This is truly a shame, as Robinson has some very
legitimate environmental credentials and has spent de-
cades promoting sustainable collection methods. We
first met him at an early Marine Aquarium Conference
of North America, where he was one of the first to raise
awareness about the use of cyanide by Philippine marine
fish collectors. We can recall a large roomful of ideal-
istic marine aquarists listening in horror as Robinson
described collection practices that were heretofore kept
a dark secret in the aquarium trade. Steve was also a pio-
neer in creating programs to teach third-world fishers
net-collection techniques and educate them about the
safety and environmental issues tied to cyanide use.
Nonetheless, at a time when marine livestock collec-
tors are under growing scrutiny (there are forces at work
who would like to ban all importation of marine fishes
and corals into the United States), Robinson’s guilty plea
ad news travels exceedingly fast in our wired
world, and we were dismayed when a flurry of
news alerts and emails from West Coast readers let us know that well-known marine fish
collector Steve Robinson had just pleaded
guilty to illegally bringing 52 Clipperton Angelfish into the United States.
Among high-profile fish collectors, there is a swashbuckling aura around more than a few, but for Robinson
to admit to being caught red-handed in an act of bio-piracy does nothing good for the reputation of the marine aquarium trade and hobby.
The Clipperton Angelfish, Holacanthus limbaughi, is
endemic to a small, uninhabited atoll about 800 miles
( 1,250 km) southwest of Acapulco, Mexico, in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The species is officially listed as “Near
Threatened” on the International Union of Concerned
Scientists’ Red List, although Robinson says the fish is
plentiful and has a healthy population in pristine waters
far from human settlement. In a 1999 report, icthyolo-gist Dr. Gerald Allen said the Clipperton Angelfish was
common in the atoll’s waters.
Curiously, the island is named for British pirate and
privateer John Clipperton, but today it is officially French
territory. Authorities say that Robinson, who runs Cortez Marine in Hayward, California, did not have a permit
from the French government to collect and export fish
from the atoll and violated U.S. importation laws. Robinson will be sentenced in November in a San Francisco
court, and he faces up to a year in jail and a potential
marine biologist selma pamolak surveys a reef in Ecoaquariums’
collection area off Fisherman’s island, papua new guinea.
casts the marine trade in a very bad light.
That said, CORAL senior editor Ret Talbot reports
some very good news from Papua New Guinea, where
the promise of the SEASMART sustainable collection
program is being rekindled. (See page 130.)
Founded by David Vosseler and funded by the PNG
government, SEASMART lost its financing after a government official decided that the program was too expensive
and too slow to show progress. Vosseler says that true
sustainability can come only with scientific surveying of
collection areas and constant monitoring to ensure that
animals are not being overharvested, and some feared
that the sustainability initiative might be squandered by
Thus we are cheered to learn that former SEASMART
staffer Dan Navin is picking up where Vosseler left off
and will dramatically re-invent the PNG project under
the name EcoAquarium PNG Ltd. By all accounts, Navin
seems to be off to a promising start, and we can expect
to start seeing PNG-harvested fishes and maricultured
corals entering the marine trade in the coming months.
Ironically, the net collection techniques used by Dan
Navin and his fishers can easily be traced to Steve Robinson’s early work in the Philippines. Perhaps there is a
little good in every pirate.
—James M. Lawrence