Countries fall out over arowana!

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Malaysia and Indonesia have tangled over a host of issues, territory and cultural icons among them. But the latest spat between the two countries involves the dragon fish or arowana (Scleropages formosus), with millions of export dollars at stake.

Malaysia is attempting to patent a variety of the dragon fish known as the Malaysian Golden that it believes originated from Bukit Merah Lake in Perak, but this move is drawing the ire of Indonesian breeders, who claim this variety originates from their country. This has led to Indonesian attempts to patent its own varieties in an attempt to protect its share of this lucrative market, worth millions of dollars annually.

Malaysian breeders are distinguishing the Malaysian Golden variety from its Indonesian cousin by the presence of six (vs. four) rows of shimmering scales on the fish.

The Malaysian Department of Fisheries has been working with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora to develop a standard for identifying the Malaysian Golden, having invested hundreds of thousands of Malaysian ringgit in this project.

Based on DNA tests, "e can prove to international trade organisations that our arowana is genuinely Malaysian", said Zaini Suleiman of the Department of Fisheries.

According to the chairman of Arowana Club Indonesia Stephen Suryaatmadja, "This could have been a cross-breed of the Indonesian Golden and their local arowana. If it is a pure breed, we should patent it as ours."

He added, "We want this fish stated as ours because it is a part of our national treasure. Why should anyone else lay claim to our natural resources?"

But the whole point of who gets to patent the new fish varieties may be moot, since fish species or varieties cannot be patented anyway.

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