Volume 4, Number 1 - March 1995

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  1. Conservation at Source: Is There a Future For Wild Caught Ornamental Fishes?
  2. President's Message
  3. Letters
  4. Candidates for Captive Breeding Programs
  5. Aquarium Sciences & Conservation: an International Journal
  6. North American Native Fishes Association Endangered Species Conservation Program
  7. Aquarama 95
  8. Marine Ecology Courses at Mote Marine Labratory
  9. Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic - Can We Resolve the Growing World Fisheries Crisis?
  10. Lake Victoria Cichlid Species Survival Plan
  11. Notebook
  12. Salt Marsh Ecology Project - University of Delaware
  13. International Rivers Network
  14. Acknowledgements

Conservation at Source:

Is There a Future For Wild Caught Ornamental Fishes?

by Dr. David D. Sands

As a long-term aquarist and dedicated ichthyologist I have harboured deep concerns for the future of the import of wild fishes for ornamental fishkeeping for many years. Even though the percentage of fishes taken from nature is said to be statistically small, it seems the immediate concern centres on reef fishes and live corals, with more wide ranging bans on the cards. The numerous calls to ban the import of coral fishes, especially those that do not readily adapt to life in captivity, are very familiar. It is often thought that this logic simply applies to sponge or polyp feeding butterfly fishes whereas, for example, there are a number of marine angelfishes (Apolemichthys, certain species of Centropyge, etc.) and butterfly perches (Mirolabrichthys) that are also clearly doomed in aquarium conditions. It must surprise few conservationists that there are parallel problems in freshwater fishes. Certain potentially giant piscivore species do not lend themselves to life within the confines of aquatic captivity. Problems exist in that some wild caught species appear vulnerable during shipment resulting in unacceptable mortalities. Many would rather see improvements in conditions under which species are captured and held until export, in addition to realistic species bans applied at source, than see legislation make life much more difficult for the aquatic industry.

While I am hardly alone in expressing concern regarding reforms and potential legislation, a wide range of opinions exist at this time, and there are areas that warrant discussion. The ethics behind keeping exotic animals, man's inert desire to tame the wild, could fuel many a lively debate for many years. However, it is not my intention to address the subject in this article.

Harvest for the world

Wild caught fishes are thought of, and sensibly should be considered, as a renewable resource. To my knowledge there has not been a species made extinct or threatened with extinction directly through commercial collection for the ornamental fish trade. Certain species, especially those with extremely restricted distributions, may be threatened by over collecting. When a new and exciting species becomes available, such as Corydoras adolfoi found to inhabit relatively small streams flowing into the Upper Rio Negro, the demand almost certainly exceeded supply. Importers in the USA and in all major European countries requested this distinctive catfish species from Manaus and Miami exporters and importers over the last decade since its discovery and subsequent publicity in 1982. Having briefly surveyed the habitat for this callichthyd it is not difficult for me to imagine what effect the removal of thousands of adult specimens before, during and after the breeding season could have on this species. It is extremely difficult, more likely impossible, to obtain export statistics for individual species - beyond those recorded for government bodies - for the total number of all fishes imported. Until there are surveys that can accurately estimate a species specific biomass and precise exports figures for an individual species any comments made will be based on, at best, intelligent guesses.

Farmed fishes

In the UK, through an increasingly active OFI (Ornamental Fish International) at grass root retailer/wholesaler level, there are growing signs that the aquatic industry wants to control its own destiny rather than wait for legislation. The import of commercially farmed tropical fishes from Singapore and Hong Kong appears, over my twenty years experience, to be very professional. These days air freighted boxes, full of fishes, are neatly packaged and clearly labelled to inform freight forwarders and handlers that the livestock enclosed needs to be kept warm and speedily handled. Fishes that are susceptible to shipping problems are usually individually bagged and, although there are fewer fish numbers in each box using this method, more are likely to arrive alive and healthy. Any importer who has brought in fishes from South America or Africa will know how the professionalism of the Far East exporters is almost totally lacking in the old and new worlds.

Not all fishes exported from Singapore have arrived in the UK without problems. On occasions, less common species have appeared to show signs of stress, probably experienced at some stage between pond capture/holding and water changes pre and post export. There was a period when Singapore freshwater angelfishes, a species almost impossible to spawn as wild stock and fairly difficult to prevent from breeding when developed from captive stock, could not be prevented from succumbing to a rapid viral infection. A similar problem was also associated with guppies and other livebearing fishes in the early 1980's. Some importers quietly contended that the difficulties lay in the over use of antibiotics, both as specific treatment for bacterial infections brought about during the initial transportation, overcrowding and abrupt water changes. The prophylactic use of antibiotic treatments and salt used as a general suppressant of bacteria may have also been misused. Others argued that through these combinations the fishes seemed to lose their natural immune system and resistance to diseases. A sample of fishes imported from Singapore in 1989, including anabantids, callichthyds and cichlids, forwarded for analysis to Sterling University's pathology laboratories were all diagnosed as suffering from TB. Despite all these problems, Far East based exporters pack fishes well enough for the air journey from Singapore to Europe. Some of the breeders may have basic facilities but their expertise on certain species has rarely been doubted.

Wild days

The newspeak 'biodiversity' title is not always used with fishes in mind although a summary on the matter regarding african fresh and brackish water fishes did appear in an early edition of Aquatic Survival (Volume 2, Number 1).

My earliest experience of aquatic biological diversity of wild caught fishes came about when I first visited Sao Paulo in 1979 to collect Corydoras in southern Brazilian coastal streams. Through the assistance of ichthyologists Heraldo Britski and Naercio Menezes I was introduced to a Japanese immigrant fish exporter based near to Sao Paulo airport. His son, who had an enviable knowledge of native fishes in his area, enabled us to collect catfishes in a number of streams between Sao Paulo, Santos and Rio de Janeiro. The fishes were all healthy on capture and, after careful bagging, arrived safely at the airport base. The problems started at his export holding unit which was hardly larger than some bathrooms. In small aquaria, the exporter crowded vast numbers of fishes ready for export. It did not take me long to see where the initial damage to the fishes started.

The alkaline clear tap water in Sao Paulo was, from my experience, far removed from the acidic dark brown waters of the flooded channels at Itanhaem where many fishes had been captured.

A quantity of fishes collected a number of days before, exhibited the tell-tale signs of bacterial infections. Corydoras showed red ventral blotches and characins displayed shredded fins and heavy respiration. Losses at this stage probably amounted for about 20% of the fishes captured. When I discussed the certain losses that would result from overcrowding and water quality fluctuations/ changes the standard response was that fishes were always captured as close to shipment as possible to cut down "holding losses". The exporter considered the fishes to be a harvest that could be reaped on a regular basis during the low water or post rain seasons. Losses were expected, dead fishes could be replaced and the situation, according to the exporter, did not warrant the investment of equipment or water holding facilities.

