American group in drive to prevent cyanide fishing

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 1997, 12:00am

America's leading conservation organisation will launch a Hong Kong campaign against cyanide fishing, a practice that is wrecking Asia's coral reefs.

The Nature Conservancy, which seeks to preserve the world's biodiversity by working with local people, voluntary groups, governments and business, will open a Hong Kong office to spearhead work in Asia.

Cyanide fishing, driven by demand for live reef fish, will be the group's top priority in the region.

The practice, which stuns fish so they can be captured live and transferred to restaurant tanks, destroys the reef.

About 80 per cent of coral in the Philippines had been lost and Indonesia faced a similar catastrophe in as little as three years, conservationists said.

Demand for live fish - favourites include coral trout, marbled, giant and rat garoupas - is greatest in Hong Kong, southern China, Taiwan and Singapore.

Asia programme manager Matthew Chapman said Nature Conservancy planned to develop sustainable reef fish aquaculture, convince traders to buy farmed fish and transform attitudes of gourmet diners.

Market research, commissioned by the group last year, showed diners could not taste the difference between wild and farmed fish, he said.

Gourmets in Shanghai, Taipei and Hong Kong ranked three types of live fish based on taste, appearance and texture.

'In all three localities they could not tell the difference and preferred aquacultured fish. We were delighted,' he said.