CITES Draft Decisions Give Banggai Cardinalfish a Reprieve

October 20, 2016 in General Banggai Info, Slideshow

The dazzling Banggai Cardinalfish still poses a dilemma for those who follow its populations in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. Image: Colin Foord.

The dazzling Banggai Cardinalfish still poses a dilemma for those who follow its populations in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. Image: Colin Foord.

A New Chapter for Indonesia and the Pterapogon kauderni fishery?

by Ret Talbot

originally published Oct. 5, 2016, via the Good Catch Blog

Over the past several days, I have been reporting on the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP17) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). My focus has been primarily on the marine species proposed for regulation under CITES with an emphasis on the Banggai Cardinalfish, a species I have covered extensively here and elsewhere. Now that CoP17 is over, a new chapter begins for the Banggai Cardinalfish, and the following is really the beginning of that story.

On Monday, the European Union withdrew its proposal to list the Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) under CITES Appendix II.

The withdrawal occurred following Indonesia’s acceptance of a series of draft decisions, which are outlined below. On Tuesday, during the CoP17 plenary session, the withdrawal and the draft decisions were officially adopted (see video above), beginning another chance for Indonesia (and the aquarium trade) to put in place effective reforms for conservation and sustainable harvest of the species.

Species included on Appendix II are those that, although currently not threatened with extinction, may become so without trade controls. The inclusion of the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II was supported by the CITES Secretariat, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United States and numerous other Parties, NGOs and observers who believe the Banggai Cardinalfish meets the criteria for inclusion.

The proposal was opposed by Indonesia, the only range state for the species, as well as by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) and Kuwait. Aquarium trade associations also generally opposed the proposal, although Ornamental Fish International (OFI), which had a representative present at CoP17, said “we are open to possible new information that could emerge during the CoP.”

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and organisms listed are subject to many trade and possession restrictions. A listing for the Banggai Cardinalfish could have led to a ban on its import into the EU.

CITES is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and organisms listed are subject to many trade and possession restrictions. A listing for the Banggai Cardinalfish could have led to a ban on its import into the EU.

Of the 62 proposals considered at CoP17, only six, including the proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish, were withdrawn.

The final adopted draft decisions agreed to by Indonesia are as follows:

Directed to Indonesia

  • 17.X1 Indonesia should implement conservation and management measures to ensure the sustainability of international trade in Pterapogon kauderni, and report progress on these measures to the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting (possibly in mid-2018).

Directed to the Secretariat

  • 17.X2 Subject to external funding, the Secretariat shall commission a study to assess the impact of international trade on the conservation status of Pterapogon kauderni and to advise on suitable conservation and management measures, as appropriate.
  • 17.X3 The Secretariat shall share the results of the study as referred to under decision 17.X2 with the Animals Committee at its 30th meeting.
Fishing dock in the Banggai Islands where the Indonesian government has struggled to enforce fishery regulations. Image: Ret Talbot.

Fishing dock in the Banggai Islands where the Indonesian government has struggled to enforce fishery regulations. Image: Ret Talbot.

Directed to the Animal Committee

  • 17.X4 The Animals Committee shall, at its 30th meeting, review the progress report submitted by Indonesia as referred to under Decision 17.X1, as well as the results of the study as referred to under Decision 17.X2, and make its recommendations to the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties.

Directed to donor Parties and other relevant organizations

  • 17.X5 Donor Parties and other relevant organizations, including FAO, are invited and encouraged to provide support to Indonesia and to the Secretariat for the purpose of implementing Decisions 17.X1 to 17.X3.

The 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee will likely be held during the spring or summer of 2018. The role of the Animals Committee is to provide technical support to decision-making regarding species of animals that are subject to CITES trade controls. The members of the Animals Committee represent the six major geographical regions (Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean, and Oceania) as well as one specialist on nomenclature. Members are elected at the CoP, with the number of regional representatives weighted according to the number of member nations or “parties” within each region and according to the regional distribution of biodiversity. COP18 will be held in 2019 in Sri Lanka.

Mixed Reactions to Decision

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, OFI praised the EU’s decision to withdraw its proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II and instead to propose the draft decisions listed above.

OFI…wholeheartedly supports the agreement that was adopted yesterday; to give Indonesia the possibility to implement conservation and management measures, with the support of the CITES Secretariat, Parties and organisations, including the FAO, in the time leading up to the 30th meeting of the CITES Animals Committee.

Svein A. Fosså, an aquarium and pet trade consultant who represented OFI at CoP17 and who is also a longstanding observer in Animals Committee meetings, was pleased with the EU’s action and the draft decisions, saying “We could hardly have expected a better outcome, for the species, for the trade and for the livelihoods in Indonesia.”

It should be noted that many in favor of the withdrawal also note the precarious nature of the species’ conservation status and even acknowledge, as the FAO does, that it meets the criteria for inclusion on Appendix II. Nonetheless, they feel a listing was not the right path forward and that the draft decisions listed above are a much better outcome than forcing a CITES listing on the only range country despite its strenuous opposition.