I returned to the UK with three boxes of fishes personally collected and the losses were minimal.

A different picture emerged when I began to import fishes from Sao Paulo. In three 30 box shipments we suffered between 50-90% losses. In retrospect, the losses were partially due to the problems witnessed first hand at Sao Paulo and also occurred through incorrect manifesting of cargo, poorly marked boxes that lacked livestock stickers, and from overcrowding due to the over-generosity of the exporter. In two instances, when the exporter had been particularly successful during fish collecting trips, we received boxes containing additional fishes (i.e. 250 specimens in one box increased to 350 with the extra provided 'free of charge') the overcrowding caused the eventual loss of all fishes. Once a few fishes succumbed to the stress of transportation the water in the bags quickly became polluted. The delays at Sao Paulo in addition to custom and freight clearance delays in the UK conspired to increase losses. In one instance, the consignment ended up at the RSPCA holding area with the airline liable for prosecution because of unmarked fish boxes lacking freight labels. The airline could have been prosecuted for each box and the shipment could have been refused. Sadly, once bags containing rare catfishes were seen, even though 50% mortalities had already occurred, I felt obliged to attempt to keep the survivors alive. The stench that escaped from opened fish bags containing up to 100% mortalities stayed with me for years. The frustration of wasted shipments lived with me for much longer. So much effort was consumed, by the exporter during collection and export, and by me, the importer who had set up 50 systems to house the fishes. Hobbyists waited in vain for the wild fishes, breeders had their hopes dashed and my money had been wasted. After several shipments with similar problems we abandoned the idea that wild caught fishes could be profitably imported.

The empire strikes back

Another experience relating to the export of wild caught fishes came in 1983 when I arranged to visit Guyana after an invitation to collect rarely seen fishes from tributaries of the Essiquibo. The exporter, who had obtained some of my series, Catfishes of the World, asked me to travel in Guyana to rarely visited places including the Potaro river, that had been superbly documented by Eigenman in his classic work Fishes of Guiana. The exporter invited me to Georgetown with the idea that fishes from his country could gain some publicity through my work.

The first few days were spent reviewing the importers corrugated roofed, open-sided fish holding facilities which had not changed from his father's days in the 1960's. All the catfishes and most of the cichlids examined had a concave ventral region which suggested that they had not been fed for some time. I learned that during the time when fishes were plentiful, the exporter caught as many as his holding facilities would hold. The symmetrical rows of oil drums, cut in half along the length and raised off the floor contained thousands of characins, catfishes and cichlids. The healthiest fishes in the facility were the pike cichlids. They received all the dead fishes they could eat.

I asked about water changes but the exporter knew little about water quality or chemistry. He believed rain water was brackish. A stream at the bottom of the facility could have supplied fresh water but a pumping system was not in place. The pH of all the waters tested ranged from 4 - 5.5 and as such contained high carbon dioxide levels. I observed Poeciliocharax weitzmani, a much sought after characin, grotesquely twisted and almost humped-back through starvation and poor water quality. I wondered how fishkeepers would ever stand a chance with such fishes. It was easy to become resigned to the idea that such delicate fishes, already near to death's door, could not withstand the stresses of shipment, export and import.

During a canoe trip along the picturesque Potaro an event made me realize that the exporter was a tourist in his own country. He knew little of the ecology of the rivers, employed fish catchers who suffered from sunstroke during the first day and had a total disregard for fishes or people. When the rains came, the river flooded and became so swollen that he abandoned the catching trip. Within a day, as we journeyed back towards the Essiquibo, the tributaries carried away the excess water and the river level receded. The losses that occurred in his fish house suggested that the exporter would not be in business as long as his father.

Fish Frontiers

My third experience took me to the Upper Rio Negro via Manaus in 1992 during my Ph.D research and gave me the opportunity to look at current facilities at the major export centre in South America. Whilst the concrete vats and holding systems appeared more advanced than the facilities previously seen in Guyana, newly dug pits were patterned in silver by thousands of Corydoras, each one lying on its side and seeming not long for this world. The surface of the water on a further six pools rippled with fishes coming up for air. I received the impression that when fishes were plentiful, anything holding water would suffice.

On the banks of the Upper Rio Negro, fish catchers piled white plastic tray boxes, four or five high. These were filled with catfishes, held in shallow water, that had been collected over recent weeks prior to my arrival. All the catfishes examined appeared thin and looked emaciated. Water changes were made with Rio Negro water which, according to water samples taken in the tributaries where the catfishes were caught, differed significantly in pH and temperature. All the fishes awaited transfer from the riverside to Manaus for a week or more under a sun that burned down to create air temperatures of around a 100 degrees. The journey to Manaus, holding, export to Europe or the USA and re-export in a number of cases (transhipment is big business in Miami and maybe Frankfurt) paints a nightmarish picture for livestock. It is little wonder fish losses on species caught a distance away from Manaus are high.

It is impossible to estimate the number of fish lost during capture, transit and holding but the percentages are probably species specific and may be as high as 75% in certain cases. Catfishes are extremely tough - one reason why they are the mainstay of exporters and why they remain extremely popular with aquarists. That a great many survive the trauma of export and import says much about their adaptability. I often wonder about the livebearers and characins that are the first to be mortalities on capture when oxygen levels fall and water quality decreases.

At holding centres, small species appear to be crowded into small containers. Perhaps visibly, percentage losses in smaller fishes do not alarm exporters as much as losses relating to larger species. There also appears to be a tendency to believe that small fishes can be packed more densely than larger fishes. In my experience, once a stress related disease takes hold, it passes more rapidly through a thousand small characins than twenty medium sized cichlids in the same sized shipping box or holding container.

The future

It strikes me that while fishes should clearly be seen as a renewable resource it seems a great pity that they are not better maintained and protected after capture and prior to export. Successful European operators have established facilities in the field knowing that if the welfare of captured fishes is taken care of then more specimens are likely to arrive healthy and saleable on import. I suspect that, in some extreme instances, it may take the capture of a hundred individual fishes to see the import of twenty live specimens. That some of them survive and thrive in aquaria - and are eventually spawned - is one of the most positive aspects of fishkeeping.

Improvements at source and perhaps a better market price has meant the export of many new species from Belem in Brazil. The number of 'new' loricariids exported from established facilities was so great that it resulted in the use of L code numbers to identify individual species that could not be scientifically identified. These L codes are used on lists by exporters in South America to denote species that are covered in popular literature without identification (new species, etc.). This numbering system has been adopted by authors and exporters. There are few other trades in vertebrate livestock that can argue the availability of new species yet to be discovered by science. The idea that we know so little about fishes, forcibly argued by Greenwood in his plenary lecture at the topically titled The Threatened World of Fishes conference before the Ichthyological Congress meeting at the Hague in 1991, is supported by the little information available on species in wild fish imports. Nonetheless, the successful export of species from the Belem base might hold the key for the future of the wild caught fish trade.

