Foreign demand for food and ornamental fishes has made the Philippines the centre of the unsustainable and often illegal live reef and aquarium fish trade worth at least US$1 billion globally, scientists and experts said.
Michael Fabinyi, a researcher with Australia’s James Cook University who studied the live reef fish trade in Palawan province for several years, said increasing demand from China and Hong Kong had pushed people to harvest species like grouper and snappers, considered “luxury” food, using methods damaging to the health of the fishers and the marine environment.
Fabinyi, in his study of the live reef fish business in Balabac, Palawan, said the trade is an example of how the East Asian region is “consuming” the marine resources of Southeast Asia, which has to shoulder the long-term environmental and socioeconomic problems of the trade.
The live fish trade, which is driven by the consumption of the growing Chinese middle and upper classes, is a lucrative global business, valued at about $1 billion, according to Yvonne Sadovy, a marine science professor at the University of Hong Kong. About 150,000 metric tonnes of live reef fish are traded annually, she said.
The scientists spoke in a forum at the 12th International Coral Research Symposium here.
Experts said China’s appetite for fresh fish has a devastating impact on the Philippines’ food situation and marine ecology.
Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau Director Mundita Lim said the practice of Palawan fishers to catch juvenile snappers and groupers has led to the collapse of the live fish trade in the province.
“You should not get the juveniles from the wild. You should let them mature,” Lim said in an interview.
Fabinyi said China’s demand for these fishes, which are part of the dining culture and cuisine of the Chinese, is much greater than the demand from the Philippines.
Chinese restaurants in Manila, for instance, are not as well stocked with luxury food fishes as their Hong Kong or Chinese mainland counterparts, Fabinyi said.
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