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Related FAQs: Cyanide and Marine Livestock Collection, Sources of Reef Mortality,

Related Articles: Cyanide Usage in the Aquarium and Live Food-Fish Industries: Causes, Impacts and Management of a Pervasive Practice by Ivan Steward Marine Livestock Collecting Methods, Sources of Reef Mortality

The Best Livestock For Your Reef Aquarium:

Is Cyanide The/Only Issue Of Marine Import Losses?

Bob Fenner How much loss from the origin is tolerable?

The following is a discussion of several issues facing the hobby/business/science of salt-water aquaristics. Mr. Edwin Chua is President & Manager of All Seas Marine, an importer and wholesale distributor of marine organisms from all of the world, especially the Philippines; the source of about 50% of all marine organisms sold in our industry. Bob Fenner was President of Nature Etc. Inc., an employee-owned turn-key operation in the field of ornamental aquatics, designing, constructing, maintaining, fabricating, wholesaling and retailing products and services in the ornamental aquatics trades. He is a long standing writer of aquarium literature.

Bob: The purpose of this discussion is to shed more light on issues affecting the mortality of marine reef organisms taken expressly for the ornamental trade...

Ed:...and to urge action on the part of airlines to change their freight policies...

Bob: Edwin, you and I have had several talks on issues affecting the trade, particularly the topic of "anomalous losses". We both have extensive academic and practical experience backgrounds allowing us to speculate on the relative importance of the most important sources of livestock mortality: the much-popularized cyanide poisoning, rotenone, Quinaldine, tricaine methano-sulfonate (MS-222), bleach and other toxins and anesthetics; explosion fishing, gill-netting, ad nauseum. Some folks who have worked and lived the industry have made remarks over the years that the industry was "changing"; that certain species were more/less abundant, hardy, colorful, smaller/larger.

Various factors have been addressed and their importance ascribed/blamed. Equally, resolutions and solutions have been advanced at all levels, especially by the end-user. (asking the fish to be fed; leaving it for a while on deposit...) One glaring omission in all this rancor is the lack of science; testable, falsifiable hypothesis. Where is the data documenting how much mortality for various species under conditions commonly employed for capture, holding, and transporting? Have we had enough self-professed experts spouting off about the "evils" of one nefarious practice without facts?

Ed: There's so much controversy over the cyanide issue that I think one important factor overlooked is the higher concentration of ammonia in shipping bags when too little water is used. This is a major factor in fish mortality. Shippers do not use adequate amounts of water due to the economics of freight charges. A lot of this cyanide controversy does not involve scientific research. Often in their studies, fishes are dissected after they are transported to the U.S.. It makes more sense in research methodology that some field studies be made with fishes collected, tagged, released in the same environment and later recaptured and studied for damage to internal organs and gills.

Bob: What changes in the industry have you seen in importing over the years?

Ed: I have seen a lot of changes since I first started the business in 1971; especially in terms of flight hours and airline routing. For instance, Northwest Airlines flights from Manila, Philippines used to stop in Okinawa, Tokyo and Honolulu before arriving in Los Angeles. Now, the flight pattern is Manila, Tokyo and Los Angeles. This change alone cuts down layover time by two to four hours in between stops and reduces mileage due to the distance between Tokyo to Los Angeles. The use of modern aircraft does not reflect this change since the same models (i.e. Boeing 747) are still being used. What we are talking about here is the economic growth in the Pacific Rim in relation to passengers and cargo. I'm still hoping that in the future with advances in aircraft technology there will be even greater efficiency (e.g. Boeing 747-400, McDonnell Douglas MD 11) by the airlines. I'm also hoping that the Philippines will have a stronger economy so airlines will fly direct from Manila to Los Angeles as well as different parts of the U.S.A.

Bob: Basically the argument is money again: the cost of shipping water weight and volume versus too-tightly packing livestock. Consequent loss of water quality, symptomatic pH and ammonia "burn" and increased mortality. Ed, what can be done?

Ed: The biggest problem in the shipping of live tropical fish is ammonia poisoning. If you compare shipment from Manila with those from Hawaii or Florida you will see a difference in ammonia concentration. The Hawaiian and Florida shipments contain more water and oxygen per fish, there packed "looser". The flight costs are not affected because of container routes (that is a flat charge per LD3 cargo container versus a weight and/or volume charge). Currently, International carriers do not have container rates and they are regulated by the I.A.T.A. (International Air Transport Association). However, there is talk within the industry of deregulation; & Europe might start first. Northwest Airlines is no longer a member of this association and their rate remains the lowest per kilo from Manila. The fish industry should encourage Northwest and other airlines to have a container rate. Petitions or letters of request would be helpful.

Bob: Sounds like a project our industry organizations, OFI, FTFFA, PIJAC, PIDA (pet industry organizations) et al. could implement that would have tremendous benefits for all.

Ed: One of the biggest problems with cargo space from the Pacific Rim is the allotment for the electronic industry. This is due to the large western demand for their products. In the future, if this demand decreases, other modes of transportation may be used (ships) while the fish industry is only able to ship by air.

Bob: Edwin, please tell us about your facility and All Seas operations here in Los Angeles, CA and abroad.....

Ed: We started our Miami operation in 1976 with 5,000 square feet; today our plant is 15,000 square feet. During this time our filtration system has been changed four times, and we will continue to modify and revamp it as new technology warrants it. We began our Los Angeles operation in October, 1985. We chose Los Angeles because of the demand and lack of wholesalers to supply the market with tropical fish. It also is the perfect receiving point from the Pacific. Numerous pet shops had complaints re poor fish quality from wholesalers prior to our L.A. set-up. I believe this was caused by fish over-crowding due to their attempts to keep up with the demand from pet shops. The quality has improved since other wholesalers have also recently entered the market and over-crowding is no longer an issue. More local stores are experiencing expansion due to the availability of supply as well as competitive pricing with better service. Some of our competitors have complaints regarding our low prices but our goal is to enable more people to enjoy the hobby as well as to encourage independent research. This will also increase interest in marine life by exposure to the future generation. For example, when Martin Moe began his breeding facility in Florida, we supplied him with mated pairs of different clownfish without extra costs involved. This enabled him to continue his research with minimum costs.

Bob: Thank you Edwin and All Seas.

What should be obvious from the previous Section and what's offered here, is that the "cyanide issue" is not the beginning or end to all accusations of "anomalous loss". Cyanided organisms typically die a horrible death, immediately. The effects of too little water, too much starvation, too long a time in transit... all significantly contribute to losses.

I have witnessed whole shipments from the Philippines that we're DOA and one's with nary a loss on arrival. The suggestions offered in  I will stand by; holding onto stock and demonstrating that it is feeding discloses almost all doomed cyanide cases.

Further Reading:

Anon. 1988. The truth about cyanide; industry task force reports findings. Pet Age 5/88.

Axelrod, Herbert R. 1984. Editorially speaking; cyanide kills... TFH 8/84.

Birdsell, Ben. 1986. Over the counter; cyanide issue. FAMA 3/86.

Smith, Don. 1985. Moving forward in the Philippines. FAMA 12/85.


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