In an ideal world, the catcher should receive a higher price than the few cents he obtains today. The main exporter could charge a better unit price upon export and the importer would wholesale fishes at a higher price. This would probably result in an overnight doubling or tripling of retail prices and would no doubt motivate some aquarists to learn more about the fishes that they wish to keep. In reality, the fish catcher has been, and is, always one step in or one step away from poverty and any increase in market values invariably bypass him and goes to the exporters. They are in a much stronger position to control 'local' prices while importers who are a long way from 'third world' economics and conditions, thrive under various conditions.

Some countries, according to vague sources, Costa Rica and Ecuador among them, have already imposed surcharges on reptile and amphibian species such as the poison arrow frogs. If a surcharge on fish exported could be directly utilized to fund improved holding and export conditions and research into better husbandry then the future of fishkeeping, as regards wild fishes, would be improved. That such a system could be operated by most third world governments is extremely doubtful.

If all wild caught fishes, about to be loaded into an aircraft hold, were healthy, well packed and suitable for captivity the future of fishkeeping and the industry behind it would be bright. Not that the retail trade wouldn't benefit from a course in fish husbandry and aquatic ecology to help the fishes after the transport trauma. If it didn't take a hundred fishes to ship twenty, surely the economics of export and import would be improved beyond all expectations. Any comments from the ornamental fish industry?

Dr. Sands can be contacted at "Sycamores", 4C Bannister Hall Drive, Higher Walton, Preston PR5 4DE, England, U.K. Tel/Fax: (0772) 30869. (note: Dr Sands' present address is The Animal Behaviour Clinic, 127 Blackburn Rd, Heapey, Chorley, PR6 8EJ, England, U.K.)

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President's Message

It is a pleasure to report that the Aquatic Conservation Network is now recognized by both Canada and the United States as a registered charity. What this means is that all donations above and beyond the payment of dues is tax deductible for citizens of these two countries. As it stands now, membership dues barely cover the cost of printing and mailing of Aquatic Survival and other organizational expenses. We have many projects that we would like to see move forward but funds are currently not available to support them. The next time you renew your membership to the ACN, give some thought to adding a few tax-deductible dollars to help support programs that will help in the conservation of the world's fishes.

I am sorry to have to report that Paul Loiselle has resigned from the Board of Directors. Due to his increasing professional work load, he has found it impossible to keep up with the day to day needs of our organization. He has agreed to continue as an advisor to the ACN with the special responsibility of recommending species that would be appropriate for ACN captive breeding programs. Elsewhere in this issue, Paul informs us of two cichlids that are in trouble in the wild and these species may become part of the ACN's captive breeding efforts in the future.

Michael Florez, a lawyer from Cincinnati, Ohio, has agreed to complete Paul's BOD term. Mike is committed to the conservation of fishes and has been active in hobbyist organizations such as the American Killifish Association. We are fortunate to have in Mike, a person whose experience will help move us forward. He has been a supporter of the ACN from the very beginning.

As most of you are aware, a major reason for the existence of the Aquatic Conservation Network is to encourage and facilitate the participation of amateur aquarists in the captive breeding of endangered fishes. While this remains a primary goal of the ACN, there is another way aquarists can participate without actually breeding threatened fish. Conservation is a state of mind that leads to responsible practices in the keeping and breeding of captive fishes. Aquarists contribute to conservation by properly caring for the fishes they have in their home aquariums. They do this by demonstrating respect for the living nature of the species they keep. This means they do not buy more fish than they can care for properly to insure their maximum health and growth. It means that they feed them an adequate diet and change their water regularly. It means they find good homes for species they no longer wish to keep rather than disposing of them in the "garbage". it means that they try to breed their fish and pass the offspring on to other aquarists. And, in my opinion, it means they do not buy fish that have been treated with hormones or that have been bred to produce dysfunctional distortions in shape or finnage. All of this comes from a respect for the living essence of nature's creations and a high regard for the processes of adaptation that are the product of millions of years of evolution.

Roger Langton
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Desert Rivers

You placed a posting about my work in Aquatic Survival in April last year. I am studying a large arid zone river, Cooper Creek, in Central Australia. I am likely to be involved in an assessment of possible World Heritage values in this system, and need suggestions about comparable systems worldwide.

The Cooper catchment is entirely in the arid and semi-arid zones of Central Australia. It's catchment area is 300,000 sq. km., river length 1500 km., and maximum flow rate about 8000 cubic meters per second. Variability of flows is extreme, with a skew of mean monthly discharge of about 8.5. This means the river stops flowing quite often, but also floods massively. Because it flows through very flat dunefields and stony desert, its floods are not constrained, and inundate enormous areas - floodplains may be 100 km. wide in big floods. The river is entirely unregulated and relatively pristine, although it has suffered somewhat from grazing and mining. It supports vast and diverse waterbird populations in time of flood.

This is a thumbnail sketch of the system. I can send a more detailed account if you like. I need suggestions about comparable systems elsewhere in the world, and addresses of authorities on those systems I can contact. Could you post this in Aquatic Survival, and suggest what other networks I should contact?

Thanks in anticipation,

Jim Puckridge
Department of Zoology
University of Adelaide
Adelaide, South Australia 5001

Project Piaba

In spite of limited funds, our Project Piaba is making solid progress. Recently, I read from different publications "speculating" the "commercial extinction of the cardinal tetra, Paracheirodon axelrodi due to overfishing. Therefore, we shall stop importing wild caught fishes". Actually, there are too many cardinals at the exporters, they stopped buying for a few months last year. If we were to stop importing cardinal tetras, we will have much more deforestation in Rio Negro.

Well, I guess some organizations or individuals like to promote sensationalism without data.

Ning Labbish Chao
Bio-Amazonia Conservation International
Caixa Postal 2310
69.061, Manaus, AM Brasil

Bishop Greschuk Catholic School

I would like to take a few minutes of your time to explain a special project that our class has undertaken. I'm a grade five student and I have just been introduced to tropical fish. I'm a ten year old boy and I have a red-tailed black shark in our classroom. I'm writing this letter to practice my business letter writing skills and also because this year we are doing fish projects at school.

To enhance the learning environment our teacher is piloting an integrated subject approach to learning under the theme of tropical fish. There are 12 aquariums in our class and 3 in the hallway. All of my classmates partake in the hobby. Our science, language, reading and math programs are inter-webbed with the knowledge of the hobby of raising and breeding tropical fish. To date we have successfully bred rainbow cichlids, purple cichlids, bettas, swords, guppies, platies and mollies, in the four months that we have been working on this project. I have learned how to set up and maintain an aquarium, how fish reproduce, internal and external parts and functions of a fish, how fish breathe and the nitrogen cycle. Next we will be working on individual interest projects under the topic of tropical fish.

In the last two years the Alberta Government has been reducing it's spending to gain control of its money. Education, along with other areas such as health care have been hit hard and the monies to spend on extras has been reduced at the school level. .... Any help you can give us is very much appreciated and as a token of our thanks we would like you to keep a picture of our project in action.

