
 

In 1985, Nappy, a Napoleon wrasse was found near death at Bahara Rock near Tioman Island, Malaysia by Sandy, a divemaster working at a nearby resort. Some idiot had put a spear through the lower abdomen of the 10kg fish. Sandy removed the spear nurtured the injured animal to better health with hefty diet of fresh eggs for over 3 months.
 

I was fortunate to have dived with both Sandy and Nappy. Typical of most of their kind, Nappy was easily tempted by a free handout of hard-boiled eggs. Behaving like a master and dog relationship, Nappy would gently take an egg from Sandy’s hand. When it came to my turn, despite frantic waving the fish turned a blind eye, appearing to be content with circling around Sandy. Whenever Sandy moved, Nappy followed; when she stopped, the fish would just hang around, occasionally giving her a nudge or brush on the shoulder or arm for attention. Well you might try to give your own psychoanalysis of this relationship, but it is interesting to know that fishes are capable of distinguishing human beings and can remember ones that have shown them care and affection. Sadly Sandy died in a diving accident in 1989 and Nappy was never found again.
 

In recent years, I have grown particularly fond of three Napoleon Wrasse living (for obvious reason, I am not disclosing the site) in a submerged reef in the Maldives. The biggest of the three, Bluey is over 1.5m, Jazz is about a metre and the gregarious Bongo is about 70cm and of late seems to be inseparable with a Blue-fin trevally. Actually the Blue-fin trevally is using him as cover to stalk on unsuspecting prey.
 

Though fish feeding was banned in the Maldives more than 4 years ago, Bluey, Jazz and Bongo still associate divers with an easy meal. Once divers are in sight, they emerge out of the blue, one at a time and on most days will mingle around for the entire dive. Swimming with a Napoleon Wrasse is a deep and meaningful experience. They are always rolling their eyes to follow your presence and when you look into those soulful eyes, you will see a fish that is very much aware of our existence and a being that is much more than scales deep.
 

Learning Napoleon Wrasse:
Known to marine scientists as Cheilinus undulatus, known elsewhere as either Napoleon Wrasse or Humphead Wrasse, in Australia they are commonly known as a Maori Wrasse. Napoleon Wrasse are the biggest of the of the wrasse family and may weigh up to 180 kg. Those knowledgeable with their growth rates calculated that a fish of that sized could realistically be a century old. However, according to Patrick Collin from a marine laboratory in Palau, the average fish attains an adult life of about 50 years in the wild.

Even without the pressure of the live reef fish trade, Napolean Wrasse is by no means found in abundance in the wild. Among the diving and scientific communities a sighting of more than 5 individuals at any one site has never been documented. Preferring to inhabit steep outer reef slopes, channel slopes and lagoon reefs from 2 to at least 60 metres, Napoleans are solitary but may occur in pairs. Juveniles are encountered in coral-rich areas of lagoon reefs, where staghorn corals abound. Their diet comprises of molluscs, fish, sea urchins, crustaceans and they are one of the few known predators of toxic animals such as sea hares, boxfish and crown of thorns starfish. In the event of a plague of crown-of thorns, their presence is significant to restoration of the eco-system.

 Compared to the wrasses, human beings have a somewhat mundane sex life. Described as sequential hermaphrodites, Napoleon Wrasse are born males and turn females as they approach sexual maturity. When a vacancy becomes available in the community for a dominant male, one female in the hierarchy will transform into a "super-male" with distinctive hump on the head, advertising the fact that he is the boss. Marine scientists know as much about this adaptation, as the average person knows of geomorphology.

 Research on raising Napoleon is in its infancy. The natural biology of the species is virtually unknown to science. No successful rearing of this wrasse from egg has been reported (even on an experimental basis), although Taiwan and Indonesia are reportedly carrying out spawning trials. Until research into the life history and nutritional and environmental requirements for raising napoleon wrasse are successful, their fate remains in our hands to ensure the survival of their specie in the wild. What we do know is that evidence suggests that once an area is depleted of all the matured adults, localised extinction is certain. If the current demand of the live reef fish trade imposed on Napoleon Wrasse is allowed to continue, extinction is imminent. Time meanwhile, is running out for the fate of this very special fish that is capable of associating and remembering their human friends.

