'Foreigners hooked by 'Miss Kerala'; unregulated export threat to biodiversity' - The New Indian Express

'Foreigners hooked by 'Miss Kerala'; unregulated export threat to biodiversity'

Published: 21st June 2013 08:43 AM

Last Updated: 21st June 2013 11:52 AM

Scientists have warned that the ongoing unregulated trade in ornamental fish can seriously affect the biodiversity of the state. The warning has been issued in a scientific paper titled ‘Uncovering an Obscure Trade: Threatened Freshwater Fishes and Aquarium Pet Markets’ published in the International Journal of Biological Conservation.

The paper was critical of various government agencies for poorly enforcing local regulations, be it labelling export consignments or enforcing ban on the export of endangered, endemic species.

Scientists reveal that currently there is no system in place that requires exporters to declare the species of fish they are exporting or the number. While some individual exporters do label the cargo, others simply list aquarium fish exports under the generic ‘live ornamental fish’ or ‘tropical freshwater fish’ labels.

“Some airports, like the one in Bangalore, make it mandatory that consignments be labelled, but in some others like Kochi, there is no process of labelling or quantification,” said Krishnakumar, a member of the Conservation Research Group, St Albert’s College, who authored the paper along with Rajeev Raghavan of the same group, Neelesh Dahanukar of IISER, Pune, Michael F Tlusty and Andrew L Rhyne from the John H Prescott Marine Laboratory, Boston, Sanjay Molur of the Zoo Outreach Organisation and Alison M Rosser of the United Nations Environment Programme.

“What is worse is that the quantum of consignment is reported in terms of kilograms. It is beyond comprehension how live fish can be described in terms of weight, especially since the total quantum also includes the weight of water. There is no way to find out the number or the types of fish that are being exported,” said Krishnakumar. As a result, a comprehensive trade figure is non-existent. The scientists who visited retail shops in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Germany, Belgium, Holland and the UK to get first-hand information about the trade, found that many fish species that are endemic to the Silent Valley are available in the markets.

Many specimens of threatened fish species like Dawkinsia arulius, Dawkinsia rohani, Devario assamensis and Pethia manipurensis were confirmed to have their provenance in India.

 These species were found in shops in Germany and Singapore, even though they are not listed in customs records. This is a clear indication that several threatened species are being exported under generic but misleading labels like ‘live ornamental fish’, stated the paper.

More than 1.5 million freshwater fish belonging to 30 threatened species were exported from India during the 2005-2012 period. Of these, the endangered Botia striata, vulnerable Carinotetraodon travancoricus and Puntius denisonii commonly known as Miss Kerala and Puntius Chalakkudiensis (both endangered) formed the bulk of the exports.

While aquatic habitats inside forest areas are controlled by the Forest and Wildlife Department, fishes and fisheries come under the mandate of the Fisheries Department. “As most of the ornamental fish species are forest-based, monitoring and enforcement can only be successful if multiple custodians work in unison, which has seldom been the case,” stated the paper.

The paper emphasised that an organised coding system for freshwater aquarium fish should be strictly put in place, especially for those caught from the wild, which includes information like species name, location of capture, size of the specimens and the names of the collector and exporter.

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