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Edwards
Bishop Greschuk School
17330 - 91 Street
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T5Z 3A1

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Candidates for Captive Breeding Programs

by Dr. Paul V. Loiselle
Nandopsis istlanus

Nandopsis istlanus is a strikingly colored medium-sized predatory cichlid endemic to the Rio Balsas drainage of southwestern Mexico. Due to the severe degradation of large sections of the Rio Balsas caused by the dumping of agricultural and industrial wastes, this species now has a very restricted distribution within the Rio Balsas system. Within this range, it must cope with translocated species such as Herichthys carpintis and Archocentrus nigrofasciatus. Recent attempts to collect additional breeding stock of this species have been only partially successful due to its present rarity in those areas where it still persists. The Mexican aquarist Antonio Hernandez Rolon has brought the plight of this species to the attention of aquarists in the U.S. and Europe and attempted to organize a captive breeding program in Mexico. This species has been bred in captivity and was available in the U.S. and Europe a few years ago, but I am uncertain of its present status in the hobby. A request that the Cichlasoma Study Group poll its members on the availability of this species would probably clarify the question of its availability to North American aquarists living north of the Mexican border.

Tilapia guinasana

Tilapia guinasana is a small tilapia of the nominate subgenus endemic to Lake Guinas, a limestone sinkhole in Namibia (formerly Southwest Africa). Apart from a subspecies of the widely distributed Pseudocrenilabrus philander, it is the only fish present in this habitat. The dwarf kurper, as it is known in South Africa, is characterized by a remarkable degree of color polymorphism. Solid blue, blue and white, blue and black, and yellow and black color forms are present in Lake Guinas. It seems likely that the absence of predators from Lake Guinas accounts for this situation, as the translocated population in the nearby Lake Otjikoto is represented only by the wild olive-green barred form.

Lake Guinas is located on private land and is adjacent to an intensively cultivated area. The dwarf kurper thus faces three potential threats: (1) lowering of the water table through the excessive extraction of groundwater, (2) pesticide runoff from adjacent fields and (3) the introduction of exotic competitors or predators. The present owner of the property where the sinkhole is situated is supportive of efforts to protect this ecosystem, but even his best efforts provide no absolute guarantee against the last two contingencies.

The Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation recently received from the Chester Zoo in the U.K. 50 F2 animals representing the barred and blue morphs of this species descended from fish bred at the National Zoo in Pretoria. We can anticipate eventually receiving individuals of the blue and black morph from Chester and my counterpart in Pretoria is willing to send representatives of the other color morphs once they have bred them. We can make limited numbers of these F2 fish available to interested breeders. If the manner in which the fish are presently carrying on is any indication, within a few months we will have unlimited numbers of F3 fish available.

A breeding program for this species should essentially focus on maintaining secure populations of the different color morphs, which apparently are not able to persist when this species is translocated to predator rich environments such as Lake Otjikoto. As this tilapia is small, rarely exceeding 10.0 cm SL, and these color forms are very attractive, it seems to me that the dwarf kurper is a logical candidate for an ACN-sponsored captive breeding program.

Dr. Loiselle is the Curator of Freshwater Fishes at the Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation, Surf Ave. & West 8th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11224, U.S.A.

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Aquarium Sciences & Conservation: an International Journal

First Announcement and Call for Papers

The quarterly Aquarium Sciences and Conservation will provide up-to-date information to amateur and professional aquarists, including those involved with public aquaria, captive breeding programmes, and the ornamental fish industry. The journal will be of interest to fish biologists as well as those maintaining aquaria for education and research purposes, such as taxonomists, toxicologists, biomedical scientists, rivers authorities, universities and government institutions. Volume 1 will commence in 1996.

Peter Burgess is the Editor, and the Editorial Board includes Chris Andrews, National Aquarium in Baltimore, U.S.A.; Jean-Paul Alayse, Océanopolis, Brest, France; John Ballard, Durban Sea World, South Africa; Angelo Colorni, National Centre for Mariculture, Israel; Robert Huntley, Aquatic Conservation Network, Ottawa, Canada; T.J. Lam, National University of Singapore, Singapore; Jürgen Lange, Zoo-Aquarium Berlin, Germany; Gordon McGregor Reid, North of England Zoological Society, Chester, U.K.; Geoffrey Potts, The Marine Biological Association, Plymouth, U.K.; David Price, University of Plymouth, U.K.; Paul Van Den Sande, Aquar. Zoological Society of Antwerp, Belgium; and Stephen Spotte, Marine Sciences Institute, University of Connecticut, U.S.A.

The ASC will cover:


Water Quality Management



Other Aquatic Vertebrates, Invertebrates, and Aquatic Botany

News and Views

The Editor can be contacted at:

Peter Burgess
Fish Research Unit, Davy 609
University of Plymouth
Drake Circus, Plymouth Devon PL4 8AA, U.K.
Tel: 0752-232964
Fax: 0752-232970

For ordering information or for information for authors contact:

In USA/Canada:

Dean Smith, Journals Promotion Department
Chapman & Hall, One Penn Plaza, 41st Floor,
New York, New York 10119, U.S.A.
Tel: (212) 564-1060
Fax: (212) 564 1505
Email: smith@chaphall.com

In rest of world:

Terry Sleight, Subscriptions Department
Chapman & Hall, ITPS, Cheriton House
North Way, Andover, Hants. SP10 5BE, U.K.
Tel: +44 (264) 342713
Fax: +44 (264) 342807
Email: ksilver@chall.mhs.compuserve.com

(Source: Chapman & Hall publicity flyer)

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NANFA Endangered Species Conservation Program

by John Bondhus
Almost every year a new North American freshwater fish species becomes extinct. Most of these extinctions could have been prevented by reproduction in aquariums or in protected areas. Many became extinct because people willing to help simply did not know which species were in greatest need of help or what they could personally do to assist. NANFA members (North American Native Fishes Association) are working individually on conservation programs but no coordinated effort exists. Therefore, the NANFA Board of Directors has decided to establish a species conservation program to coordinate and help promote activities.

NANFA is a unique organization. Heavy emphasis on aquarium study of North American fishes may give it more potential to prevent extinctions of our native endangered species than any current organization including the government. The federal government has a program for endangered fishes, but less than $1,000,000 is allocated each year for fish recovery programs (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1992). Congress simply lacks the political willingness to spend money, except on a few high visibility species. A few other conservation efforts are being done by state and federal agencies; the largest being at the Dexter National Fish Hatchery where about $400,000 is allocated from game fish hatchery funds. Most programs depend on the individual initiatives of dedicated biologists who manage to obtain grant money or do the work on their own time. Today, at least 50 species get no funds or attention at all. Many other organizations have started conservation programs and some like the Desert Fishes Council and the Aquatic Conservation Network have been very successful in working with universities and government agencies towards the attainment of common goals.

