Harlequin Fish in peril in SA, still targeted
To the editor of The Sunday Mail,
I note with dismay the anachronistic discrepancy of two items printed on page 69 in the Sunday Mail today (October 19, 2014).
The first item, ‘Fishing Hot Spots with Jon Huie’ shows a trophy shot of a rare Harlequin Fish caught off Cape Jervis by an angler. The other item, ‘What’s On’ describes a planned beach cleanup and dolphin awareness activities under the heading: Sea Shepherd Adelaide Beach Activity Day at Brighton jetty and beach.
The Harlequin Fish is one of several iconic southern Australian fish species listed by the national award-winning SA community volunteer group Reef Watch as being ‘In Peril’. Harlequin Fish are long-lived, strongly site-associated (territorial, found on rocky reefs) and there is limited but increasing scientific data evidence of serious population decline. There is also extensive anecdotal evidence from divers also supporting this threatened species’ unofficial status here in SA.
A fact sheet on the species, which also makes a case for legislative protection, was published by the Conservation Council of South Australia in 2007. Targeted fishing by anglers and charter fishing operators are listed among the threats to the species, along with habitat degradation and climate change. No changes in legislation or regulation have yet been made to improve the outlook for this species, with the exception of some of the recently implemented sanctuary zones.
I’ve dived much of SA for the past four decades and am in no doubt this fish, whilst never very common in SA, has become quite rare over that period. My last encounter was with an immature individual at Rapid Head in about 2002, which leads me to remind the minority of recreational fishers who remain opposed to Marine Protected Areas of the world-wide proven benefits of no-take zones.
For the record, I am not a member of the Sea Shepherd organisation, but by pure coincidence live at Brighton and have also noted the continuing decline in near-shore water quality due to inadequate funding for catchment care.
Dr David Muirhead
David is a long-serving member of the Marine Life Society of South Australia. He has dived and snorkeled in South Australian waters for around five decades and has a particular interest in bony fishes. David has made the greatest single contribution to the society’s Photo Index of local marine species.