▲ Finding Nemo is getting easier and easier for Jeju residents as the island boasts a growing marine aquarium fish breeding program. Photo courtesy CCORA
Most people who watched ‘Finding Nemo’ probably imagined raising the cute little fish at home and it is no surprise that demand for marine aquarium fish sky-rocketed after the movie’s success. Merely getting a glimpse of these beautiful creatures was not enough either; people wanted them to keep them as pets at home.
Meeting this growth in demand is not always sustainable - or legal. In fact, indiscriminate poisoning and capture has driven Nemo and Nemo’s cousins to near extinction. Thus, a new cutting-edge marine aquarium fish breeding industry is seeking to solve this problem and it is thriving right here on Jeju.
Local strengths for marine aquarium fish
Jeju has ideal conditions for marine aquarium fish breeding due to the relatively warm 17 degree Celsius oceans and clean environment. Also, such breeding requires less fuel here than on the mainland making it more cost effective and allowing the island to become a pioneer in the industry over the last decade.
At the center of the initiative is the Corea Center of Ornamental Reef and Aquarium (CCORA) which has a nine-year history on Jeju and began its research and develop-ment 13 years ago. They have already successfully cultivated 16 species of marine aquarium fish at their breeding laboratory in Jongdal-ri, Gujwa-eup, in northeast Jeju and in February a bill was passed to support the industry further by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
In a further sign of growth, the center recently entered a partnership with Jeju Special Self-Governing Province to specialize in aquarium fish cultivation and is expected to boost the industry. In particular, exports - an area it has struggled with until now - will be promoted.
The cultivation of freshwater fish is widespread across 98 percent of the world, but cultivation of saltwater fish is less competitive, especially for clownfish and seahorse, in which CCORA specialize. The United States leads over the last four decades and has already developed around 50 species; however, CCORA’s 16 species of clownfish and seahorse show that South Korea can also compete globally.
Part of the potential for success is due to South Korea already having well-equipped infrastructure and facilities for the edible saltwater fish industry. This industry is well established on Jeju and synergy between the two industries can be achieved by increasing the number of specialists and supporting Jeju as a specialized region.
▲ Corea Center of Ornamental Reef and Aquarium (CCORA) is developing a leading seahorse industry. Photo courtesy CCORA
Difficulties in breeding and combating the illegal trade
Korean aquariums have struggled in the past to breed clownfish and buyers were forced to import them from Indonesia and Thailand where wild populations are found in areas of coral reef.
To meet the demand for pets, hunters use sodium cyanide to capture the clownfish and this kills their coral reef habitat and severely damages the marine ecosystem. It also poisons the fish themselves, with pet owners sometimes watching their pets die after purchasing.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also warned that the the trade in wild fish can lead to extinction of species and marine experts have called for further research into aquarium fish breeding. The growth of the industry on Jeju will thus benefit the fish, the environment and pet owners.
The demand for seahorse is not primarily driven by the pet industry, however, as the greatest demand for the animals is from the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) market, which is worth approximately 7.5 trillion won per year.
Considering the continuing growth of the Chinese economy, this could be an extremely lucrative business with 1 k.g. of high quality seahorse worth 4.3 million won, according to Rho Sum, CCORA chairperson and researcher.
Despite this, there are still few seahorse breeders around the world today, with the Chinese cultivation industry not yet fully developed despite dating back to 1957.
This is in part due to the difficulties faced in breeding the fish and particularly in the female choosing the male. The female selects only one male in whom she deposits her eggs which then gestate for two to four weeks. The process has proven difficult in aquarium conditions.
The Chinese consume around 150 million k.g. of seahorse, yet 150 million k.g. of this is cultivated by five breeders in Australia and four in New Zealand, according to British research. Both countries are specialists in TCM, partly a result of aggressive research and development at Tasmania University, which is now renowned.
“With enough experts and financial support, and once the China-Korea FTA has been approved, Jeju will not only be able to take over the TCM market, but even supply consumers who wish to raise seahorses as pets,” said Rho of CCORA, confidently adding that his institute could cultivate at least 50,000 a month.
A bold claim, but one that bodes well not only for traditional medicine and pet owners, but in the long run for coral reefs and tropical fish populations around the world.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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