Updated: Aug 15, 2020
By Ryan Chin
Queenfish. Groupers. Trevallies. These are some words bound to make any Singaporean angler drool before being transported into the reverie of their next fishing trip. Even for individuals just starting their fishing journey, these trophies hold firm as their dream catches. However, there is also another lesser-known pursuit of fishing, especially anonymous in Singapore. It's called lifelisting.
Above: Singapore boasts marine biodiversity that is often overlooked, even by some anglers
What is Lifelisting?
For those acquainted with Pokémon, the principles behind lifelisting will sound familiar. As a lifelister, you "gotta catch em' all". While I am not a fan of the game, I do appreciate this concept when applied to our interactions with the environment through fishing. The objective of a lifelister is to document as many species of fish as possible. This exposes the angler to different techniques to "unlock" new and rare species. As a result, lifelisting allows you to come across types of fish that you wouldn't encounter otherwise and expands your knowledge of the various players that constitute our marine ecosystem.
Another feature of lifelisting is the flexibility of rules. Individuals are free to come up with their own regulations in their pursuit of new species. Here are some common rules widely accepted in the community:
The fish documented must be caught on hook and line
The fish must be hooked in the mouth
The fish should be clearly documented by a photo displaying the species' unique characteristics
Above: An Orbiculate Cardinalfish (Sphaeramia orbicularis) is just one example of the weird and wonderful species that a lifelister can encounter, and cannot be targeted by gamefishing!
Finally, the defining hallmark of a lifelister is his dedication to protecting the environment. Being exposed to the incredible diversity of fish that our waters have to offer naturally inculcates a deep sense of appreciation for the environment in most lifelisters. Therefore, members of the community pride themselves in keeping the fishing area clean, practicing sustainable fishing, and catch and release.
What does Lifelisting have to do with Marine Stewards?
Lifelisting's potential to promote marine conservation is encapsulated by a slogan of Marine Stewards - "You can't love what you don't know". Only through spending time out on the water, pursuing, documenting, and learning about new species of fish can we gain knowledge of the aquatic world that Marine Stewards strives to safeguard! As mentioned earlier, lifelisting already advocates many sustainable fishing practices in line with the Marine Stewards' vision. Area cleaning is a habit encouraged among members of Marine Stewards, while selective harvesting and releasing juveniles is what Marine Stewards promotes through our fish ID cards!
Above: A stunning specimen of Bluespotted Watchman Goby (Cryptocentrus pavoninoides), caught along Singapore's shores
Here's a Bluespotted Watchman Goby. Isn't it beautiful? An interesting fact about this fish is that as its name suggests, it has a symbiotic relationship with little pistol shrimp. This means that the two animals require each other to survive. The shrimp builds a burrow for the pair to live in, while the goby protects the shrimp from predators with its strong jaws! (Trust me, they're strong - you can ask my finger!) Of course, this majestic creature was released immediately after this photo to rejoin its shrimp of a friend :)
It's really a miracle of nature how two organisms that look and behave so differently can form such a mutual relationship, yet many people, even those who fish regularly, don't even know of their existence! If only more people knew about them! After all, how do you protect something if you don't even know what it is? By becoming a lifelister and sharing your catches and stories with those around you, we can inspire many more people to take responsibility for the marine ecosystem!
Above: A residential False Scorpionfish (Centrogenys vaigiensis) caught at Bedok Jetty
Here's another case study - the False Scorpionfish. With all its spines, sharp gill plates, and camouflage patterns, it looks pretty deadly! Well, if you thought the same as me, the False Scorpionfish has fooled both you and its predators! Behind those sneaky green eyes lies a fish that is completely harmless! This adaptation is called mimicry, whereby one animal looks like another dangerous one to deter predators from hunting it. In this case, as the name suggests, the False Scorpionfish takes after and lives side by side with the much larger Painted Scorpionfish (Parascorpaena picta). Clever, right? Yet another species that can only be found through the art of lifelisting!
