Natural Products: Types Measured

This goal assesses the ability of regions to maximize the sustainable harvest of non-food living marine resources. It does not include bioprospecting, whose potential is largely unknowable, or mineral products such as oil and gas or mining products which cannot be considered sustainable in the absence of appropriate limits on their extraction.    

The Ocean Health Index measured six commodities to calculate Status and Trend for the Natural Products goal. They were: Ornamental Fish, Seaweed and Plants, Sponges, Shells, Fish Oil, and Coral.  These are the only products for which global databases exist. 

Other natural products may be harvested in some countries, but since they are not harvested everywhere, they could not be included in the global assessment. Such products could be included in a regional assessment. 
 
Scroll down the page to see descriptions of each category and how it was measured.


Which Goals Does This Affect?


How Was It Measured?

Imagine the difficulty of describing and distinguishing all of the world’s products for record keeping, taxes, tariffs, monitoring controlled goods, trade statistics and other purposes!  The World Customs Organization (WCO) does that by assigning a unique six digit code to more than 5,000 commodity groups as part of the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System ("Harmonized System" or simply "HS"). HS, which is updated about every 5 years, captures over 98 percent of the merchandise in international trade.

HS is linked with the International Standard Statistical Classification of Fishery Commodities (ISSCFC), which the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) uses to categorize its marine data.  ISSCFC covers products derived from fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals, plants and residues caught for commercial, industrial or subsistence uses, by all types of fishing units operating in all aquatic environments, in inshore, offshore or high seas fishing. Commodities produced from the raw materials supplied by all kinds of aquaculture are also included.  Data for the six non-food marine commodities assessed in the Natural Products goal are obtained from the FAO database and used to evaluate how how sustainably countries harvest those resources. 

The Ocean Health Index used FishstatJ 2.0.0 to obtain FAO data on the export amount (metric tons) and monetary value (US dollars) for each of the six types of products evaluated.  In any years when a country reported either export value or tonnage for a product but not both, the missing amount was gap-filled using a smoothed linear relationship between amounts and value for this product-region through time.

The reference point for harvest of each product in each region is its peak export across all years.  Sustainability of that peak is unknown so a (presumably sustainable) reference point is defined at 35% below the peak. That value is set at 1.0 and all lower values are rescaled to it.  Products never harvested in a region are excluded.

Status for the goal is the geometric average of the relative contribution of each product multiplied by its sustainability factor. The relative contribution of each product to a region's status score for Natural Products is calculated as the maximum US dollar value for that product (from the smoothed, gap-filled data) across all years of data divided by the sum of maximum values for all products harvested in the country.

Sustainability for habitat-based harvest is determined by ‘Exposure’ and, where applicable, ‘Risk.’  A product’s sustainability is (1- Exposure) if it has no risk factor; or (1 – [Exposure + Risk]) ÷ 2 if it does.

Exposure.  Exposure is calculated as the (log-transformed) intensity of harvest per km2, relative to the global maximum.

Risk.  For all corals, risk is set at 1 since species in both subclasses and multiple orders are listed in CITES Appendices II and III (www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.php). Risks for sponges, algae or marine plants and shells were set at 0, because none are listed in CITES except for giant clams  (Tridacnidae spp.) and date clams (Lithophaga lithophaga) (CITES Appendix II).  Risk for ornamental fish was set based on assessments of cyanide or dynamite fishing by Reefs at Risk Revisited (www.wri.org/publication/reefs-at-risk-revisited) assuming that most ornamental fishes are harvested from coral reefs.

To calculate sustainability for Fish Oil, each fish stock is assigned an exploitation status based on its biomass relative to its calculated biomass at maximum sustainable yield (B/BMSY) and multiplied by a penalty factor when B deviates from BMSY by more than 5%. Overharvesting is penalized by successively greater penalties the smaller B is relative to BMSY.  Underharvesting is also penalized when B > BMSY, but only half as severely as overharvesting. The sustainability of a country’s Fish Oil exports is expressed as the yield-weighted sustainability of its fishery stocks. See Fisheries: Status for details on how stock status is calculated. 

For overall score calculation, Trend is the slope of the Status scores for each product for the previous five years; and a unique Pressure and Resilience score is calculated for each product. 

