Cyanide Fishing in the Philippin

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					Cyanide Fishing in the Philippines

          Rachel Dodgens
        November 15, 2001
Introduction to Coastal Management
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       The Philippines is a beautiful tropical archipelago situated in Southeast Asia just

north of Indonesia. This archipelago consists of over 7,000 islands with many being so

small they are uninhabitable. A tropical nation with great biodiversity, the Philippines

has an abundance of management issues. One of the Philippines’ major management

issues is cyanide fishing.

       Fisheries are important both economically and socially to the Philippines.

Filipinos receive over half of their protein from the sea (IDRC, 1997) making it a very

vital part of their diet. Most Filipinos eat fresh fish, those that are not close enough to the

sea eat dried fish. Over 600,000 people are employed by the fisheries and fisheries

related businesses (CIDA, 1998) making it a very vital part of their economy as well.

Those that are not fishermen directly work for companies that are supported by these

fisheries. It is expected for an island nation to take advantage of its surrounding

resources. The Philippines, along with other developing nations, are raping their


        Cyanide is really very simple. It requires little equipment or skills. A fishermen

or boy dives to the corals with a squirt bottle filled with dissolved cyanide. He squirts the

cyanide into the corals. This stuns the fish and invertebrates which then float to the top.

Half of the fish die from this initial exposure. They are easily scooped up into baggies at

this point. The fishermen keep the fish in baggies until they are able to sell them to

dealers in Manila. By the time they sell them over 30% of the fish they caught have died,

mostly due to cyanide poisoning (Cyanide-free).

       Cyanide fishing started in the early 1960s in Batangas in Southern Luzon and

spread throughout the islands (Cyanide-free). Since then the practice has spread
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throughout Southeast Asia and into many other areas of the world. In the 1960s there

were only three companies that bought marine aquarium fish and none that bought live

food-fish. By the 1990s there were 45 marine aquarium fish dealers and eight live food-

fish traders (Cyanide-free).

        Coral reefs are home to many beautiful marine fish. The Philippines is the home

to 33,000 square kilometers of coral reefs. Fifteen years ago only 6% of this coral

environment was in excellent condition. By 1998 Newsweek had placed 90% of corals

on a deterioration or killed status (Dead Corals). Most all of this death and deterioration

is due to fishing with cyanide. This fishing is done by Filipinos to catch marine aquarium

fish and fish for the live fish-food trade.

        The culprit is cyanide in the form of sodium cyanide (NaCN) or hydrogen cyanide

(HCN). It takes about 5,204 milligrams per liter for 10, 20, or 30 minutes to kill corals

(Cyanide-free). The corals will die within seven days with this amount of exposure. If

the coral is exposed to cyanide for several minutes the concentration can be as low as five

milligrams per liter to be lethal. Only 520 milligrams per liter will result in a loss of

zooxanthelle and impair photosynthesis and can cause death. Marine aquarium fishermen

use one to two 20gram cyanide tablets per one liter bottle. Food-fish fishermen generally

use three to five of these tablets. The general concentration of hydrogen cyanide that is

released from the bottles is 1500-2000 milligrams per liter. Around 29 million kilograms

of cyanide was illegally imported into the Philippines between 1991 and 1995, with seven

million kilograms in 1995 alone. The cyanide stuns the fish which brings them out of the

corals and into the waiting bags of the fishermen. The fish and other invertebrates

enzyme systems are impaired. In the fish the spleen, liver, heart, and brain are also
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damaged. Cyanide fishing can also be harmful to humans if they are exposed to high

enough amounts for long periods of time. Diving with old or makeshift equipment can

also harm the fishermen.    Approximately, 150,000 kilograms of cyanide is spread in the

Philippines every year (Cyanide-free).    It is thought that more than one million

kilograms of cyanide has been used since the 1960’s in the Philippines alone (State

Department, 1998).

       For a Filipino this business is fairly profitable. A fisherman will get around P350

per kilo of live lapulapu (grouper) and P700 per kilo for mameng (humphead wrasse).

Compare that to the mere P70 a fisherman would receive for dead and frozen fish. The

live reef food-fish trade in 1995 in Asia harvested 20,000-25,000 metric tons of fish,

accounting for over $1 billion. The marine aquarium fish trade acquired 10-30 million

specimens, accounting for $200-$750 million (State Department, 1998).

       Until 1986 net fishing was illegal (Dead Corals). Cyanide fishing seemed the

only way to get these fish. The Philippines was the first nation to begin cyanide fishing

and it has been the first to try and stop it. Starting in the mid-1980s people began to see

the effect cyanide fishing was having on the Filipino coral reefs. Private groups were

developed to combat the problem. The government began to join in the fight against

fishing with cyanide. Together they set up programs to move the fishermen away from

cyanide fishing and on to more environmentally friendly fishing techniques. Among the

first tasks was the legalization of fine-mesh nets for collecting aquarium fish. Then

trainers were gathered to teach fishermen techniques without the use of cyanide. Net-

skills were a large part of this training program. Social programs were created to help
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fishermen and their families. A test for detecting cyanide in fish tissues was also created

as a way to enforce the no cyanide policy (Policy, 1998). Specific areas, such as the

island of Palawan, formed their own management policies. Palawan placed a five year

ban on live fish collection in 1993. Unfortunately, after only one year all fish were

exempt except live groupers and other food fishes (Dead Corals). The Philippines, like

many other governments, has corruption issues which strongly effect policies and


       In spite of the corruption, 1,000 fishermen have been trained in net fishing and

another 500 in hook-and-line capture (Cyanide-free). Mortality rates for these non-

cyanide caught fish is much lower than the those caught using the toxin. Six cyanide

detection test laboratories are currently at work having tested 32,000 marine fish since

1993. The levels of cyanide detected have been on a steady downslide from 80% in 1993

to 47% in 1996 to a much better 20% in 1998. It seems as though education is working

for some of these fishermen.

       Having been to the Philippines, I can understand that these fishermen are just

people trying to feed their families. Been able to make enough to feed your family for a

month of one kilo of fish is hard to pass up. I also believe that these people want to keep

their beautiful coastal areas and for them to be their for their children. They must been

given an alternative. This has been shown by the acceptance of alternative techniques for

catching fish. The nets and other means of fishing must become more economical for

these fishermen. I also think that hobbyist should get involved by not only refusing to by
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fish caught with cyanide but by supporting those fishermen and agency that are against

cyanide fishing.

Alvarez, Aquilino Jr. Dead Corals in exchange for live fish exports?

Barber, Charles and Vaughan Pratt. Closing the Loop: From research on natural resources to policy change
         Chapter 8: Policy Reform and Community-Based Programmes to Combat Cyanide Fishing in
         Philippines. 1998.

Canadian International Development Agency. Sustaining the Environment: CIDA programs in Asia-
        Pacific economic cooperation developing countries. http://www.acdi-
        ment. 1998.

Eberlee, John. Fishing Softly on Coral Reefs. International Development Research Centre. 1997.

Rubec, Peter J., Ferdinand Cruz, Vaughan Pratt, Richard Oellers and Frank Lallo. Cyanide-free, net-
        Caught fish for the marine aquarium trade.

U.S. Department of State. Coral Reefs: Cyanide Fishing and the Live Reef Fish Trade.

World Resources Institute. Cyanide Fishing: A Poison Tide on the Reef. 1998.

World Resources Institute. Destructive Fishing Reform Initiative.


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