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Saratoga Minimize

a. Biology of Saratoga (Sclerophages jardinii)
Saratoga, Sclerophages jardinii (Saville-Kent 1892) or the spotted-barramundi as is commonly known is a valuable aquarium fish. It has a limited distribution range which is restricted to Northern Australia and Southern New Guinea. In PNG, it is restricted to the Fly, Strickland and Bensbach river systems of the Western Province. Like most freshwater fish species in PNG, the ecology of Saratoga has not been fully studied. Data collected by Ok Tedi Mining Limited (OTML) show Saratoga population in the Fly River is around 50-70 cm, which seems to be the breeding size. However records of 70-100cm have been recorded for the species. Generally the number of adults in the wild is relatively low due to limited population recruitment as a result of the species’ slow maturation and low fecundity. Therefore collection of juveniles for the aquarium trade could become non-sustainable if extreme caution is not exercised during fishing, collection and other steps in the chain of custody.

Saratoga is a surface feeder and feeds mainly on terrestrial and aquatic insects but occasionally feeds on small fish and crustaceans. It inhabits relatively still clear waters of streams and swamps and is frequently seen near the surface or near shore among aquatic vegetation. Saratoga breeding season in the Fly River systems commences in October and ends around the end of December, which is prior to the wet season. Saratoga is a mouth brooder and has a low fecundity, usually around 30-130 eggs depending on the size of the brood fish. The female carries the fertilized eggs in the mouth until they hatch in around 1-2 weeks and the larvae with their enlarged yolk sacs are kept in the mouth or close to the mouth for a further 4 or 5 weeks. The young begin feeding primarily on micro-crustaceans at a size of 2-3cm well before the yolk sac is entirely reabsorbed. They eventually become independent of the female parent at a length of 3.5-4.0cm.

b. Saratoga and the Aquarium trade
The demand for Saratoga as an aquarium species arose in the wake of the high demand for the Asian Arowana; Sclerophages formosus, in the 1970s. The Asian Arowana belongs to the same genus as the Saratoga but is more colourful and majestic. It is a sought after fish by aquarium hobbyists, especially those of Chinese descendent who believe that the Arowana is a direct descendent of the Dragon, the mystical feature in Chinese folklore from which all Chinese are believed to have descended from. Such superstitions along with Arowanas beautiful red coloration, its two characteristic barbles, its large size, and its difficulty with feed requirements in aquarium and culture conditions (requirement for live feeds) and the difficulty in breeding in captivity posse a challenge to aquarium hobbyists, thus making it the most sought after fish in the aquarium trade. It is also believed that Arowana brings good fortune and wards off evil. For instance a gold colour Arowana in an office is said to bring a lot of good fortune due to its gold colour whilst a red colour Arowana in a home is said to ward off evil. Such superstitious believes and Arowanas beauty and unique characteristics has fuelled the demand for Arowana, leading to the depletion of wild populations which consequently seen Arowana being placed in Appendix 1 of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered species of wild flora and fauna (CITES). The popularity of Arowanas led to the demand for other related species in the genus Sclerophages and Osteoglossum; such as the Sclerophages jardinii, S. leichardti, Osteoglossum bicirrhosum and O. ferrerirai due to; a) association with good fortunate, b) increased scarcity of S. formosus c) the ancient or primitive nature of species in the family Osteglossinae (bony tongues) and d) the fact that other species are generally less expensive than Arowanas. Thus the demand for wild and cultured juveniles of Saratoga for the aquarium market began to increase.
c. Exploitation of Saratoga in PNG
a. Illegal trade across the West Papua border

In PNG, the Saratoga (S. jardinii) was first exploited in the early 1990’s when villagers from the Bensbach River or Torassi area harvested wild Saratoga juveniles and traded them to merchants across the nearby Indonesian border province of West Papua. Although the harvest and trade of Saratoga is prohibited by law in West Papua, this illegal trade of Saratoga juveniles across the border continues to the present day. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Indonesian merchants across the border provide fuel and other necessary items for fishermen from the Bensbach and Obo areas to collect Saratoga juveniles. Most often fishermen are paid either in Indonesian ruphia around 200 ruphia for a juvenile Saratoga or are provided basic goods in exchange for the fish, thereby exploiting the poor fishermen. According to the North Fly Fisheries officer some 500,000 juveniles are illegally traded over the border annually (Robert Alphones, personal Com.). It is difficult to ascertain this figure but it highlight the fact that significant quantities of juvenile Saratoga are traded across the border. The Saratoga population in the Bensbach area has been depleted and fishermen are moving further into the Obo Area of the middle fly region.

b. Operations by Jodi Ltd and Obo Fishing Company
In November of 2003, a Jodi Pty Ltd. in collaboration with Obo Fishing Company of the Middle Fly area of the Western Province began exporting wild Saratoga juveniles to Singapore for the lucrative international aquarium trade. The company exported a total of 50,000 juveniles purchased at a total cost of K70, 000. Collection in 2004 was higher than that of 2003 due to the increase in fishing and the company moving into new areas to purchase fish. The partners are buying fish from fishermen for a total of K1.30 per juvenile; this is substantial cash for a remote area such as the Obo and Lake Murry areas. A fisherman is estimated to earn around K300.00 a day during the breeding season, thus fishing for Saratoga juveniles has increased substantially in the last two years.

c. Fishing methods employed
Fishermen set 3, 4 and 5-inch nets in lagoons and swamps usually near the bank with vegetation. They then move a further 50 meters from the net and start beating the water forcing brood fish into the nets. When a fish is caught in the net a second group of fishermen remove it and check its buccal cavity for juvenile fish. The juveniles are removed and on most occasions live broodstock are released back into the river. Alternatively fishermen set the nets in still lagoons or clear and slow flowing streams and wait quietly near the net for fish to be trapped.

Currently information on the population size, structure and other biological parameters of the Saratoga fishery in the Middle Fly area is unknown. There is little study on the biology and ecology of the fish species. Also information on the economics and the value of this fishery is still lacking due to lack of information. However, the lack of both economic and scientific information should not be a hindrance to developing a management plan to exploit the fishery on a more environmentally sustainable level.