Scroll down to get further information on each Natural Product that was assessed, including the HS/FAO categories used for each.


Ornamental Fish

'Ornamental fish’ are species harvested and marketed for use primarily in home aquariums, but also in commercial aquariums. Every year, more than one billion ornamental fish are traded globally, 15 to 20 million of which are members of marine species (Weiner 2005). The number of marine species traded has been estimated at between 1,400 and 8,000, most of which are wild caught, unlike traded freshwater fish species, 90% of which are farmed (FAO 2005-2012; Whittington 2007).  

How Was It Measured?

Export data are drawn from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Global Commodities database for the most recent years available for ornamental fish. Data for the subcategories ‘Fish for culture including ova, fingerlings, etc.’ and ‘Ornamental freshwater fish’ are excluded. The two categories used are “Ornamental Salt Water Fish” and “Ornamental Fish Not Elsewhere Indicated (NEI).” For the monetary value data, nominal dollars ("observed measure unit - US Dollar"), as reported by the FAO, were converted into constant 2008 USD using CPI adjustment data (Sahr 2011; http://oregonstate.edu/cla/polisci/sahr/sahr).

What Are The Impacts?

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT
Ornamental fish that are traded on a global basis can introduce pathogens to a new environment. Contact with wild populations could be harmful if native species have no resistance to the foreign disease.

The unsustainable harvest of ornamental fish can lead to habitat and/or ecosystem damage (e.g. coral reefs) if fish species are over-harvested or if destructive methods are used to collect them (e.g. cyanide, blast fishing).

Cultivation of some species, such as clownfish, has produced spectacular new color patterns and could reduce the demand for wild specimens and aquarium fishing pressure on reefs. 

HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT
No direct impacts known. Unsustainable fishing methods, such as use of dynamite or cyanide, could reduce reef health and food fish supply for local populations.
ECONOMIC IMPACT
The market for ornamental reef fish and coral has increased by 12-13% annually, and the US comprises 80% of the importing market (Weiner 2005).

Two thirds of ornamental fish exports are derived from developing countries where fisheries often have an important economic role. However, certain fish stocks are often depleted due to overfishing and/or growing human population needs. Efforts are currently being made to minimize the harmful impacts of harvesting, as well as to replace wild caught species with farmed fish.

Ornamental specimens for aquariums are expensive, often costing 10 times or even 100 times as much as comparable organisms used for food or other purposes.  For example, in 2000, one kilogram of aquarium fish from the Maldives was valued at nearly US $500, compared to only US $6 for one kilogram of reef fish harvested for food
(Wabnitz et al. 2003).

The high value of ornamental specimens translates into significant revenue for exporting countries. For example, approximately 50,000 people in Sri Lanka are directly involved in the export of marine ornamental reef fish to 52 countries, earning the country approximately US $5.6 million per year (Wabnitz et al. 2003).



Seaweed and Plants

Various brown, green and red algae as well other marine plants are used to make stabilizers and thickeners for foods, cosmetics and industrial products as well as nutritional supplements and condiments. Seaweeds and other marine algae can be harvested in their natural habitat or cultivated in coastal waters or in tanks on land.

In the mid 1980s, seaweed farming became increasingly popular (vs. harvest from wild stocks) due to a significant rise in demand (Crawford 2002).

How Was It Measured?

Information used by the Ocean Health Index to determine harvest and value for seaweed and plants is from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Global Commodities Database, which contains data on exports of natural products by each country. The most recent data available are used.

Data categories used were: Agar agar in blocks, Agar agar in powder, Agar agar in strips, Agar agar nei, Carrageen (Chondrus crispus), Green laver, Hizikia fusiforme (brown algae), Kelp, Kelp meal, Laver dry, Laver nei, Laver smoked, Other brown algae (Laminaria, Eisenia/ Ecklonia), Other edible seaweeds, Other green algae (Ulva, Enteromorpha), Other inedible seaweeds, Other red algae, Other seaweeds and aquatic plants and products thereof, Rock laver, and Undaria pinnafitida (brown algae).

