Fish­ing with cyanide re­mains a com­mon prac­tice across the Pa­cific, de­spite be­ing banned.

Gulf Times Community - - FRONT PAGE - By Christoph Sa­tor

Fish­ing with cyanide re­mains a com­mon prac­tice across the Pa­cific, de­spite be­ing banned. The au­thor­i­ties have used some cre­ative ways to de­ter fish­er­men, but ad­vo­cacy groups say a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem is needed to stop the fish end­ing up on plates and in aquar­i­ums.

Juanito Bac­u­lao’s hands move quickly as he demon­strates how to make the fish­ing de­vice. He drills a hole in the cap of a plas­tic bot­tle, sticks a small piece of tub­ing into it and fills the bot­tle with sea­wa­ter. Then, he drops in a bit of cyanide. Bot­tles like this are widely used to catch fish in the wa­ters off the Philip­pine is­land of Bi­lang­bi­lan­gan, in the Bien Unido mu­nic­i­pal­ity. The de­vices cost only a few cents to make, but de­pend­ing on the fish they catch, can eas­ily pay for them­selves many times over.

Al­though banned, cyanide fish­ing is still a com­mon prac­tice across the Pa­cific. The method in­volves spray­ing a cyanide mix­ture into the fish’s habi­tat to stun them, so they can be eas­ily caught while still alive. They are then sold on for use in restau­rants or aquar­i­ums.

Many are sold to restau­rants out­side Asia where cus­tomers get to pick out which fish they want to eat. Even more lu­cra­tive are or­na­men­tal fish that will later end up in aquar­i­ums in Europe or the US. For ex­am­ple, cer­tain dam­selfish or clown­fish can fetch up to 30 eu­ros per kilo­gram. Cyanide fish­ing has been banned for years in Asia, as has fish­ing with dy­na­mite. Un­der­wa­ter poi­sonous clouds and ex­plo­sive de­vices have de­stroyed en­tire co­ral reefs, with the dam­age vis­i­ble to snorkel­ers in the Philip­pines as well as off the In­done­sian is­land of Su­lawesi.

De­spite the dam­age and the ban, how­ever, the cyanide fish­ers still head off in their boats ev­ery morn­ing to take part in the il­le­gal trade. On-the-spot fines of 40 eu­ros per per­son dis­cour­age few, and there are hardly any in­spec­tions. Peo­ple are only sel­dom caught in the act.

The head of the in­spec­tion author­ity for the Bien Unido mu­nic­i­pal­ity, Roberto Ros­ales, says, “We have 500 square kilo­me­tres of open sea. We can’t stop il­le­gal fish­ing 100 per­cent. Can only en­sure it hap­pens less.”

In the Philip­pines, break­ing the laws against poi­son fish­ing can the­o­ret­i­cally re­sult in a prison sen­tence, though such a pun­ish­ment is yet to be given. With cyanide fish­ing, the fish­er­man dives af­ter the an­i­mals. Once the fish hide some­where in the co­ral, the plas­tic bot­tle comes out. The poi­son is then sprayed into the hid­ing spot, paralysing the fish, which are then col­lected and brought to the sur­face. This method is less bru­tal than us­ing dy­na­mite, which is ig­nited in a glass bot­tle and kills the fish so that they float to the sur­face al­ready dead, but it’s no less de­struc­tive.

The poi­son kills not only fish, but also al­gae, en­sur­ing the death of the co­ral, which can’t live with­out al­gae. It some­times takes years be­fore a reef is hab­it­able again- and some­times it’s dead for good. The peo­ple in the area may also suf­fer. Bac­u­lao, one of 1,200 fish­er­men on Bi­lang­bi­lan­gan, says that many on the is­land have de­vel­oped ab­nor­mal types of cancer. “That’s the poi­son,” he says.

Whether cyanide is caus­ing such ill­nesses is un­known. There are no spe­cific sci­en­tific stud­ies to back up Bac­u­lao’s claims. He is 55 years old, fished with cyanide for years, and re­mains healthy. He fi­nally stopped not due to the fear of pun­ish­ment or health risks. In 2010, the Bien Unido mu­nic­i­pal­ity in­stalled a statue of Madonna 30 me­tres deep on the sea floor in or­der to urge fish­er­men to be more re­spect­ful in their treat­ment of na­ture. In a deeply Catholic coun­try, it worked. The co­ral has re­cov­ered sig­nif­i­cantly.

Of course, sim­ply in­stalling a statue won’t de­ter ev­ery­one. There are hopes that a rel­a­tively new method of anal­y­sis could en­able the au­thor­i­ties to de­ter­mine whether cyanide has been present in an ex­panse of wa­ter by us­ing a spe­cial elec­trode. The elec­trode can quickly de­tect if there are traces of the meta­bolic prod­uct thio­cyanate, which fish pro­duce af­ter a poi­son at­tack.

Ac­cord­ing to a study from Aveiro Univer­sity in Por­tu­gal, about 15 per­cent of co­ral fish in pet shops in the Euro­pean Union have been caught us­ing cyanide. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists in Europe are push­ing for a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. “We can’t rely on phony cer­tifi­cates say­ing the fish don’t come from il­le­gal fish­ing,” says San­dra Wald­herr, from the ad­vo­cacy group Pro Wildlife. “The an­i­mal trade should fi­nally en­sure that it’s not re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of co­ral reefs,” she adds. – DPA

PRE­VEN­TION: In 2010, the Bien Unido mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the Philip­pines in­stalled a statue of Madonna 30 me­tres deep on the sea floor in or­der to de­ter fish­er­men from us­ing cyanide and dy­na­mite.

DY­NA­MITE FISH­ING: Jo­cel Ca­bansay, a Filipino fish­er­man holds an ex­am­ple of a home­made de­vice used to catch fish with dy­na­mite.

FOR SALE: A boy holds an ex­am­ple of a trop­i­cal fish for sale at a mar­ket in the Philip­pines.

IL­LE­GAL: Trop­i­cal fish for sale at a mar­ket in the Philip­pines caught us­ing cyanide de­spite be­ing banned.

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