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Entries in Sustainability (5)


Time to get hooked on sustainable seafood

Supplies fast running out so traders, retailers need to tackle issue: Experts


Melissa Lin Strait Times 29 Oct 13;

SINGAPOREANS consume 140,000 tonnes of seafood a year but they may soon have to change their eating habits.

Traders and retailers in Singapore were yesterday urged to buy from sustainable fisheries or farms, after being told that supplies were "fast running out".

About 75 people from the fisheries industry attended Singapore's first Sustainable Seafood Business Forum, organised by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore and Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).

WWF Singapore chief executive Elaine Tan, in a media statement, said 87 per cent of the world's fisheries are fully or overexploited.

Participants at the forum at Shangri-La Hotel shared their ideas on how to tackle the problem.

Sustainable fishing practices include catching only a certain quota so enough fish are left to breed.

Singapore imports more than 90 per cent of its fish for domestic consumption. Most of this comes from the Coral Triangle, which covers the seas of Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia.

Next year, WWF Singapore and the MSC will host a festival from June 8 to 15 featuring sustainable seafood. This is to raise awareness among consumers about the range of sustainable seafood products available here.

MSC, a global non-profit organisation that sets the standards for sustainable fisheries, runs a certification and eco-labelling programme consistent with international standards. Out of 207 MSC-certified fisheries, only one - Vietnam - is from Asia .

It is not known how many food establishments here get their seafood supplies from such sources.

But at yesterday's forum, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts was mentioned as an example of a business that serves responsibly harvested seafood. The Hong Kong-based chain stopped selling shark's fin, bluefin tuna and Chilean sea bass at its 81 hotels worldwide last year as part of its sustainable seafood policy.

However, some companies told The Straits Times that they face challenges such as the higher price of sustainable seafood and difficulties in finding suppliers.

Mrs Amanda Phan, 31, started casual western bistro Grub at Bishan Park with three friends in May. For their menu, they referred to WWF's Seafood Guide, which recommends sustainable seafood choices.

"We had to do extensive research before finding a suitable supplier," she said. "It took about six months to research, source for suppliers and plan the menu with the sustainable seafood options."

The price of the hake used for the bistro's fish burger is also 20 per cent to 40 per cent more expensive than non-sustainable types of fish, she added.

High Fresh Trading director Hong Ying Lien said she is working with the MSC to ensure her sources practise sustainable methods. Her company supplies mud crabs to hotels, supermarkets and restaurants such as Long Beach and No Signboard Seafood.

Her company imports about two tonnes of crabs from India and Indonesia each day. She said: "We'll take it step by step and start by giving our clients a choice to pick the sustainable options."



The Live Reef Food Fish Trade is threatening reefs in the Coral Triangle

This video presents an overview of the Live Reef Food Fish Trade and the damaging practices some people engage to catch the highest value species.


It also introduces the work of the WWF Coral Triangle Initiative and the efforts being made to change consumer behaviour



Changing the way coastal communities view their coral reefs

Overfishing and destructive fishing practices have short and long-term effects on coastal communities, at several levels – in addition to the obvious harm to fish populations, reefs, and the general ocean environment.

The Live Reef Food Fish Trade

The Live Reef Food Fish Trade is a US$1billion trade centred  in Hong Kong.

Indonesia is the largest supplier to the Live Reef Food Fish Trade with estimated landings of approximately 52,000 metric tonnes in 2001.

Approximately 50% of the fish caught die before they make it to market, so to land 52,000 mT, Indonesia has to catch more than 100,000 mT.

That is 100,000,000 fish, mainly groupers and wrasse.  These fish are at the top of their food chain and an integral part of the reef ecosystem.

The Shark Fin Trade

Shark finning involves catching a shark, cutting off its fins, and discarding of the rest of the shark body into the ocean. These sharks then die slowly from their injuries, through suffocation, or they are eaten because they are unable to move normally. Shark finning can be vefy profitable fofr fishermen, as they only have to store and transport the fins, which are highly valuable.image from planetearthherald.com

Estimates of the global value of the shark fin trade range from a minimum of US$540 Million to US$1.2 billion.  A single fin can sell for as much as $20,000.

