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    5 Reasons NOT to Buy “Japanese” Corals

    Recently livestock retailers have begun using the J word again–“Japanese”. In this industry if you add Japanese, Australian or Deepwater before any animal, a premium pricetag is married to the name. Very rarely do these animals live up their marketing description and in some cases that’s a good thing, because they may put someone behind bars. If you see a coral labeled as Japanese, outside of Japan, be wary. Here’s why

    Japanese Corals Illegal

    A reef tank in Japan with locally collected azoox corals.

    Recently livestock retailers have begun using the J word again–“Japanese”. In this industry if you add Japanese, Australian or Deepwater before any animal, a premium pricetag is married to the name. Very rarely do these animals live up their marketing description and in some cases that’s a good thing, because they may put someone behind bars. If you see a coral labeled as Japanese, outside of Japan, be wary. Here’s why:

    5 Reasons NOT to Buy “Japanese” Corals

    #1 | They are ILLEGAL.

    • Yes, the export of live (‘stony’) corals from Japan is illegal. By buying Japanese corals you are supporting a black market that is giving this industry and hobby a black eye.

    #2 | It’s probably not from Japan.

    • We’re not sure which is worse, that most of the corals are not illegal or that livestock retailers will do anything for a sale. Do livestock retailers lie to its customers? Sadly, yes.

    #3 | Unethical stores use the marketing term, or, buy the illegal animals.

    • If the retailer is outside of Japan and selling corals “from Japan,” they are either selling illegal animals or lying. Is that  a business you wish to support? What does that say about their credibility in terms of animal care or customer service in the event of coral mortality?

    #4 | If truly Japanese = Longer Supply Chain

    • As live coral exports from Japan are illegal, they are often first shipped to a neighboring country and then to the final destination under false paperwork. This means more time in bags, more shipping and more stress to the animal.

    #5 | See #1 & 2!

    • Recently the craze has been deepwater Japanese zoanthids. The large majority are neither from Japan or collected in deepwater. If you see a retailer using the word Japanese I would urge you to avoid them, or better yet–ask them for paperwork!

    [update made 5/1 for language. Japan prohibits exports on ‘scleractinia’, this includes SPS, LPS, and often the substrate that soft corals are attached]

    20 Comments

    1. nicholassadaka
      April 29, 2010 at 4:01 PM | Permalink

      Eric, I swear I'm not trying to stir the pot, just curious what your honest opinion is-would you turn in a store selling these? I think I would.

    2. rick
      April 29, 2010 at 6:39 PM | Permalink

      is this like rhizos and stuff?

    3. April 29, 2010 at 9:35 PM | Permalink

      Hi Rick. Rhizos, Micros, Acans and Zoas are the most common species sold as “Japanese”.

      For example if we search for “Japanese Micromussa” there are 30 hits just in the last month:
      http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&as_q=Japanes

    4. April 29, 2010 at 9:45 PM | Permalink

      Nicholas, that's a personal judgement call and difficult to answer, largely due to the legal implications, point of sale & paperwork. Ultimately it is the individuals smuggling the animals that need to be turned in.

      US FIsh & Wildlife is aware of this activity. If there were a real threat of being reported for this behavior I suspect the number of falsely claimed Japanese corals would reduce drastically.

    5. jmaneyapanda
      April 30, 2010 at 9:10 AM | Permalink

      I don't understand why people are having difficulty seeing that Eric is SPOT ON! These corals are illegal to export, so no one stateside should have them, or be selling them. If they are, then it is nefarious, in one, shape, or form. Whether it be by deceitful marketing, illegal importing, or otherwise. And, as mentioned, our “hobby” doesn't need any more strikes against it. And greed and notoriety dont help it.

    6. nicholassadaka
      April 30, 2010 at 9:28 AM | Permalink

      Thanks Eric. I always wondered who sort of took responsibility for turning in places doing these kinds of things. I would have no problem personally doing so, but was unsure how that kind of thing worked. So, it sounds like basically our main job as consumers is simply to not purchase these items to discourage the sale, but it would be more of a government agency's responsibility to catch the actual illegal importation…right?

    7. pickle
      April 30, 2010 at 12:48 PM | Permalink

      I think it's much more likely that these corals are not actually smuggled from Japan, but perhaps resemble many of the exceptional coral varieties that are sold and propagated in Japan. Not that it makes it much better, but the “Japanese” term is most likely marketing-speak to drive up prices.