NANFA covers the entire North American collection and has a heavy focus on aquarium reproduction. A large percentage of the biologists working on rare fish conservation programs are already NANFA members. Many of our amateur members are very knowledgeable as well, especially in breeding and collecting fish. Aquarium spawning is not a permanent solution but it is better than total extinction. Often, it is the last line of defense. It can buy time until an adequate recovery plan is implemented. Further, it is an activity that many NANFA members enjoy.

For more than thirty years now, I have been watching sadly as more and more species become extinct. I kept telling myself that the government would start doing something about solving this problem. I really hoped with the Endangered and Threatened Species Act of 1973 something would start to happen, but only a token amount of money is allocated to it. In fact, our congress allocates less than a cent per person per year for fish recovery programs. Many low priority species are deliberately ruled out for federal reproduction programs because of lack of space. One species no longer existed in the wild and its removal meant automatic extinction. (Minckley and Deacon, 1991). Yes, they raised a tremendous hullabaloo about the Snail Darter Percina tanasi and delayed a major dam construction to protect it, but this was done only with publicity and legal pressures. At the same time, just in the last few years, three or four easily reproducible species became extinct with no efforts expended. These species would have been relatively easy for NANFA club members to breed and perpetuate.

Previously, I wrongly believed that "there is not much I can do because the government would not let me breed endangered species with the regulations in place". However, I now understand that in most cases you do not even need a permit to keep, breed, and distribute them (Al Castro, personal communication). This assumes you legally obtained them and do not buy or sell them. An exception may be if they are covered by local state game and fish laws. Normally these laws cover only game and commercial species living within the state's waters.

Studying Current Species Status to Establish Priorities

The more people that become involved, the more species we can save. But involvement is difficult without knowledge of what needs to be done, how urgent it is, or how to do it without legal troubles. We can maximize involvement by communicating to members the current project needs, status on each species and applicable laws. There are at least one hundred species on Federal Threatened and Endangered Species Lists and at least as many that are as rare but not officially listed yet. In addition there are locally threatened stocks in almost every state (Schmidt, 1990). We can gather information on each of these species, report on their current status and then members can more easily select projects that fit their interests, resources, and abilities. What we do can only increase the current efforts of others and help ensure that more species survive. We should maintain a data base on what is actually being done for each of these species and who has legally obtainable species.

In many cases, there are programs in place, and we should support organizations doing those programs. Members may want to volunteer to help on some of these programs. Let me give you an example - a frequent NANFA member, J.R. Shute, is currently working on seven species. He developed a non-profit organization to do this, Conservation Fisheries, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee and has secured funding from various organizations to work on these seven species.

This example may be interesting to you because a non-profit organization can pay its employees a reasonable salary. Many of our members could get jobs this way, doing what they really like. There should be money available for protecting endangered species in both the public and private sectors. The traditional sources, state and federal grants may be more limited than private grants. Large corporations can easily justify spending a million dollars for the publicity value alone if they can see concrete ways to tie the success of a major effort into their company's image or their management's personal values. We need to put our collective creative efforts together to find new ways to redefine the economics of species conservation. NANFA can help here by publishing new fund raising ideas that may assist others in developing their project. If one or two NANFA members develop similar programs to what J.R. Shute is doing, they would be instrumental in helping to save several species. The limitations to a project are usually in raising money to get the job done, taking the time to do it themselves, or organizing volunteers.

Many species became extinct because nobody was involved. No central communication system existed to communicate the serious status until it was too late. Certainly someone cared with the snail darter. In other species, they never reached the political limelight, and died for lack of a few thousand dollars worth of efforts. For example, 10 years ago there were five species of Gambusia considered endangered. Today, probably only 3 of the 5 still survive. How complicated can it be to take a simple live-bearing fish as this and reproduce it in several members' aquariums to at least provide some redundancy in case the wild population is lost. The Goodenough gambusia (Gambusia amistadensis) program lacked this redundancy and that species is now totally extinct. This extinction was caused by hatchery errors occurring simultaneously at the only two captive breeding locations. (Hubbs and Jensen, 1984). With captive breeding, it is very common to make mistakes and there must be a much higher level of redundancy here than in the wild. The captive breeding populations need to be perpetually managed in a data base as members change their interests or accidentally lose their individual populations so an adequate number of separate locations are maintained with frequent transfers of genetic stock between them.

Develop and Review Species Survival Programs

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has developed individual species recovery plans for most of the official U.S. threatened and endangered species, but there is no money or firm timetable to insure their success. They need help from other organizations and they are receptive to offers. Grass root support from NANFA members and others can double or triple the number of plans that are carried through to completion.

Plans should also be reviewed and suggestions made to Fish and Wildlife where you feel they can be improved. For example, I think the Maryland darter Etheostoma sellare program (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1985) with the known limited population, should have had a captive breeding program included in it. This may have been the program's fatal flaw. It is possible that no one realized that many members of NANFA are successfully breeding many species of darters. Of course, it's always easy to look back in time and suggest solutions. Let's start reviewing these plans and try to prevent future mistakes from being made. Your suggestions could prevent a future extinction.

Plans can also be developed for the non-listed rare species before they reach the more serious status levels. You may prefer working on these less regulated species, particularly if you plan to distribute fish you have reproduced to others. Plans are also needed for Canadian and Mexican fish.

Habitat Study and Species Collection

Many of the species on the endangered list may already be extinct. For a species on the verge of extinction, it is not good enough to assume it may be extinct. That very assumption frequently leads to the loss of the last few remaining animals in the wild. It is not uncommon for endangered species to become extinct as far as the government is concerned, and then show up accidentally ten, twenty or thirty years later in a small isolated population. The Maryland darter has been described as probably extinct (Wheeler, 1991). The San Marcos gambusia, Gambusia georgei and the Scioto madtom, Noturus trautmani have been listed as probably extinct as well (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1992). That determination is frequently made without an adequate survey of the species potential habitat. Today, with declining habitat conditions in many areas, ignoring an extremely rare population is almost like condemning it to extinction. If we truly believe in saving the gene pool and the value of each individual species, they deserve more than just a passing "they are probably extinct so we should not worry about them any more". We should organize collecting trips of sufficient length to make a true determination, and if necessary find some financial backing that can help support this effort. Ideally, the collecting team should include an expert collector, like NANFA member Konrad Schmidt, to be sure no habitat areas are overlooked.

Even if we are unsuccessful in locating the target species, the time will not be wasted. Watershed species diversity studies need to be conducted in almost every state especially in the tributary watersheds above dams where many rare species exist. This work is fun and can be done at the same time as you collect for your aquarium. It's also a great way to personally learn a lot about your local habitat and species.