Estimates of the number of sharks taken each year for their fins are as high as 100 million. Numbers of some shark species have dropped as much as 80% over the last 50 years.  Sharks are at the top of the food chain in almost every part of the ocean.  Because they prey on sick or weak fish, and sometimes scavenge for carcasses on the sea floor, they help prevent the spread of disease and keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.

Destructive Fishing

More than half the groupers caught in Indonesia are done so using destructive fishing practices (cyanide solution to stun the fish and home-made explosives to shatter the reef).

A beer bottle bomb shatters approximately 19.6 m2.  With 2–3 bombs per small-scale operation and 2 operations, 20 days per month, 10 months per year, the total number of blasts is estimated at 800–1200 per year per km2.

According to the WRI “fishers engaged in blast fishing may earn US$15,000 per square kilometer, but they generate losses to society over a 20-year period ranging from US$91,000 to US$700,000 per square kilometer

According to reports from the WWF, over 6,000 divers squirt an estimated 150 tons of cyanide around 33 million coral heads annually worldwide. One spray (approximately 20 ml) can bleach an area of 5.5 m2 of coral reef within 3-6 months and repeated sprayings can kill coral. According to ReefBase, “cyanide is nearly exclusively used as the ‘cost-effective’ way of harvesting live fish.”

Cyanide is also occasionally used for food fish in 45-gallon oil drum quantities spread across the whole reef. Cyanide not only stuns the larger, higher-value target fish destined for restaurants in Hong Kong and other locations throughout the region, but also kills small fish and marine biota including coral polyps and symbiotic algae in the surrounding area.

Cyanide fishing also poses human health risks: to fishermen, through accidental exposure to the poison and careless use of often shoddy compressed-air diving gear by untrained divers.

Economic Imbalance

According to the World Resource Institute, the costs of destroying 1km of coral reef ranges between US$137,000-1,200,000 over a 25-year period.

A study published a decade ago identified that after 20 years of blast fishing in Indonesia, in areas with a high value of coral reefs for tourism and coastal protection the lost benefits from tourism totaled as much as US$306,800 per km2 of reef

The economic costs to society were 4 times higher than the net private benefits to blast fishers.

If we look at the effects of stripping a reef of its sharks and groupers, we can see an even more striking imbalance.

As an example, a study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Western Australia,from the Pacific island nation of Palau, shows that sharks are worth many times more to some local economies alive than dead. A single reef shark can be worth nearly $2 million in tourism revenue over its lifetime.

"Sharks can literally be a 'million-dollar' species and a significant economic driver," says the study’s  lead author. "Our study shows that these animals can contribute far more as a tourism resource than as a catch target," he says in a statement.

The researchers found that the annual value to the Palau tourism industry of an individual reef shark at one of the country's major scuba-diving sites is $163,000 a year, or about $1.7 million over the animal's lifetime.

Shark diving accounts for about 80 per cent of the tiny country's GDP and 14 per cent of its business tax base. It also generates more than a million dollars annually in salaries.

At the global level, by one estimate, the total net benefit per year of the world’s coral reefs is $29.8 billion. Tourism and recreation account for $9.6 billion of this amount, coastal protection for $9.0 billion, fisheries for $5.7 billion, and biodiversity for $5.5 billion (Cesar, Burke and Pet-Soede, 2003).

Social Imbalance:

Estimates show that since the 1960’s, over a million kilograms of cyanide have been squirted into the coral reefs of the Philippines alone (Bryant et al.). The harm upon the reefs is coming full circle and having a social impact through the limited fish stocks. As fish are depleted from these fishing techniques, the fishermen are having a more difficult time feeding themselves.


The total economic value of Indonesia 's reefs is estimated at US$1.6 billion annually.  Blowing up the coral reef to find grouper, and catching the sharks for their fins, is nowhere near as productive for a coastal community as keeping the reef and its population in tact.  By educating coastal communities on the monetary value of the reef, and the broader environment, they can understand the reef’s importance in true economic terms.  This leads to a change in attitude and decision-making.