Sustainability of the harvest was measured as the intensity of harvest per km2 of a country’s potentially harvestable habitat. Exposure values were rescaled to between 0-1 using the global maximum intensity of harvest as the maximum value and 0 as the minimum value.

For the monetary value data, nominal dollars as reported by FAO ("observed measure unit - US Dollar") were converted into constant 2008 USD using CPI adjustment data (Sahr 2011 -http://oregonstate.edu/cla/polisci/sahr/sahr).

What Are The Impacts?

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT

Wild seaweeds and other marine plants provide shelter and food for many species, so intensive harvest can damage intertidal habitats if not properly managed.

The methods used to cultivate seaweed are relatively low impact, especially if they are done off-bottom.

Seaweed cultivation can have a positive effect on fisheries by increasing local populations of herbivorous fish. However, it can have a negative impact on neighboring ecosystems (e.g. mangroves, coral reefs) by altering water flow and depleting nutrient sources.
HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT
Seaweeds and other marine algae are used as additives in animal feed, compost and fertilizer, and as stabilizers, thickeners, emulsifiers, and supplements for nutritional health or taste enhancement in food for human consumption (e.g. ice cream, yogurt, mayonnaise). They are also used in cosmetics, toothpaste and other body products.
ECONOMIC IMPACT
The genus Porphyra includes approximately 70 species of intertidal red algae used for human food or nutritional supplement and may be the most harvested and cultivated type of seaweed worldwide.  In Japan alone, the cultivation of Porphyra is said to be worth US $1 billion each year (Blouin et al. 2010).



Sponges

Sponges are primarily harvested for use as bath sponges. Some are also used medically, to dress wounds, as contraceptives or to absorb menstrual flow. Chemical compounds found in marine sponges, probably made by the bacteria that inhabit their tissues, have provided important medicines for cancer, HIVAIDS and other illnesses. 

Sponges are a diverse aquatic invertebrate phylum, with over 7000 living species found in a wide range of marine environments. A few species (~150) live in freshwater and brackish water, but the vast majority are marine, with different species found from tropical coral reefs to arctic waters, and from coastal, shallow waters to the deepest parts of the ocean (Lavrov 2009; Hogg et al. 2010).

Sponges are essential components for a healthy ecosystem in terms of their high biomass and water filtration and nitrification abilities. They also contribute to the biodiversity of habitats by providing shelter and breeding grounds for numerous marine species and microorganisms.

Although the increased use of artificial sponges has led to a significant decrease in commercial fishing for sponges, overfishing, disease and rising sea temperatures have all contributed to declines in local sponge populations over the past century.

How Was It Measured?

The Ocean Health Index measurements are based on data for the number of tons of sponges exported on a per country basis. The intensity of harvest per km2 of potential habitat for a country was determined according to export data (1976-2008) from the FAO Global Commodities database using the categories Natural Sponges Not Elsewhere Indicated (nei), Natural Sponges other than raw, Natural Sponges raw, and coral and rocky reef extent data from Halpern et al. 2008.

For the monetary value data, nominal dollars ("observed measure unit - US Dollar"), as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), were converted into constant 2008 USD using CPI adjustment data (Sahr 2011 http://oregonstate.edu/cla/polisci/sahr/sahr).

What Are The Impacts?

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT
Bottom trawling fishing methods damage or destroy sponge habitats and result in large amounts of bycatch.

Sponges provide shelter, structural habitat, and water filtration for numerous species.

Deep sea sponge communities are not harvested commercially and are not included in the Ocean Health Index since global data are not available. Deep sea sponge communities are susceptible to damage by deep sea fish trawling. These communities are oases of biodiversity and shelter large populations of fish that are of commercial interest, but that are difficult to harvest sustainably, because the sponges and cold water corals that form their intricate architecture are very fragile, slow growing and may take a century or more to recover from damage (Hogg et al. 2010).
HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT
Marine sponges yield many chemical compounds that are being used or tested to treat cancer, HIV/AIDS and as antibiotics. Many of the compounds appear to be produced by bacteria that live within the sponges' tissues. 

ECONOMIC IMPACT
The most commercially important sponges are those that consist of soft fibers of spongin protein [Demospongeae]. Overfishing has depleted populations of soft sponges and prices have increased substantially. As a result, commercial sponge fishing has suffered as more affordable synthetic substitutes now dominate the market for human use.