Many species are not yet being held in captivity and it is very difficult to get individual permits to collect these. The Fish and Wildlife Service has several good reasons to be very reluctant in approving individuals to legally collect these species but it can be done. Al Morales recently obtained a permit for the Desert Hole pupfish Cyprinodon diabolis. It took 2 years of research, a detailed proposal, and a lot of paperwork but he did it and his contribution may make a real difference. He is willing to provide guidance to others who are serious about species conservation (contact him at (303) 756-0107).

It is a lot easier to get fish for captive breeding before they are classified as threatened or endangered. Many species are just as rare yet still unprotected as the official listed species but for political or other reasons never made the list. For example, the Cowhead Lake tui chub Gila bicolor vaccaceps never made the list because the single population occurs primarily on a private ranch. The landowner would likely be uncooperative with restoration efforts if it were listed (Moyle and Yoshiyama, 1994). The best way to determine which fish are rare and not yet listed would be to review the American Fisheries list (Williams et al., 1989) and compare it to NANFA list (Schmidt, 1990) which shows only official Federal and State listed species.

Develop a Breeding Program

Several of the endangered species are so limited in their current range that they do not even have a large enough population to survive even an occasional environmental event that can occur every 10 years or so. In the past, when fish were eliminated from a small river or creek, the population was restored from nearby populations. Dams and other barriers have changed that and now these species must be moved artificially between habitats to maintain population stability. Unfortunately, some of these species are so rare in their limited habitat that it is too risky to take a large enough quantity to stock the additional area. At the same time, the habitat is too small to ever get a larger population. Captive breeding requires fewer specimens. They must be bred artificially to get this reintroduction capability as well as to provide a backup population.

Within NANFA, there are many serious expert breeders. We need to develop a data base of breeders and species they are interested in, their success rate, and whether they have any available species to distribute. Paul Loiselle at the NY Aquarium for Wildlife Conservation and Dave Schleser at the Dallas Aquarium are actively looking for serious aquarists to help keep several species alive. The AZA protocol (American Zoo and Aquarium Association) does not allow them to give them to individual aquarists. They are, however, willing to donate them to a club that maintains a serious record-keeping system. In addition, we need to gather the data on breeding techniques and put it in the same data base. For example, I know Ray Katula, the current President of NANFA, has bred many species, but we do not know which ones. So it is difficult to know when to ask for his advice. Another example that comes to mind is the late Nancy Garcia, who specialized in the darters. It would really have helped if we had notes in our data base on all the different darter species she reproduced. When we select some of the endangered species to reproduce, a lot can be learned by breeding the species that are closely related. Many members could help in this program without even getting permits to breed the actual endangered species.

Each species we work with takes a different program to ensure its survival. For example, in the case of the Gambusia, one of the principal threats is from hybridization with other Gambusia species. The survival plan might include getting several members to develop genetically diverse founder populations that are regularly supplemented with wild fish under a strictly controlled process. The 2nd generation could be spread out in aquariums across the country or in remote farm ponds where they are safe from hybridization.

Once we have solved the breeding problems of an endangered species, we could distribute some of these fish to other members who are willing to help reproduce that species. There are already species of fish that are extinct in the wild that are being kept alive in aquariums around the world. It would certainly be helpful if the same thing would happen with North American species. Yes, there is some risk of genetic impurity among the hobbyist breeders or in farm ponds but even this is better than the outlook for a totally extinct species. We could develop a pedigree listing program where amateur aquarists would be allowed to maintain specimens suitable for reintroduction if needed. With today's computer power this could be done at a low cost.

Breeding articles on the endangered species and the related species to them should be published by NANFA whenever possible, as they can be used to help researchers working desperately on solving a particular breeding problem. For example, J.R. Shute, whom I mentioned earlier, is looking for any information on what triggers spawning in the madtoms, especially the smoky madtom Noturus baileyi and the yellow fin madtom Noturus flavipinnis. If you can provide information please contact him at (615) 922-3906.

Expanding the Wild Population

Probably the most important thing to ensure a species survival is to improve the original habitat. In some cases the habitat is so small (e.g. the Devils Hole pupfish) that it can be easily eliminated. A quick study of what is required for the habitat is necessary, and then several sites should be selected immediately for potential introduction of the species. A lot of environmental damage has been caused by species introduced into new habitats and it is very risky to introduce a new species. All reintroductions must be carefully reviewed with government officials and follow American Fisheries Society suggested guidelines. (Williams, Sada, and Williams, et al., 1988)

Reintroducing non-endangered but locally extirpated species needs to be done as well. State fish and game departments do reintroduce and maintain local game fish populations but usually not non-game species. The resulting reduced species diversity can upset the balance of nature in many unintended ways. It also leads to reduction of range and gene pool diversity for many not yet rare species. Ideally, the entire species list should be restored, similar to what Konrad Schmidt is doing on the Knife River (Schmidt, 1993).

To summarize, I believe that NANFA and you can do a lot to reverse this unfortunate trend of species extinction. Let's work together with government biologists, public aquarium workers, and academicians to maximize our efforts. To me, it is tragic that in a country with so many resources, we cannot make certain that we ensure the survival of all of our native species. Let's do something about it. Please contact me and volunteer to help on this project in any way that you choose. If you are already working on rare fish conservation let us know so interested members can network with you. Let's not wait for the government to do it, let's get in and make a real contribution ourselves.


Hubbs, C. and B.L. Jensen. 1984. Extinction of Gambusia amistadensis, an endangered fish. Copeia. 1984:529-530

Maitland, P. and D. Evans. 1986. The role of captive breeding in the conservation of species Int. Zoo Yb. 24/25: 66-74

Minckley, W. and J. Deacon. 1991. Battle against extinction. The University of Arizona Press. p.205

Moyle, P. and R. Yoshiyama. 1994. Protection of aquatic biodiversity in California. Fisheries, Vol. 19, No. 2

Schmidt, K. 1990. Endangered, threatened, and special-status fishes of North America, 3rd edition. American Currents. Mar-May 1990

Schmidt, K. 1993. Putting back the pieces. American Currents. Spring, 1993.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1985. Revised Maryland Darter Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, MA. 38pp

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. Report to the Congress: Endangered and Threatened Species Recovery Program. U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D. C.

Wheeler, T. 1991. Maryland darter may have vanished. American Currents. Summer 1991:27-28 or Baltimore Evening Sun, July 29, 1991.

Williams, J., Sada, D., Williams, C., et al. 1988. American Fisheries Society Guidelines for Introductions of Threatened and Endangered Fishes 1988. Fisheries, Vol. 13, No. 5.

Williams, J., Johnson, J., Hendrickson, D., Contreras-Balderas, S., Williams, J., Navarro-Mendoza, M., McAllister, D., and J. Deacon. 1989. Fishes of North America Endangered, Threatened, or of Special Concern: 1989. Fisheries, Vol. 14, No. 6.

