Rescuing the Pearl Gourami and other rare fish species
The fish is only the size of two fingers and flat, with a bright silver abdomen and a dark back. A black horizontal line, extending from between the eyes to the mouth to the middle of the tail, divides its body.
This decorative fish is special due to the white dots on its fins and body, which, when exposed to an aquarium’s lights, will glow like pearls — hence the fish’s name sepat mutiara, or the pearl gourami.
The fresh water fish (Trichopodus leerii), previously found in huge numbers in the lowland swamps of Sumatra and Kalimantan, is related to the sepat siam, a fish that is more typically eaten.
Today, Pearl Gourami’s are harder to find in the wild. “It’s almost extinct and hard to get from ornamental fish sellers and in its habitat,” Yuneidi Basri, the coordinator of the Integrated Fishery Laboratory at Bung Hatta University in Padang told The Jakarta Post.
Yuneidi said he has been searching for Pearl Gourami’s at dealers in Sumatra, Kalimantan, Java and Bali for three years, finding the fish at only one place in Padang, where his offer of Rp 200,000 (US$19.4) was refused.
He continued searching for Pearl Gourami in its original habitat, speaking to swamp fish catchers in West Sumatra and Riau, but these people said they had not seen the fish for a long time, particularly those in West Sumatra.
“After the three-year hunt, I was finally happy to be informed of its presence in Duri, Riau, located in the interior of a oil palm estate region about 40 kilometers away which is about a two-and-a-half-hour drive on an unpaved road,” Yuneidi said.
“I gathered the fish from their nets or bamboo tubes until I got 500,” he recalls. “When I returned to Padang only 200 survived. It was in May and we’re now striving to breed the fish at the laboratory.”
According to the fishermen, sepat mutiara are hard to catch. Sometimes only one to four of the fish can be trapped in a day, typically by using bamboo tubes and nets. The 500 pearl gouramis brought to Padang, for example, took three months to collect.
“Sepat mutiara, which used to be consumed by local residents, have now become rare and endangered,” Yuneidi said. “Unless breeding is undertaken, the fish and some other species in the same environment will be extinct.”
Oil palm estates carry the biggest threat. Riau has lost vast areas of swamps following the near-continuous expansion of the estates. Several species of fresh water ornamental fish are threatened.
“I come from Riau. Pekanbaru city was formerly a source of water, that never dried up,” Yuneidi said. “With the entry of oil palm estates, ditches were dug so that the land was drained and the environment changed considerably.”
Ditch water disturbs fish reproduction. Passing motorboats leak lubricants into the water, making it less conducive to procreate, although the fish may survive.
“Fish seek undisturbed waters with the right temperature, acidity, and so forth in order to spawn, this should be supported by favorable environmental conditions,” Yuneidi explained.
The pearl gourami raised at the laboratory have survived for over two months. Yuneidi and his team are attempting to breed them. “When they reach maturity, we’re going to stimulate their spawning.”
He hopes that the sepat mutiara collected from Riau can be used to boost the local fisheries business. Further, export demand for sepat mutiara as ornamental fish has remained high.
Yuneidi’s laboratory has focused on rare fish, especially local freshwater fish, since it was established in 2010. Researchers at the university have also studied bilih, an endemic fish of Lake Singkarak, West Sumatra. The lab currently has populations of 12 local fish, three of them are considered rare.
The bilih has been overexploited by the local community, as has the rinuak, a typical small fish found in Lake Maninjau. Large-scale consumption of larger commercial fish introduced to Lake Maninjau, such as nila (parrot fish) and goldfish is also disrupting the food chain of local fish.
This lab also collects a small fish specie called selimang (Epalzeohynchos kalopterus) in Jambi. It is now rare, even in its Lake Maninjau. The samples at the lab were discovered in a reservoir in Limapuluh Kota, West Sumatra. There is also tatari at the lab, and mujuk, which in Malaysia and Singapore can be sold for upwards of Rp 100,000 per kilogram.
West Sumatra, according to Yuneidi possesses several distinctive fish species with high economic value for collectors as well as consumption that remain under appreciated.
“That’s why we’re set to conduct research and to create awareness about them. We can only do this fairly slowly, studying them one by one, because we’re working on a self-supporting basis, which also takes time,” Yuneidi added.
Source: The Jakarta Post