Shells

‘Seashells’ are the hard outer casings (exoskeletons) made by marine animals for the protection and support of internal organs. Although a number of marine groups, including Crustaceans (e.g. crabs, lobsters), Echinoderms (e.g. starfish, sea urchins), Polychaete worms, and others make exoskeletons, the term seashell typically refers to the shells produced by marine Molluscs (e.g. clams, mussels, snails, conchs etc.); this is how the term was used in the Ocean Health Index.

Seashells have been traded and collected for centuries for use in jewelry, decoration, religious ceremonies, and currency. Today, trade in shells, pearls, and shell products remain an important part of many local economies.

How Was It Measured?

The Ocean Health Index measured the harvest of shells in terms of tons exported per country according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Global Commodities database (1976-2010), using the listings for Miscellaneous Corals and Shells, Abalone Shells, Mother of Pearl shells, Oyster shells, Sea snail shells, Trochus shells and ‘Shells not otherwise listed’.

The intensity of harvesting (exposure) was calculated as tons exported per km2 of potential habitat. Potential habitat was estimated as area of coral reef and rocky reef using data from Halpern et al. (2008). Exposure values were rescaled to between 0-1 using the global maximum intensity of harvest as the maximum value and 0 as the minimum value.

For the monetary value data, nominal dollars, as reported by FAO ("observed measure unit - US Dollar"), were converted into constant 2008 USD using CPI adjustment data (Sahr 2011; http://oregonstate.edu/cla/polisci/sahr/sahr).

What Are The Impacts?

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT
The shells of living and/or dead mollusks provide habitats for plants, invertebrates, small fish, and crustaceans (e.g. Hermit Crab). Vital habitats can be destroyed when disturbed by harvesters and/or collectors in search of shell species.

Populations of some important shell species are in decline in certain areas, due to anthropogenic pressures such as overfishing, habitat destruction, and pollution.

Shells and shell fragments are an important component of some sandy beaches.
HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT
Certain species of molluscs that are prized for their shells can also produce clinically important toxins that are harvested for medicinal use (e.g. Cone Snail).
ECONOMIC IMPACT
The harvest of shell species, and the subsequent transformation into craftwork for the shell trade, provides a significant source of jobs and livelihoods for coastal communities, particularly in developing countries.



Fish Oil

Fish oil is a product of the fishing industry that is most commonly derived from small, pelagic species of fish that have low market value for direct consumption (e.g. anchovies, herring, sardines) (Tacon 2006). The oil can be produced either from the whole fish or from its liver, and it is most often sold as an ingredient for aquaculture feed, but is also used for human dietary supplements.

The fish species that are used to produce fish oil are primarily wild-caught, and in many cases their stocks are being depleted due to unsustainable fishing practices.  Countries do not specify the species they use to produce fish oil, so sustainability is estimated based on the overall stock status for the species harvested in each country, as detailed above in the main 'How Was It Measured?' section.  

Rising costs for fish, energy, fish processing and fishery resources have led to a decrease in the amount of fish oil and fishmeal used worldwide. As a result, some nations are currently exploring alternate methods of producing fish oil, which include utilizing krill populations. Since krill themselves are a primary food source for many marine species, depleting their populations could affect ecosystem and food web structure. Certain types of algae, yeast and plants are also being considered as alternative sources for human dietary supplements and for possible for use as aquaculture feed.

Total production of fish oil in 2006 was 0.943 million tonnes, of which 88.5% was used as an additive to industrially compounded feed for aquaculture of shrimp and fish (FAO, cited in Tacon and Metian 2008).

How Was It Measured?

Data were drawn from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Global Commodities database for 1976-2010, using the following categories: Alaska pollock oil nei, Anchoveta oil, Capelin oil, Clupeoid oils nei, Cod liver oil, Fish body oils nei, Fish liver oils nei, Gadoid liver oils nei, Hake liver oil, Halibuts liver oils, Herring oil, Jack mackerel oil, Menhaden oil, Pilchard oil, Redfish oil, Sardine oil, Shark liver oil, Shark oil, Squid oil.

