Recently, cyanide fishing for tropical and exotic species has become more prevalent in the South Pacific, causing harm to not only the marine life that is targeted, but their habitats as well. Many people in South East Asian countries rely solely on this fishing practice for income, in which they chase these tropical marine species and spray them with a cyanide solution to stun them and aid in their capture. These fish are then put into bags and exported to places like North America and Europe where they are sold for premium prices. However, many of these fish are harmed by the cyanide solution and do not even survive the trip, making the mortality rates very high, nearly forty percent (Pflug, 66.) The process of cyanide fishing is used to capture fish and invertebrates, but is damaging to many corals and juvenile reef species. This practice is becoming much more common in the Philippines, which was the first country to use the cyanide technique, where much of the reefs are destroyed from harvesting corals and cyanide fishing. Over three thousand tropical fishermen in the Philippines expose miles of coral reefs to cyanide, killing the coral polyps and bleaching the reef. Until strict regulations are put in place to protect the reefs and their inhabitants, cyanide fishing will continue to devastate reefs and kill marine life the world over.
The new trend in Hong Kong and other major Asian cities are restaurants that have large fish tanks where the customers can pick the fish they want to eat and have it prepared however they would like. The new demand for live tropicals has caused a dramatic increase in cyanide fishing, putting much more strain on South Pacific marine habitats. This profitable fish trade generates revenues in excess of one billion dollars every year, but causes considerable damage to fish populations and habitats.
Far from Hong Kong’s restraunts and pet stores of North America and Europe, the fisherman in Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Pacific waters carry plastic bottles that containing the toxic chemical cyanide, in search of the precious fish that live within the habitats of the coral reefs. The complete cyanide fishing process is actually quite simple. First, the fisherman place a cyanide powder into provisional squirt bottles filled with seawater. The fisherman then dive down to the reef, locate their prey, and squirt the cyanide solution, stunning the fish almost instantly making them easier to capture. The divers sometimes use crowbars to pry apart coral heads to retrieve the stunned fish (Bryant, Burke, McManus, and Mark Spalding 24).
The rewards in this type of business are high, with some divers making more than eighty thousand a year. The cyanide poison that they use is extremely harmful to the underwater environment. It kills corals and reef invertebrates, along with many non-target fish. Large percentages of the fish that have been captured often die during their transit due to their weakened state.
This type of profession can also be particularly dangerous. The cyanide poison does not pose an immediate threat to the divers, but spending long hours at significant depths breathing through air tubes can cause sickness even death. Due to the long hours under water, divers suffer from decompression sickness (“the bends”) upon their ascent to the surface. The quality of air that they breathe is not necessarily healthy either. The compressors that provide the air are usually modified paint compressors. This causes the divers to breathe in large amounts of carbon monoxide.
This destructive technique of fishing was thought to have started in the Philippines during the late 1950’s or 1960’s. At that current time, a US researcher described how fish were stunned when exposed to low doses of sodium cyanide, and when transferred to clean water, survived without noticeable after effect. Many Philippine aquarium fish collectors soon read this report and soon...
Cited: New York: Marine Aquarium Council, 1999.
“Destructive Fishing Practices.” Conservationscienceinstitute.org. 1994. 6 November 2004
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