throughout this species’ range that collect the
fish, representing approximately 0.2 percent
(CITES, 2007) of the total human population
in the area. At the current payment rate
of 1 to 2. 5 cents per fish (US$0.01 to
0.025) (Vagelli and Erdmann, 2002), its
economic value, even in a depressed region,
is barely significant. It is obvious how little
this species’ collection helps support needy
people. Let’s do the math.
With roughly 900,000 individuals being
exported yearly (CITES, 2007) and a
55-percent mortality rate between collection
and export (extrapolated by myself using
monthly collections data versus export data,
with the assumption being that the fishers
do not have hundreds of thousands of
individuals in personal tanks), it is not
unreasonable to assume a total of 1. 8 million
fish collected. That amounts to 7826 fish
per collector per year, which represents a
supplemental income for each collector of
between US$78 and US$195 per year. Who
is affecting this species? We, the aquarium
hobbyists, are. Who would be affected by a
cessation of its collection? Only a handful
of people—to the tune of about a hundred
bucks a year each.
Dr. Gerald Allen
What Is Happening?
The Banggai cardinal is a very unusual
marine fish, which is a major factor in the
current precarious situation. It is a paternal
mouthbrooder featuring low fecundity and
an extended fry development period. Unlike
many marine organisms that can feature
thousands of pelagic planktonic larvae, it
has virtually no dispersal mechanism. The
handful of fry from each spawning settle in
the domain of their parents, leaving little
to no possibility for populating new areas
or repopulating older, extirpated areas. As
a result, the Banggai cardinalfish exists in
isolated pocket colonies throughout half
the islands in the Banggai archipelago, as
well as one location in northern Sulawesi,
where it was probably introduced by
commercial fishers. The species is also
strictly home sited, which means that even
if moved far away, the fish would return to
their home site. Thus, small colonies exist
in isolated pockets dispersed throughout
This species also features very specific
habitat preferences. Most groups are found
in very shallow water from 1. 5 to 2. 5
meters ( 5 to 8 feet) deep. They also prefer
living substrates, such as the long-spined
urchin Diadema setosum. When threatened,
Pterapogon kauderni school in their native habitat off the Banggai Islands in Indonesia.
the fish retreat into the spines of the occurred, population densities are 0.63
urchins (or tentacles of anemones and fish/m2—almost 10 times greater! This
branches of coral colonies). This means extrapolates to an overall population of
that collection methods are fairly simple, over 20 million fish only a decade ago. This
easy, and very effective. In most cases, is corroborated by known collection data.
the entire urchin is scooped up, fish and If you take the current population estimate
all. Urchin populations in heavily fished of 2. 4 million and add in the collection
areas are declining along with cardinals, and export data of about 18 million fish
so perhaps they are being consumed or collected since 1995, you come to just over
otherwise destroyed. This also means there 20 million fish again.
are many fewer urchins to be recolonized If this isn’t enough to convince you,
by straggler cardinals within the area, considerthese(non-extrapolated)data:
possibly leaving the remaining fish with • In absolutely all areas where fishing is
no survival mechanism against predation. occurring, populations are declining, with
the largest decline in those areas that are
most heavily fished.
• In two areas placed under the protection
of local authorities, populations increased
during the collection bans, but have not
recovered to the densities found in the one
area we know has never been fished.
• In another area within its natural
range—a privately owned pearl farm—
there has never been any fishing allowed.
Here cardinal population densities are 900
percent higher than the average populations
• Very recently, this pearl farm has seen
a decline in Banggai cardinals as well, in
conjunction with the start of known poaching.
In the few months since poaching began,
populations have already fallen to roughly
three-quarters of the original density.
Despite some dispute, it simply is not
a questionable assertion that cardinalfish
populations are declining precipitously. We
know that all habitats are currently declining
in population, and those declining most
rapidly are also the ones most heavily fished.
Unfortunately, we do not have population
data preceding their initial collection in
1995, and there are always those who turn
a blind eye and simply claim we don’t
know what the original population was. This
ignores the facts, however.
Current population densities average 0.07
fish per square meter (fish/m2), giving us
a total wild population of approximately
2. 4 million fish. However, in areas
where it is known that fishing has not