Wild Pterapogon kauderni: Aquarists now can choose between captive bred and wild-collected Banggai Cardinalfish, the latter usually a lower prices. Image: Shutterstock.

Wild Pterapogon kauderni: Aquarists now can choose between captive bred and wild-collected Banggai Cardinalfish, the latter usually a lower prices. Image: Shutterstock.

Not everyone was as optimistic though.

“I would say that the fact that in eight years there has not been significant improvements to stocks makes me wonder about the ability for us to help this species recover [without a CITES listing],” says Michael Tlusty of the New England Aquarium in Boston. Tlusty’s project to better monitor the aquarium trade is a winner in this year’s Wildlife Tech Challenge. “Are we preserving the status quo, or will the call for more effort and data to understand this species actually move the needle towards improvement?” Tlusty’s concerns are concerns that were also expressed by the US delegate in support of the EU proposal to grant the Banggai Cardinalfish CITES protection. As the US delegate made clear prior to the EU withdrawing its proposal, Indonesia’s efforts to better manage the species to date have proven largely ineffective.

During CoP14 in 2007, the US withdrew its own proposal to include the Banggai Cardinalfish on Appendix II, citing Indonesia’s renewed commitment at that time to better managing the trade in the species. “At that time, we were convinced that the national conservation management plan presented by Indonesia would help stem the decline of this species,” the US delegate said on Monday. “However, since then, the national conservation measures seem to be insufficient, and CITES regulation would compliment the measures that are in place by Indonesia.”

The US delegate went on to note that in the intervening years since the US withdrew its own proposal in 2007, the conservation status of the Banggai Cardinalfish under Indonesia’s management has not improved. “We would note that the FAO Expert Advisory Panel…since the first evaluation, has found now that local extinction has occurred at five sites across the Banggai Archipelago with an additional seven sites where there are declines in abundance.” [View the full intervention by the US in support of the EU proposal in the video below.]

While they may differ in their degree of optimism, both Fosså and Tlusty are hopeful that the draft decisions put in place at CoP14 will indeed move the needle in terms of the conservation status of the species. Although we likely won’t know the results until the Animals Committee reviews the progress report submitted by Indonesia, as well as the results of the study commissioned by the Secretariat regarding the conservation status of the species, there is some comfort in the fact that there is now at least an international framework with set deadlines in place. Perhaps it will insure that we don’t see a hat trick at CoP18 insofar as withdrawals of Banggai Cardinalfish proposals are concerned.

CORRECTION: An earlier draft of this entry said Svein A. Fosså sits on the Animals Committee. Fosså is an observer in Animals Committee meetings, but not a formal member. He intends to be present at AC30.

Banggai Rescue – Sneak Preview Video

July 19, 2013 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow

Set to launch at the Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA 2013) in South Florida, The Banggai Cardinalfish book represents almost two years’ of work and the involvement of hundreds of saltwater aquarists, marine biologists, aquarium industry leaders, and many conservation-minded supporters.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

The Banggai Cardinalfish, 304 pages, Hardcover $44.95, Quality Softcover $34.95.

For a preview of the book, see this video by Matt Pedersen that runs through the entire 304 pages in about a minute and shows the scope of the international Banggai Rescue Project.

The book will be distributed by Julian Sprung and Two Little Fishies in partnership with Reef to Rainforest Media, publishers of CORAL and AMAZONAS Magazines.

“This book should make us all proud to be marine aquarists,” says Editor & Publisher James Lawrence. “The marine aquarium community has rallied to respond to a situation in which a uniquely beautiful and fascinating fish has been threatened by unregulated collection in a remote archipelago in Indonesia. We have unwittingly been part of the problem, but now we can feel that we are part of the solution.”

“Perhaps the most important outcome of the Project so far has been the collaboration between our science team and their counterparts in Indonesia who are working to reform the Banggai Cardinal fishery while supporting the livelihoods of indigenous fishers in their own waters.”

Book Credits::

Ret Talbot • Matt Pedersen • Matthew L. Wittenrich, Ph.D.

Foreword by Dr. Gerald R. Allen

with Martin A. Moe, Jr., Roy Yanong, V.M.D., and Thomas Waltzek, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Publishing Team:

Edited by James M. Lawrence

Designed by Linda Provost

Production: Anne Linton Elston

Copyediting: Louise Watson, Alex Bunten

Business Manager: Judith R. Billard

Project Corporate Sponsors

Books will be available at MACNA, August 30 to September 1 at the Two Little Fishies booth.

Announcements coming soon about how to order the book.

Better Late Than Never: Banggai Cardinalfish Book to Debut Soon

June 3, 2013 in Kickstarter Updates, Project Updates, Slideshow

Project update from Ret Talbot

A year ago, I was preparing for a trip to Indonesia to immerse myself in the world of a small reef fish called the Banggai cardinalfish with the intent of contributing to an important book on the species. Editor James Lawrence recently sent me a revised copy of the manuscript (including some absolutely stunning layouts shown here), and it has me thinking back over the past year and the places this project has taken me both physically and intellectually. It also has me thinking about getting the book into your hands!

