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Science finall catches out the reef-killing cyanide fishermen
Friday, 7 February 2014

The cyanide-using trawlers responsible for destroying many of the world�s most pristine coral reefs are being challenged by scientists who have devised the first test capable of spotting fish trapped by the illegal poison. Cyanide is a lethal chemical which, when released over coral reefs, renders marine creatures dead or unconscious – and easy to catch.

Millions of exotic tropical fish are trapped this way every year around Pacific reefs in coun- tries such as China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Those that die are eaten, but many survivors are flown to Europe and the UK for sale to aquariums and to the burgeoning number of hobbyists who keep tropical marine fish.

About one in 10 British homes is thought to have a fish tank. Historically, most people have focused on freshwater species, but the sophistication of modern equipment means the keeping of marine fish has surged – boosted perhaps by the success of films such as Finding Nemo from 2003.

Concern over the sourcing of fish used to fill such aquariums has been growing for years, but until recently there was no test capable of spotting those that had been subjected to cyanide. This week, however, Sea Life, a British-based company that operates the world’s largest aquarium chain, will announce it has sponsored the development of a new technique for spotting cyanide-caught fish, which will be used to test all its new purchases.

Chris Brown, senior curator at Sea Life, said: “Cyanide fisher-=men target the most pristine reefs, squirting the poison into corals to stun fish, and so make quicker and bigger catches. It wipes out all life, including the coral itself.”

The new test involves transferring newly delivered fish into artificial salt water and checking it for tiny traces of cyanide once the fish have passed waste. It was developed by Ricardo Calado, a researcher at Aveiro University in Portugal. China’s fishing fleet is well known’ for using cyanide and targeting other countries’ coral reefs. The South Korean marine police recorded 2,196 such incursions from 2004-8, with many of the boats they stopped recorded as having cyanide aboard.

Brown said: “We have begun using the process routinely with all new deliveries. Sea Life will call for any fishermen found to have used cyanide to be boycotted.

“Our suppliers are keen to instigate similar checks, and we expect other public aquariums to follow suit.”

Jonathan Leake

Environment Editor

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