Despite the precarious state of our marine environment scuba diving is still one of the fastest growing sports in the world. Perhaps it is because the world’s ocean is entering the end-phase of its existence that people are keen to experience a last glimpse of the underwater world.
Reef fish are some of the most sought after food fish in the world, but despite their high value as an eating fish, most are worth far more alive than dead.
People will be surprised to learn that threadfin bream (see photo) are the fish most commonly used to make Young’s seafood sticks. Young’s only feature a fork-tailed threadfin bream, but there are about 60 species found in the tropics, and each serve a different role in the ecosystem of a reef.
When you see a large shoal of small fish in a TV programme about tropical reefs, threadfin bream are more often than not the fish you are seeing. Without them the reef becomes a lifeless and barren desert.
The predators of the reef, the groupers, are also threatened. Coral trout and rock cod are two of the misleading names often given to groupers by fish retailers. These are the fish beloved of divers for their friendly nature and large size.
Manta rays, currently being decimated for the Chinese medicine market, are thought to be worth $1 million each over their lifetime as an attraction for divers.
Divers are some of the highest spending of all tourists and without reef fish the divers will not come.
The short-term gain from the commercial fishing of tropical and sub-tropical reefs is far outweighed by the money a healthy reef will provide in tourist revenue.
Governments must act now to give reef fish the same protection that is given to the animals in national parks. Tropical and sub-tropical reefs are the national parks of the sea and the marine life contained in them should be given the same protection.