International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 9: Resilient Reef Fisheries Governance of the Pacific Islands in the Era of Globalization

Daniel B. Kramer

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch9

A young, humphead wrasse cheilinus undulatas, an exotic plate-sized reef fish, swims in the aquarium of a restaurant in Hong Kong or perhaps southern China having arrived most immediately from Singapore, a nation with no reefs or significant fishery. Its journey, however, may have begun on a reef near one of the small islands of the Pacific before being shuttled from the boat of a local fisherman, to an intermediary’s boat, to an air transport terminal, to an importer’s warehouse, and finally to the restaurant. Other reef fish may have made a journey of several months in the hull of a large commercial fishing vessel holding catches in excess of 9,000 kg. At $200 per kilogram, the humphead wrasse is an attractive target and may have been taken using dynamite or cyanide, an easy but destructive method of live capture. Rising affluence in China along with crashing fish stocks in Asia are fueling demand for gourmet reef fish from the Pacific. Fishing companies, wanting to avoid questions regarding destructive fishing practices, run the fish through Singapore in order to “launder” their true origins (Environmental News Service 2002).

After the blockbuster, animated film, Finding Nemo, which stars–ironically–a clownfish freed from the confines of his tank, the demand for tropical marine aquarium fish and particularly Nemo’s clownfish cousins jumped dramatically in the United States, Europe, and Australia. The nation of Vanuatu, an increasingly important player in the aquarium trade, declared 2004 to be the Year of Fisheries. Under-staffed and under-funded, however, Vanuatu’s Fisheries Department, with 83 islands and over 4,000 km2 of reef to monitor, rarely uses the three vessels at its disposal. Reef Check, an international, volunteer-based, reef management organization, has found a 50% reduction in aquarium fish on unprotected Vanuatu reefs (Corcoran 2004).