The Status of fish oil production was calculated as the current harvest level relative to its (buffered) peak reference point, multiplied by the sustainability of the harvest. 

To calculate sustainability for Fish Oil, each fish stock is assigned an exploitation status based on its biomass relative to its calculated biomass at maximum sustainable yield (B/BMSY) and multiplied by a penalty factor when B deviates from BMSY by more than 5%. Overharvesting is penalized by successively greater penalties the smaller B is relative to BMSY.  Underharvesting is also penalized when B > BMSY, but only half as severely as overharvesting. The sustainability of a country’s Fish Oil exports is expressed as the yield-weighted sustainability of its fishery stocks. See Fisheries: Status for details on how stock status is calculated. 

Trend was calculated as the change of Status over the five most recent years of data.

What Are The Impacts?

ECOLOGICAL IMPACT
The fish species that are used to produce fish oil are primarily wild-caught, and in many cases their stocks are being depleted due to unsustainable fishing practices. As these small, pelagic species tend to be a primary food source for many marine species, depleting their populations could affect ecosystem and food web structure.
HUMAN HEALTH IMPACT
Fish oil is often used as a human dietary supplement because the oil derived from certain species tend to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed by many to promote a healthy cardio-vascular system. These cardiovascular benefits are attributed to the fact that the presence of omega-3s in the blood inhibits the formation of blood clots and reduces inflammation in the blood vessels.

These supplements should be taken with doctor’s approval and may have side effects.
ECONOMIC IMPACT
The fact that costs for fish, energy, fish processing and fishery resources are continuing to rise has led to a decrease in the amount of fish oil and fishmeal used worldwide.



Corals

The corals assessed in the Natural Products goal all come from tropical coral reefs, which live in warm, clear water at relatively shallow depths. ‘Hard’ corals use calcium carbonate from seawater to synthesize a hard, mineral protective shell around each polyp. These exoskeletons, along with shells formed by coralline algae, mollusks and tubeworms, spicules made by sponges, and shells of other calcifying species form the structural foundation of coral reefs. Corals catch plankton with their tentacles, but most of their nutrition comes from photosynthetic algae that live in their tissues, using the coral’s waste products for their own nutrition and feeding the corals with sugars and other nutritious compounds that leak through their cell membranes.

When healthy, these reefs are intricately patterned carpets of life containing countless nooks and crannies inhabited by representatives of nearly every major taxonomic group.  These tightly integrated systems providing food and shelter to a spectacular variety of fish and invertebrate species, including many of commercial value.

How Was It Measured?

Most of the trade in corals is classified under ISSCFC codes 291.1.5.10, ‘Coral and the like’ and 291.1.5.90, ‘Miscellaneous corals and shells.’  Explanatory HS notes define coral is the calcareous skeleton of a marine polyp that is generally used for articles of jewelry and indicated that the category includes coral that is ‘unworked’ (that is, only the outer crust has been removed) or ‘simply prepared’ (that is, not having undergone processes extending beyond simple cutting).  This category does not include live corals exported for aquarium use and, in fact, no data on that trade are available.

What Are The Impacts?


Ecological Impact
Overharvesting for coral as a natural product probably may not be extensive enough to destroy reef structure, but can harm target species.  

Populations of rare precious corals used for jewelry, such as black coral, gold coral and red coral, can easily be extirpated by overharvesting, especially because most grow very slowly.

Coral reefs are affected by many other pressures, including rising sea temperature, ocean acidification (lowered pH), destructive fishing practices (dynamite and cyanide), breakage by natural causes (hurricanes) or carelessness (boat anchors, trampling by snorkelers), pollution and sedimentation.  

Human Health Impact
Harvesting coral for Natural Product purposes may not be sufficiently extensive to impact human health. The products made from coral are mainly ornamental. 
Economic Impact
The very high economic value of tropical coral reefs derives from their environmental services, primarily food production, coastal protection and biodiversity. The economic benefit from coral harvests for jewelry or other Natural Products use is comparatively small, though it may be locally important. Such harvests are not likely to reduce the ability of tropical coral reefs to deliver ecosystem services, though they have the potential to decrease biodiversity locally. 


References




PHOTO(S): © Keith A. Ellenbogen
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