Sri Lanka’s endemic fish peddled around the world with little monitoring

Stone Sucker, among others under threat due to high demand for beauty treatments

Freshwater fish, some that have been named only in the recent past are under threat due to over fishing for export, an official warned.
Among these fish the stone sucker is the most threatened.

Mr. Gunasekara

While beautiful fish such as bulath hapaya, le tittaya are in high demand in the aquarium trade, the Stone Suckers have become the most widely exported freshwater fish, Samantha Gunasekara of Sri Lanka Customs’ Biodiversity, Culture and National Heritage Protection Division said during the inaugural session of South Asian Wildlife Enforcement Network (SAWEN) last month.

The Stone Sucker (Garra ceylonensis) known as gal padiya in Sinhala is an endemic fish that latches onto ones feet in freshwater habitats. They nibble the skin, giving a ticklish feeling. This is because they feed on the dead tissue of the skin. This natural exfoliation process has created a huge demand for this type of fish in countries such as Hong Kong.

These fish are put into fish spas and are used for popular beauty therapies such as pedicures and manicures. Popularly known as as Dr.Fish; various types of fish including Sri Lanka’s Stone Sucker is peddled around the world. Giving statistics Mr. Gunasekara said in 2005, 62,486 stone suckers and in 2005 50,370 stone suckers had been exported. He said although they still abound in running freshwater streams, if the present trend of over exploitation continued, the Stone Sucker will face the same fate as many other freshwater fish.
According to Mr. Gunasekara freshwater fish are the most widely traded wild species from Sri Lanka.

According to 2007 figures that appear in his recent book ‘Export Trade of Indigenous Freshwater Fishes of Sri Lanka’ wild freshwater fish supply over 98% of the export requirements for the ornamental fish industry. Of the 53 species exported nine species, including seven endemic species are considered nationally threatened. Among the threatened species two of them the Devario pathirana and Macrognathus pentophthalmos are critically endangered. Mr. Gunasekera also pointed out that the revenue earned from the export of endemic freshwater fish amounts to only 0.16% of the income gained in the ornamental fish trade, therefore its destruction is unwarranted even if you look at it purely from the financial aspect for the country.

Mr. Gunasekera said the Customs’ Biodiversity Protection unit had raided many illicit shipments of freshwater fish being exported. Although there is legislation to regulate the freshwater ornamental fish trade, there are drawbacks in its implementation. He said even the Fisheries Act per se had loopholes, as anyone who got a permit could export freshwater fish.
Another major drawback was the lack of a monitoring body.

Mr. Gunasekera also said inadequate research in the field of aquaculture development has led to a failure in determining suitable captive breeding techniques for endemic freshwater fish species that are in high demand for the export trade.
The Sri Lankan ornamental fish trade makes up 4% of the world supply and environmentalists point out if the country is looking at building this trade more freshwater fish should be bred.

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