Above: A picture of a cute Flagfin Prawn-Goby (Mahidolia mystacina)
In addition, lifelisting happens to contribute to one of our projects here at Marine Stewards - Codefish-SG. It's a project initiated by Dr. Zeehan Jaafar to build Singapore's first DNA fish library to keep track of the species residing in our waters. And they need our help! Above is a picture of a Flagfin Prawn-Goby, coincidentally the 100th species on my lifelist! While it may not look particularly stunning, it was actually one of the species eligible to be added to the DNA library, if only I had known about it earlier! Nevertheless, this shows the potential for lifelisters to contribute to marine conservation, not only in our actions but in a scientific capacity as well! How cool is that?
Why should I start lifelisting?
If the above reasons aren't enough to convince you to at least give lifelisting a go, here are more incentives to try it! Most notably, the catch rates of lifelisting are relatively high compared to game fishing. Having the objective to document various species of fish, you tend to be less picky about size or type of fish, making every catch a valuable one! This also makes lifelisting more beginner-friendly, as very basic equipment is needed to start out! I've taught friends to lifelist using a $5 rod-and-reel setup, and they've caught close to 15 species of fish in a single trip! Furthermore, the fact that you aren't targeting a specific fish, but anything that bites means that you will inevitably catch more fish, more frequently! Definitely a perk for those who consider themselves too impatient for regular fishing!
There's an estimated 765 species of fish in Singapore according to global lifelisting website specieshunters.com. While this is just a rough figure, it shows that there are plenty of fish in the sea to add to your lifelist, not to mention the many places in Singapore to catch them - we are an island-nation, after all! :)
Above: Lifelisting is easy to pick up, and there are plenty of conveniently-accessed locations in Singapore where you can try your luck! (Legal ones, of course!)
Finally, lifelisting equips you with the rare skill of fish identification! For a species to count for your lifelist, you have to know what it is! After building up a wealth of knowledge, imagine how cool it would be to instantly identify any fish your fishing friends show you! That's a monocle bream! Did you catch a wasp fish? Woah, be careful with that, it's poisonous! Nice fusilier! Did you know that they're widely used to make fish balls? I suggest you release it as their populations are declining!
How do I start Lifelisting?
As mentioned earlier, you really don't need much to start lifelisting! Take a look at the picture below, where I caught a leatherjacket with a rod bought for $5!
Above: Fanbellied Leatherjacket (Monacanthus chinensis) caught at Changi Village!
Apart from the rod and reel, you just need a couple of weights, sabiki rigs (or small hooks if you can tie your own rigs), and some bait (Singapore fish seem to like pieces of prawn best). Then head off to the nearest fishing destination - Marina South Pier, Changi Boardwalk, Bedok Jetty, Punggol Waterfront, and Sembawang Park are all good options to get started! Read up on various fish species on a local website like http://handlinefishing.com/ or global ones like https://www.fishbase.se/. Chat with the regulars, learn a tip or two and show off your catches to your friends! With time and perseverance, you will be a fish expert to be reckoned with, ready to protect the waters that we hold so dear!
So what are you waiting for? Phase 2 has begun and fishing is allowed again! Get out there, grab some fish (practising selective harvesting and social distancing) and add them to your brand-new lifelist! And do wear your mask :)
Not sure where to start?
1. Find out about the Codefish-SG project Marine Stewards is involved in here to contribute!
2. Check out my own lifelist here for reference!
3. Take a look at my Youtube channel here and Instagram @the_fishing_chinchilla to see what lifelisting is like!
4. Look out for future articles about lifelisting, such as Fish ID Skills, Lifelist Techniques and some local species you may come across while lifelisting!
5. Don't know how to fish? Pick up fishing here in the Beginner Angler's Course
Thanks for reading, stay safe and tight lines!
Ryan, the Fishing Chinchilla
About Marine Stewards
Marine Stewards is a non-profit whose mission is to promote a healthy fishing culture through sustainable fishing guidelines, education and outreach.
Volunteer: We welcome all volunteers, email firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author:
Ryan is a multispecies angler determined to protect the different specimens he documents.