What is the Live Reef Food Fish Trade?
The Live Reef Food Fish Trade involves the capture of reef fish which are kept alive for sale and consumption mainly in Hong Kong and mainland China. Smaller markets exist in Malaysia and Singapore.
Live fish have long been traded around Southeast Asia as a luxury food item, but in recent decades trade in fish captured on coral reefs has expanded rapidly.
Because of their superior taste and texture, groupers have now become some of the most valued fish in this trade. These are typically carnivores, predators at the top of the reef food chain that are:
- rare relative to the animals at lower levels of the food chain, on which they feed
- long-lived (up to several decades)
- often late to mature and reproduce
This makes groupers particularly vulnerable to fishing.
Problems with the Live Reef Food Fish Trade
As much as 50% of reef fish are being taken from the water before they have had an opportunity to reproduce.
These fish are 'grown out' in cages until they reach market size, a practice that will be disastrous in the long term.
Caged fish don't contribute to replenishing wild stocks and high rates of extraction of live fish are already resulting in fishing down the food chain, with unknown long-term ecosystem impacts.
Severely depleted fish stocks threaten local food supplies and undermine local incomes in the long term.
The heart of the problem is that Live Reef Food Fish Trade is a 'boom-and-bust' business.
Although the trade has provided communities with additional income, these benefits are unsustainable and have come at considerable cost.
Watch a short video on the live reef food fish trade...