Additional Suggested References

Campbell, R. (Ed.) Rare and Endangered Fishes and Marine Mammals of Canada
(1984) Canadian Field Naturalist, 98(1)
(1985) Canadian Field Naturalist, 99(3)
(1987) Canadian Field Naturalist, 101(2)

Johnson, J. 1987. Protected Fishes of the United States and Canada, American Fisheries Society.

Langton, R. 1993. Killifish Conservation Handbook. American Killifish Association.

Miller, R., Williams, J., and J. Williams. 1989. Extinction's of North American Fishes During the Past Century. Fisheries, Vol. 14, No. 6.

Ono, R., Williams, J., and A. Wagner. 1983. Vanishing Fishes of N. America. Stone Wall Press.

John Bondhus can be contacted at 7336 Aladdin Ave. NW, Buffalo, Minnesota 55313, U.S.A. Tel:(612) 963-5154; Fax:(612) 963-5286.

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Aquarama 95

More than 20 experts and consultants in the fields of aquaculture, conservation and marine biology will be presenting papers at the Aquarama 95 Conference, to be held at Singapore's World Trade Centre from May 25 to 28, 1995, in conjunction with the Aquarama 95 Exhibition.

Titled "The Ornamental Aquatic Industry: Keeping Pace With Change", the conference will focus on the latest advances in fish breeding, fish health and genetic engineering, as well as provide a forum for industry players to discuss current issues on fish conservation, current legislation and regulations.

The keynote address is by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod, who will present his study on the future growth of the aquarium industry in the light of global conservation efforts and current restrictions on the import and export of "exotic" species. Other presentations will include:

Current and Emerging Aquatic Resources: Commercial Approaches

Aquatic Ornamentals: Trade Legislation/ Market Opportunities

Fish Production: Current Trends

Aquatic Industry: Health Management

For conference registration and details, contact Expoconsult Pte Ltd., 100 Beach Road, #27-08 Shaw Towers, Singapore 0718. Tel: (65) 2999 273; Fax: (65) 2999 782.

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Marine Ecology Courses at Mote Marine Laboratory

Florida Keys Marine Research Center, Pigeon Key, Florida

Mote Marine Lab, an independent, non-profit research organization, is offering three courses this summer designed for upper level undergraduates, teachers, and graduate students.

Florida Bay/ Florida Keys Ecosystems - May 27 to June 17, 1995 The overall purpose of the course will be to acquaint students with the general ecology of the Florida Keys and Florida Bay ecosystems. Community descriptions and functional inter-relationships of the shallow water mangrove communities, seagrass beds, coral reefs, and their inhabitants will be emphasized. Ecological interactions between the Everglades, Florida Bay, and the Florida Reef Tract will be described and studied. Habitat mapping, seagrass growth and physiology, coral reef studies, fish ecology, and a variety of other subjects will be covered.

Biology and Ecology of Sharks and Rays - August 12 to 19, 1995 This course will initially survey the taxonomy of sharks and rays in the Florida Keys. Anatomical and physiological characteristics of elasmobranch species will then be investigated. Life history and ecological relationships will then be emphasized in relation to the overall ecology of the Florida Bay/ Florida Keys area. Much of this session will be held in the field.

Coral Reef Ecology - August 12 to 31, 1995 The biological and physical processes responsible for coral reefs will be introduced and discussed in detail. Particular emphasis will be placed on integration of concepts ranging from chemical to community levels. Current topics in reef science will be discussed based on readings from the recent scientific literature. A series of evening presentations, discussions and debates will address reef management issues. Students will conduct projects to explore areas of interest in more detail.

For more information contact:

Dr. Mike Marshall,
Marine Ecology Course Coordinator
Mote Marine Laboratory
1600 Thompson Parkway
Sarasota, Florida 34236 USA
Tel: (813) 388-4441
Fax: (813) 388-4312
Internet: KeysSci@aol.com

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Rearranging the Deck Chairs on the Titanic

Can we Resolve the Growing World Fisheries Crisis?

By Michael Sutton

Canada's seizure of a Spanish trawler in international waters off Newfoundland earlier this month touched off a new round of "fish wars" with the European Union. As Canadian warships escorted the vessel into St. John's, thousands of local fishermen thrown out of work by a government moratorium on fishing cheered from dockside and later threatened the Spanish captain and his crew.

Condemning the seizure as an "act of piracy", Spain sent naval vessels to protect its fishing fleet and retaliated by requiring that all Canadian visitors obtain a visa to enter the country. Eventually, Canada released the trawler and its crew, although impounding the catch and accusing the Spanish of using illegal nets.

Even as gunboats converged on the once-rich Grand Banks to defend disputed shares of a declining catch, delegates from the same countries were preparing for a crucial round of negotiations in New York that could well decide the fate of world fisheries. A United Nations conference will begin final debate this week on a new treaty that could begin to resolve the world fisheries crisis. But the draft language of the agreement hardly reflects a "sea change" in fishery management, and few changes are likely. Thus, many observers believe the new agreement will fall far short of the comprehensive regime necessary to defuse the growing crisis.

Little doubt remains as to the devastated state of world fisheries. The U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization, in a report released earlier this month in Rome, noted that the worldwide marine fish catch has declined each year since 1989 after a fivefold increase in the decades following the second world war. In all but two of the world's 15 major fishing areas, productivity has decreased. The FAO report predicts that fish catches will soon fall short of projected demand, and aquaculture production - fish farming - must double to keep up. Even the Heritage Foundation and other conservative think-tanks, in preparing their rebuttal to the Worldwatch Institute's annual "State of the World" report, could find no reason to quarrel with the chapter on fisheries. The trouble over fisheries transcends political boundaries. Spain and other European Union countries fish off Canada in part because they have used up the fisheries in their own coastal waters. Members of the British Government's Panel on Sustainable Development recently concluded that Europe's much ballyhooed Common Fisheries Policy has been a disappointing failure, and urged British Prime Minister John Major to take the lead in addressing European overfishing. Last year, the U.S. government declared the cod, haddock, and flounder on New England's Georges Bank "commercially extinct" because of chronic overfishing, and virtually shut down the fishery. Both the U.S. and Canada are now paying millions of dollars to shore up an unsustainable fishing industry with low cost loans. Congress last year secured $30 million in disaster assistance funds for the New England fishing industry, and acknowledged that much more will ultimately be needed. Canada pays a multimillion dollar "fishermen's dole" and is reportedly considering relocating up to 100,000 people from the maritime provinces to inland urban areas. The government also recently announced an expansion of Canada's highly controversial seal hunt, both to supply jobs for unemployed fishermen and seal penises for Oriental markets. After all, as the premier of Newfoundland is fond of saying, seals eat fish, and fishermen hope fewer seals will mean more fish.

