Collection of Banggai Cardinals for the aquarium trade is the major driver for their harvest. These fish have a extremely limited geographic range of about 5,500 km² and small wild population size estimated at 2.4 million individuals. These cardinalfish are composed of pockets of individual populations concentrated around the shallows small and large islands within the Banggai Archipelago. A small population also occurs off Central Sulawesi, within Luwuk harbor. One additional population has become established in the Lembeh Strait (North Sulawesi), 400 km north of the natural area of the species distribution.
They live in very shallow water, and are plodding swimmers that are easily herded out of protective cover. This combination of characteristics, coupled with high demand as a desirable ornamental species, makes them vulnerable to overharvest. Due to high levels of harvest pressure in their natural range, increasing scrutiny and concern resulted in a recent listing as a “Threatened” species by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Fortunately, there has been tremendous success in the commercial-scale aquaculture of this species in the last few years, and is likely a key reason this species wasn’t granted a much more restrictive and protective “Endangered” listing.
While there still is a certain amount of wild-harvested Banggai Cardinal making its way into the North American market, the vast majority of this species entering the market originate from aquacultured sources now, predominantly and primarily through the efforts of large scale producers overseas and the distribution efforts of Quality Marine and others.
According to Quality Marine, “This is one of the efforts we are the most proud of. Our support of the aquacultured Banggai Cardinal (Pteroptopogon kauderni) is a success story for the species, the hobby and the trade. For over 3 years, Quality Marine has only imported and stocked aquacultured Banggais, as we believe that doing this any other way is irresponsible and unsustainable.”
Time flies when you are having fun
I recall when Dr. Gerald R. Allen (Gerry) spoke about his assistance to the Banggai Rescue Project during his appearance at the 1995 MACNA Conference in Louisville Kentucky. As the ichthyologist who first introduced the Banggai Cardinalfish to modern science and the aquarium hobby, Gerry showed slides of his very first live specimens which he had collected in 1994. From those beginning efforts of responsible sourcing and preservation, you can fast forward to the present where we are seeing many aquacultured species such as angelfish, Yellow Tangs, Blennys, Gobys and others.