New populations of Celestichthys discovered

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Fisheries authorities in Myanmar have discovered a number of other populations of the Celestial pearl danio, Celestichthys margaritatus, a fish believed to have been driven to near extinction by over-collecting for the aquarium trade.

Myanmar's Department of Fisheries (DOF) banned further exports of the species in February to allow them to assess the conservation status of Celestichthys margaritatus, and have identified a number of new localities which harbour populations of the species.

The species was previously believed to be endemic to pools in a single wetland area of Myanmar.

Tin Win, Managing Director of Myanmar-based fish exporter Hein Aquarium, told Practical Fishkeeping that a party of 10 officials from the Department of Fisheries and the Myanmar Fishery Federation conducted a survey and found the fish at five locations around Ho Pong.

The report identified populations in streams around Ho Pong; the village of Lwe Paw, 3.5 miles east of Ho Pong; the village of Naung Khone, 3 miles north of Ho Pong; the village of Loi-un, 6 miles from Ho Pong; and Hug-park village, Loi-san sit village, Pong-low village, all about 20 miles south of Ho Pong.

Win said that many of the biotopes are closed to human activities and that the fish also exists at other places in the deep forest, often at apparently high densities: "From one place, about 750 pieces will be collected by a person with 25 twin traps in a day. According to the the report, about 3000-5000 pieces can be trapped per day."

Lucrative tradeThe fish, which were previously caught for food and sold as dried fish were a food of local poor people, according to Tin Win.

He says that they got a much bigger return on selling the fish for the aquarium trade compared to what they made when they sold the same fish for food:

"Due to this fish, the people in rural areas got some more income, because, previously the fish were dried and sold as dried fish as food for the poor people."

Tin Win told Practical Fishkeeping that locals received 25 Kyats (approximately 25p) for a can of 500 Galaxy rasboras, but received 1p per fish when they sold them to the aquarium trade.

Under threatOriginally known as the Galaxy rasbora, Microrasbora sp. "Galaxy", the species was introduced into the hobby by AquariCorp shortly after its discovery in August 2006. (See The next big thing: Microrasbora sp. Galaxy).

It quickly became a must-have fish for many fishkeepers, with many thousands of the tiny fish - which reaches just 14-21mm in length - being exported from Myanmar to aquarium dealers around the world.

In early February 2007, Practical Fishkeeping reported that one distributor of the fish was concerned that over-collecting could see the species being wiped out in the wild. (See Galaxy rasbora under threat).

The species was formally described as Celestichthys margaritatus by Tyson Roberts in late February 2007 and given the new common name of Celestial pearl danio. (See Galaxy rasbora placed in new genus).

In the paper, Roberts explained that the fish lived in small, heavily vegetated ponds apparently maintained by seepage in hilly grassland areas at an elevation of 1040m/3420 ft and raised questions about the future of the species, given the collection pressures it was facing.