      For example, the relatively common “UFO Micromussa” is often labeled as “Japanese Micromussa,” likely because someone saw a picture of a Japanese tank or Japanese shop site that had something that looked identical to it.

    8. sammckinley
      April 30, 2010 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

      This has sparked quite a debate on some forums, including my local one (wamas.org). Would you mind citing some sources to help everyone out? According to someone on the forum who supposedly spoke to one of the Fish & Wildlife Service, only some corals are illegal for export. Care to shed any light?

    9. May 1, 2010 at 8:33 AM | Permalink

      Hi Sam,

      Stony corals (Scleractinia) are illegal to export from Japan for the ornamental fish & coral trade. This means SPS, LPS, and in some cases soft corals. For Soft corals, the deciding factor is often the substrate which they are attached to.

      For example, zoanthids on liverock could be considered illegal because of the rock itself, or the small stony corals living on it. However, based on my understanding from friends in Japan, a head of Sarcophyton that lacks substrate should technically be legal–albeit still difficult to export.

      Additionally, the smuggling of corals to a neighboring country (most frequently Hong Kong) does not magically make the corals 'legal' as some people has assumed.

      Your best sources for this information is Japan's METI. The basis for this post stems from multiple discussions with folks in the industry both in the U.S. and in Japan. USFW Inspectors in LAX are aware of the issue. HTH.

    10. jmaneyapanda
      May 1, 2010 at 10:05 AM | Permalink

      To elaborate a little more, USFWS follows very specific guidelines when inspecting and issuing permits for imports. As stonay corals are on CITES appendix II, there MUST be appropriate documentation from USFWS as well as the nation of export, as well as documentation from the country of origin, as needed. Without it, USFWS wont allow the import. In this case, if the corals were labelled from Japan (on import documents, etc), then there would need to be a CITES permit from the Japanese wildlife enforcement for the import, depite what has been discussed with the importer and USFWS. And, as Eric stated, this is what makes smuggled corals just as atrocious, and improper (and likely for confiscation by USFWS) as others illegally collected and/or imported.

    11. Ian
      May 1, 2010 at 10:53 AM | Permalink

      Stonay Corals? Must be a Georgia thing…

      Great article Eric, props for bringing light to this subject. People seem to think there are loopholes to make this legal and it needs to be known that this isn't accurate…..

    12. May 5, 2010 at 3:32 PM | Permalink

      Japan is not a CITES country and you will not get a CITES permit from them. That is the whole reason why they are illegal. So there is no CITES permit from Japan.

    13. Johnny
      May 10, 2010 at 1:22 AM | Permalink

      This is the dumbest article I have ever read…

    14. jmaneyapanda
      May 10, 2010 at 6:10 PM | Permalink

      Can you cite a source stating that Japan doesnt participate in CITES? As far as I know, they do indeed. Regardless, to import ANY CITES appendix II into the US, a CITES permit from the export country is required.

    15. LOL at this guy
      August 4, 2010 at 9:32 AM | Permalink

      ^ Vendor who sells “Japanese” corals much?

    16. JIMMYb
      August 11, 2010 at 3:00 PM | Permalink

      Or a hobbyist with even a shred of knowledge, or one who saw the article before the edit when the author made a pretty blatantly incorrect statement, potentially quite damaging to an honest retailer

    17. Forumrebel
      August 12, 2010 at 9:46 PM | Permalink

      Illegal to export stony coral. Does anyone of you know that zoanthids are NOT stony coral??? hello???

    18. jmaneyapanda
      August 12, 2010 at 10:06 PM | Permalink

      Yes, “Forumrebel”, you are in fact correct. Zoanthids, are indeed not stony corals. However, if they are shipped on live calcareous material, that IS in fact, illegal from Japan, and prosecutable under the Lacey Act in the USA. And the other corals mentioned and pictured, are, in fact, stony corals (ie- rhizos).

    19. matt
      August 14, 2010 at 12:14 AM | Permalink

      It’s so funny, why don’t people go to the source…

      http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/parties/alphabet.shtml

      Japan is listed as a CITES country….If you’d like to see whether Japan lists a certain species, see here http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html

    20. matt
      August 13, 2010 at 7:14 PM | Permalink

      It's so funny, why don't people go to the source…

      http://www.cites.org/eng/disc/parties/alphabet….

      Japan is listed as a CITES country….If you'd like to see whether Japan lists a certain species, see here http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html

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      […] Another interesting link. 5 Reasons NOT to Buy “Japanese” Corals "Recently the craze has been deepwater Japanese zoanthids. The large majority are neither […]

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