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10 June 2021 3 min read

Fish in field guides are often works of art, painted by artists to show the form and colour of a species. These kinds of field guides work well for a diver spotting fish on a reef or a recreational fisher identifying their catch. But what about a fisheries worker recording species in an open air market, where hundreds of species are offered for sale on tarpaulins and piled in baskets?

“Fish found at landing places where the fishing boats unload their catch and in markets are often not in pristine condition,” said Helen O’Neill.

“Heads and fins might be removed for easier handling, they might not be in fresh condition due to inadequate storage, or the fish could be juveniles that look very different from the adults. Fish in guide books nearly always appear in perfect condition with identifiable features, such as fins and colouration intact, unlike those encountered in the market, making accurate identification a challenge.”

Bigeye tuna, Thunnus obesus (left); the same species in a marketplace (middle; photo by Will White); and a Bigeye tuna below the related species Thunnus albacares in a markeplace (right; photo by Craig Proctor).

fishIDER (it rhymes with a great idea)

Side view of a fish with yellow fins and tail, with pale yellow and blue stripes.
A Goldlined sweetlips, Plectorhinchus chrysotaenia.

“A few years ago, we launched fishIDER, a website that provides species information and shows photos of fish as they actually appear in markets. We’ve since added some important new groups,” Helen said.

There are now more than 350 species featured on the website, which is available in both English and Bahasa. The new groups contain species that are commercially important. These fish support lives and livelihoods in the region.

The new groups include Manta rays, in the family Mobulidae, which despite being illegal to catch in Indonesia are still sometimes landed. Mobulids are valuable for their meat and for their gill rakers, which filter plankton from seawater and are used in traditional medicine.

Dolphin fish, in the family Coryphaenidae, are also common in markets. They are caught by trolling and on long lines and are commercially valuable.

Others new groups include gemfish (Gemphlidae) and sweetlips (Haemulidae).

“The Balistideae, or trigger fish, are an interesting group. One species in particular is commonly found in markets. We’ve also included the other species in the group for comparison, so it’s possible to tell them apart,” she said.

A vital industry

Tuna being unloaded at a landing site in eastern Java, Indonesia.

In Indonesia, many fish species are commercially important. Many people depend on fish for food security and for employment. In a country where poverty is widespread, ensuring the long term sustainability of fish stocks and fisheries is vital.

In 2015 Indonesia’s marine catch was over 6.2 million tonnes, with people consuming an average of 41 kilograms of fish per person per year.

“Fish identifications are the fundamental step in managing fisheries for sustainability. People rely on fisheries for their livelihoods, so it’s essential that they are managed properly,” Helen said.

More accurate identification of different species enabled by fishIDER provides a stronger capability for monitoring. These estimates are then used in fisheries management decisions, such as calculating sustainable catch levels and setting catch limits.

fishIDER can also be used throughout the fish production chain to ensure the accurate labelling of fish products.

"…We identify and assess all our products under certain criteria of sustainability (stock status, regulatory framework of the fishery, social & environmental impact etc.). Some species might look quite similar and obviously, we want to assure that 100% of our products are correctly labeled otherwise our program makes no-sense. I used fishIDER as an educational tool… it definitely helps our procurement officers to avoid any mistakes in sourcing the right species, as well as our production team to correctly identify and label any fish entering the processing plant…"

- Testimonial from an end user working in the region for a company that supplies sustainable seafood to restaurants.

Expanding the reach and use of fishIDER

fishIDER is a collaborative project with the CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection and the Indonesian Government’s Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries and was originally funded by ACIAR.

“We are looking to do more work in the region, both to expand the number of species featured on the site and to incorporate economically important fish found in neighbouring countries. Ultimately, it would be amazing to provide fishIDER in multiple languages as a resource for the entire region,” Helen said.

Find out more about the Australian National Fish Collection at CSIRO.

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