And how does chronic overfishing affect the marine ecosystem? Last week in the British journal Nature, researchers at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management in Manila presented evidence that fishing is using much of the productivity of continental shelf ecosystems. The National Academy of Sciences, in a soon-to-be released report, says that fishing is one of the greatest threats to the health of marine ecosystems. Georges Bank, once home to a diverse assemblage of cod, haddock, flounder, and other valuable "groundfish," is now dominated mainly by dogfish, skate, mackerel, and other "trash fish" the industry did not want. Some have suggested finding new markets for these so-called "underutilized species" to help revitalize the fishing industry. No one seems concerned that adoption of such proposals will transform today's "underutilized species" into tomorrow's overfished resources, and further stress the community of ocean life upon which the health of fisheries depends.

One reason we have such difficulty in coming to grips with this crisis is that we think of fish as an agricultural commodity rather than as wild animals. Managers speak of "harvests," "stocks," and "resources" rather than catches, populations, and species. Most fish are nowhere near as cute and cuddly as baby seals or land mammals, and thus do not capture as much of the public's attention. Celebrities, quick to join the furor over seal hunts and elephant poaching, usually decline to come to the rescue of cod and halibut. Add to that the enormous political and financial clout of the fishing industry, and perhaps it's no wonder that the world lacks the political will necessary to manage fisheries responsibly.

But that may be changing. The furor over Canada's recent action and similar incidents of "gunboat diplomacy" elsewhere has lent a sense of urgency to the need to conserve world fisheries. Nevertheless, fundamental reform remains an elusive goal. The draft U.N. treaty, for example, does not address the need to downsize world fleets or reduce the massive subsidies paid to the fishing industry. According to the Worldwatch report, governments pay more than $54 billion every year to an industry that catches only $70 billion worth of fish. As a result, world fleets remain grossly overcapitalized, despite halfhearted attempts by some governments to develop decommissioning schemes. So many boats compete in Alaska's halibut fishery, for example, that it has become a derby, and earlier this month British Columbia's roe herring fishery managed to catch 100 tons more than the 770-ton quota in an eight-minute fishing "season". Another sticking point in the treaty negotiations has been a general unwillingness to adopt strict limits on fishing in coastal waters to match those imposed on the high seas. Negotiations frequently degenerate into finger-pointing sessions between coastal states and those with major distant-water fleets.

American conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote, in the foreword to A Sand County Almanac, "Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us .... our bigger and better society is now like a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy. The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap." Until we develop the political will necessary to deal with the economic incentives for overfishing and focus on conservation and sustainability, fisheries will continue to decline and armed conflicts on the high seas will intensify. We must learn to factor the precautionary principle - which requires managers facing uncertainty to err on the side of conservation - into international agreements and domestic laws. Only then will we see a "sea change" in fishery management and have some reason to be optimistic about the future vitality of world fisheries, marine ecosystems, and coastal communities.

Michael Sutton is Vice President and directs the marine fisheries conservation program at the World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037, U.S.A.
Email: SUTTON+r%WWFUS@mcimail.com

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Lake Victoria Cichlid Species Survival Plan Update

by Jay Hemdal

The inventory data from the VSSP participants for their Jan. 1, 1995 holdings of Lake Victorian cichlids has been entered into the computer database. The census for the program now stands at: 1065.1015.5554 fish (i.e. 1065 males, 1015 females, 5554 undetermined) of 26 species being housed at 28 facilities. This is an overall increase of 325 fish from the June 1994 census, an increase of 956 fish from the June 1993 census, and an increase of 1,751 fish from the December 1992 census. Our plans call for another inventory report from all participants this June, and then the use of that data to create a studbook update for 1995.

Haplochromis "fine bar scraper" has been added as a new program fish. To date, this fish has proven to be one of the most fecund of the species in the program, reaching a "minimum viable population" in just a few months.

The following facility is now an active participant in the VSSP, and is designated by the institutional code DENVR:

Rick Haeffner
Denver Zoological Gardens
2300 Steele Street
Denver, Colorado 80205-4899, U.S.A.
Tel: (303) 331-4114
Fax: (303) 331-3870

Jay Hemdal is the Curator of Fishes at the Toledo Zoo, P.O. Box 4010, Toledo, Ohio 43609, U.S.A. Tel: (419) 385-5721; Fax: (419) 385-6935; CompuServe: 73767,464

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This section is devoted to breif notes of inteerest to the aquatic conservation community. If you have an important fact, observation or theory to report, but never seem to have the time to write a letter or an article, just send along a short note, an email or give me a call. It only takes a minute or two to spead the word. rh

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Salt Marsh Ecology Project - University of Delaware

by Denise M. Seliskar

Genotypic differences in salt marsh plant species can be exploited for use in accelerating the functional development of newly created salt marshes. We are studying different varieties of the salt marsh plants, Spartina alterniflora, Spartina patens, and Distichlis spicata, in a 0.5 acre salt marsh created from upland and connected through a narrow strip of upland to an adjacent natural marsh via tidal creeks. We have identified varieties that have different potentials for contributions to the support functions of a thriving salt marsh community. Differences among the varieties of each species have been found for detritus production potential, decomposition rate, belowground organic matter production, and refuge potential. Plant lines regenerated from tissue culture and grown in saltwater-irrigated field plots also exhibited differences in root:shoot ratio, stem density, and flowering effort. Microbial activity in the soil is being examined and the effects of the various Spartina varieties on the microbial processes is being determined. Fish represent an important link between the marsh and the estuary. We have found that fish populations were much greater in the created marsh than in the natural marsh, as measured by both biomass and abundance. The condition factor of fish in the created and natural marshes was similar. We are currently examining fish usage and growth in the different varieties of the dominant marsh plant, Spartina alterniflora, that were planted in the created wetland.

Contact: Denise M. Seliskar, University of Delaware; Internet: seliskar@chopin.udel.edu

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International Rivers Network

In 1985, a group of California hydrologists, engineers and environmentalists decided together to address a common concern: the worldwide prevalence of unsound, destructive freshwater management policies and projects. They founded the International Rivers Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to actively promoting the work of local organizations around the world striving to protect their rivers and watersheds.

IRN devotes much of its organizational resources to stopping the construction of large dams and promoting viable alternatives to such projects. These efforts span the gap between developed and developing countries. Among the many local organizations that make up the network, technical expertise is exchanged, visibility enhanced, and alternative methods of achieving stated goals developed. All of IRN's work is intended to reflect the environmental and human rights implications of river development in an effort to redirect the practices of international finance institutions, commercial financiers, and the dam building industry.

To maximize limited resources, IRN works according to a strategic plan. At any given time, a selection of campaigns to protect specific rivers and watersheds are designated as priority campaigns, receiving special attention, support and other resources.

IRN publishes two newsletters: World Rivers Review and Bank Check Quarterly. IRN also produces Newssheet, compiled abstracts of articles appearing in more than 60 publications concerning rivers and fresh water.

For more information, call or write International Rivers Network, 1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley, California 94703, U.S.A. Tel: (510) 848-1155; Fax: (510) 848-1008; Email: irn@igc.apc.org

(Source: World Rivers Review, Vol. 9, No. 4)

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