Coastal communities can showcase their coral reefs and reef fish assets and gain a long-term benefit, rather than strip-mining the assets for a much shorter term and lesser return.

Note: There is a lot of emerging literature that discusses the economic value of coral reefs, and the increased benefit when a coastal population turns from fishing to tourism.  Some links are included below.

Coral reef facts from Panda.org: http://ow.ly/ait0X

AIMS announcement on “Million-Dollar Reef Sharks' an Economic Driver for Palau”: http://ow.ly/aisXS

WWF - Coral Triangle: The Importance of Coral to People: http://ow.ly/aivQd

The Initiative for the Protection and Management of Coral Reefs in the Pacific (CRISP) report on the “Social And Economic Values Of Pacific Coral Reefs”: http://ow.ly/aitcv

Economic Valuation and Socioeconomics of Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aivBd

World Bank - Economic Valuation of Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aivID

WRI - The Economic Loss Associated With Coral Reef Degradation: http://ow.ly/aiw11

Economic Values of Coral Reefs, Mangroves, and Seagrasses: A Global Compilation: http://ow.ly/aivVj

The Economic Value of Guam’s Coral Reefs: http://ow.ly/aiv2q

The Economic Value of the Coral Reefs of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: http://ow.ly/aivgK

The Economic Valuation of the Coral Reefs of Hawai‘i: http://ow.ly/aivEH

Semporna Islands Park Economic Values analysis: http://ow.ly/aivLF



Twenty coral reef fishes threatened with extinction

In 2006 a panel of twenty experts from 10 countries convened at a conservation summit to assess the status of groupers worldwide.  Their conclusions included a dire warning that Twenty species of grouper, a globally important group of 162 coral reef food fishes, are threatened with extinction unless management or conservation measures are introduced.

The ground-breaking workshop at the Department of Ecology and Biodiversity of the University of Hong Kong was the first systematic assessment of the commercially important species, said Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, Chair of the IUCN Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group and Associate Professor at HKU.

“The results are worrying and highlight the urgent need for fishery management, more effective marine protected areas (MPAs), and more sustainable eating habits for consumers of these fishes,” said Sadovy, who organized the workshop.

Groupers are the basis of the multi-million dollar live reef fish market of the sea food trade centred in Hong Kong, where consumers can pay up to US$100 per kg for this delicacy.  

Groupers are also the most valuable commercial fishes in the fresh fish markets of the tropics and sub-tropics.

The fishing grounds shifted rapidly in response to increasing demand in the 1990s. Reefs near Hong Kong, China were quickly depleted and sources of capture now extend well into both the Pacific and Indian oceans, broadly the Indo-Pacific region.

The major issues facing the trade are

  • overfishing and consequent depletion of resources that are in many cases used in other subsistence or commercial fisheries;
  • destruction of coral and mortality of nontarget fish when using cyanide solution in some places;
  • fishing the spawning aggregations of some target fish, causing depletion of reproductive fish;
  • the contribution of reef fish aquaculture, which is still largely dependent on grow-out of wild-caught fish, to depletion of the target fish stocks —and the extensive use of wild fish as fish feed;
  • the wastage of nontarget fish—many are killed during fishing operations but not eaten, while many fish that could be used as food in local communities are caught to feed LRFF during grow-out—and because of deaths of target fish before reaching the market;
  • social issues resulting mostly from conflicts and corruption regarding prices and access to fish, and from injuries and deaths from diving; and
  • the inclusion of threathened species in the trade.
More information on this issue can be found here:



We've passed 'Peak Fish'


The concept of Peak Fish is interesting, and of great concern.
"the world passed "peak fish" – a peak in the biomass, or weight, of fish caught from the world's oceans – in the late 1980s. Since then, while there have been regional variations, the global fish haul has gradually sunk."
Read more about Peak Fish here:
and here:
Click on this link: 
to see the image below animate and show the collapse of seafood supply