Taking the Time to Get it Right

While travelling halfway around the world to better understand a fish and its relationship to its environment and the fishers who interact with it is something to which I am not unaccustomed in my line of work, there was (and remains) something different—something very special—about the Banngai cardinalfish project. For one, it has been a much larger project than any of us anticipated, and the challenges along the way have been significant.

From lengthy delays in getting the science done right to dealing with our own losses of broodstock secondary to the very virus about which we were writing, everything seemed to take twice as long as expected. Having said that, what we have learned has reinforced the importance of embarking on the Project in the first place. We have made the internal decision to take the time to do it right, and while we know the delay is frustrating, we think the final product (which is now over 300 pages–about 35% more than projected!) will more than justify our decision.

As you know, we had originally planned on having the book signed, sealed and delivered last September, a timeline that, with hindsight, seems absurd. Speaking for myself, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the species and the fishery. After all, I have been covering it since 2008. I knew I needed to get up to speed on the virus impacting the species and the current fisheries data, and I knew I’d need to dig a little deeper into the species-specific physiology (with the help of my scientific illustrator wife and her microscope, of course), but that wouldn’t take that long, would it?

It did…and it has…and it continues to. Take a lot of time, that is.

A Deep Sense of Responsibility to the Reader

When I work on any project, be it a blog entry, a feature magazine article or a book, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to give the reader as full a picture as possible, not because I want to tell the reader what to think, but rather because I want the reader to have enough information on board to engage intelligently in the dialog. To me, promoting discussion on topics I think are important is my number one job as a writer.

When it comes to the Banggai project, we have found a space full of controversy and politics, conflicting information and strong emotions. Capturing the many facets of this story, while also trying to work with divergent groups and navigate a geopolitical minefield inhabited by NGOs, international fisheries managers and a marine ornamental trade dealing with a host of its own controversial issues (many of which are both directly and indirectly tied to the Banggai cardinalfish) has been one of the most complex assignments I have undertaken. Collaborating with international partners has proved logistically challenging but essential. Dealing with a story that keeps evolving (I just got a call last week that could have major implications on several key aspects of the book), can be exasperating. Following each twist and turn has meant travelling thousands of miles, reading countless pages, taking multiple notebooks full of notes, and shooting more images than I care to edit. In all this, I want you, the reader, to know you have been on my shoulder.

Whether you are an aquarist, a diver, a biologist, a fisheries manager, an aquaculturist, or any number of other epitaphs of potential readers of this book, I have tried to keep you in mind—and my responsibility to you—throughout the process. All of us who have worked on the Project have gone way beyond the work for which we knew we would be compensated, because the work has become a passion—because we care so much about the role this book can play in promoting critical conversations.

Attempting to package all of this into a book that will encourage intelligent and essential dialog about the species and its future has been an extremely difficult and yet an infinitely rewarding experience. As I work my way through the draft manuscript James sent me, I am growing increasingly excited to get this book—and more importantly—this information out into the world. As I look at the layouts the team at Reef to Rainforest in Vermont has put together, I become more and more enthused about what we have accomplished and how that will soon be handed over to you so you can take the next step.

Nuts and Bolts

So what does this all look like in pragmatic terms? It means we are woefully behind our original timeline, but it also means we are rapidly closing in on a publication date of a book about which we are very proud. As we have asked already, we continue to request that you indulge us. Those of you who subscribe to CORAL and AMAZONAS know the very high quality of production for which Reef to Rainforest is known, and producing a book of equal quality and beauty takes time, but we think it’s worth it.

As much of the work has now shifted to production and moving quickly toward presses running, Karen and I here in Maine are freed up to get the next set of rewards into the mail. Most of you should either have some of your rewards already in hand or have a tracking number that was emailed to you. For the higher-level donors, we need to hold off just a little bit longer (sorry!), as some of you are receiving original artwork that is also appearing in the book. We decided to send everyone who made any contribution to the project, a notecard set, including three notecards featuring a scientific illustration by Karen and three notecards featuring a photograph by me. Those will be coming via USPS in the next two weeks, so be on the lookout.

If you have any questions about any of these rewards (or anything else), please feel free to email me directly at While we are eager to get these tokens of appreciation of your support into your hands, we want you to know we are also keeping our eyes on the prize and getting the best possible book published as soon as we are able.

Preview inside the Banggai Rescue Book

Preview inside the Banggai Rescue Book

Preview inside the Banggai Rescue Book

Rewards Coming To Our Supporters

December 13, 2012 in Project Updates, Slideshow

Banggai Rescue scientific illustrator Karen Talbot pictured here preparing 110 packages of prints and notecards for supporters. Image: Ret Talbot

The first round of Banggai rewards are departing Maine next week for your doorstep as we draw nearer to fulfilling our mission . Thanks to everyone once again for their support, and once again we’re sorry for the delay. The final results of the scientific work conducted in both Indonesia and Florida have just been received and reviewed, meaning that, with a couple small tweaks, we are ready to move toward press.