 

Napoleon Wrasse caught with cyanide in hold station. Almost 100 % of live reef fishes (groupers, wrasses)in Chinese restaurants in Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan, China, Indonesia and Malaysia are caught with posionous cyanide.Cyanide KILLS.

If you see one of this structure anywhere in the tropics, Report the location to us immediately - stating country, time, date, GPS or approximate location.

Email  or Fax: 61 2 9686 3688

Australia Exporting Live Napoleon Wrasse to ASIA.

 

 

 

 

While Australia and its environmentalists continue to condemn the exploit of the live fish trade by Asian restaurants selling Napoleon Wrasse (Chelinus undulatus), Australia is itself exporting this fish to Asia. This species is listed by the International Conservation Union of Natural Resources (ICUN) Red List as threatened /2cd. This is defined as being prone to the effects of human activities (or stochastic events whose impact is increased by human activities) within a very short period of time in an unforeseeable future, and is thus capable of becoming Critically endangered or even Extinct in a very short period.

Restaurants in Sydney's Chinatown are also selling live Napoleon Wrasses. An 80cm Napoleon was seen squashed into a small tank at the Golden Century Restaurant, Sussex Street, Haymarket, on Wednesday 29th Oct 1997 (photograph available). The price tag …. A$1000. OceanNEnvironment is now gathering resources to purchase this fish for release in Queensland waters.

A phone call to the NSW Fisheries revealed that it is perfectly legal for restaurants in Sydney to sell this fish. According to Dave Pollard of the department, the fish is not found in NSW waters, therefore not listed as a threatened species in NSW. In an analogy, neither are tigers found in NSW. Does this mean that it could be legal for us to sell tiger fur in shops here as well? Also, as koalas are not found in Hong Kong, do we believe it is legal to trade koalas there?

Further investigation to the Queensland Fisheries Management Authority, confirmed that it is not only legal to catch the Napoleon Wrasse, a threatened species listed by ICUN, in Queensland waters, but there are NO restrictions imposed on this species for commercial fishermen. Ben McMullen of the resource department cites the reason being that the species is naturally low in abundance in the wild! Do we see a point in the argument, a species that is naturally found in small numbers, therefore go for it, catch as many as you can. However, according to Ben, the research to restrict the harvest of Queensland groper and Napoleon Wrasse is in the pipeline. Based on the track record of the fisheries department of Australia, it might be the year 2020.

Meanwhile, it is perfectly legal for Australians to harvest the Napoleon Wrasse and sell them to restaurants in downtown Sydney and Asia. In this instance, Australian environmentalists and marine scientists have no right to criticize the havoc caused by fishermen using cyanide to procure Napoleon Wrasse in Indonesia and the Philippines. WE can't even look after our own backyard.

 

I have in the past year made a number of presentations to dive clubs as well as seminars at DEMA Asia in Kuala Lumpur highlighting the plight of Napoleon Wrasse. I have also written articles to discourage trade of live fish, especially of Napoleon Wrasse and other threatened specie in the World Conservation listing. In the wake of these recent discoveries, I feel like a hypocrite. Though it may be far from the truth, local entrepreneurs and fishermen from the Asia Pacific could perceive the motive of environmentalists efforts in banning trade in Napoleon Wrasse as a cunning ploy - so that that Australia can have a bigger share of the market? Meanwhile, even Indonesia, which has an excellent collection of environmental laws but a poor enforcement record, has placed a ban on the export of Napoleon wrasse.

Currently, there are no restrictions on the export of marine species except fishes of the Syngnathidae (sea horses, pipefishes, sea dragons) family under the Wildlife Protection Act. However, according to Mr. Tony Digwood, of Environment Australia, there are ongoing reviews and new guidelines are proposed for 1998. I have spoken with him and he confirmed that Napoleon Wrasse is a probable candidate to be banned from export. Though this does NOT prevent them being caught and sold in Australia’s marketplace, it is a start to protection of the specie.

Those who are keen support the ban of the export of Napoleon Wrasse should write to: Colin Griffith, Director of National Park & Wildlife, Environment Australia, GPO Box 636, Canberra, Act 2601 or simply email the following to:

 

 
 

 

 

   
 

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