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Consultation Process on

Monitoring of International Trade in

Ornamental Fish


Prepared for

European Commission
Directorate General E - Environment
ENV.E.2. – Development and Environment


United Nations Environment Programme

World Conservation Monitoring Centre
The UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre is the biodiversity assessment and policy
implementation arm of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s
foremost intergovernmental environmental organisation. UNEP-WCMC aims to help
decision-makers recognize the value of biodiversity to people everywhere, and to apply this
knowledge to all that they do. The Centre’s challenge is to transform complex data into
policy-relevant information, to build tools and systems for analysis and integration, and to
support the needs of nations and the international community as they engage in joint
programmes of action.

UNEP-WCMC provides objective, scientifically rigorous products and services that include
ecosystem assessments, support for implementation of environmental agreements, regional
and global biodiversity information, research on threats and impacts, and development of
future scenarios for the living world.

The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) drafted the section on MAC certification. The IUCN
Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment Unit undertook the analysis and drafted some of the
section on African species threatened by trade. Both organisations provided a review and
general input to the document.

Prepared for European Commission Directorate

General E – Environment ENV.E.2. – Development
and Environment

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© Copyright: European Commission, 2008

The contents of this report do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of UNEP or
contributory organisations. The designations employed and the presentations do not imply
the expressions of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNEP, the European Commission
or contributory organisations concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area
or its authority, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

1.  THE GLOBAL TRADE IN AQUATIC ORNAMENTALS ....................................................................1 
1.1.  INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................................1  
1.2.  TRADE DATA................................................................................................................................2 
2.  MARINE ORNAMENTALS .........................................................................................................2 
2.1.  TROPICAL COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS ....................................................................................................2  
2.2.  THE TRADE IN MARINE ORNAMENTALS ..............................................................................................2  
2.2.1.  Species in trade ..............................................................................................................4  
2.2.2.  Common practices and techniques................................................................................4  
2.2.3.  Mortality.........................................................................................................................5  
2.2.4.  Vulnerability to exploitation...........................................................................................5  
2.3.  SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS .........................................................................................8  
2.3.1.  Organization of the trade ...............................................................................................8  
2.3.2.  People & livelihoods.......................................................................................................9  
2.3.3.  Issues affecting long‐term sustainability......................................................................10 
2.3.4.  Awareness raising.........................................................................................................10  
2.3.5.  Education and Research ...............................................................................................11  
2.3.6.  Marine Aquaculture .....................................................................................................11  
3.  FRESHWATER ORNAMENTALS ...............................................................................................13 
3.1.  FRESHWATER ECOSYSTEMS...........................................................................................................13  
3.1.1.  Values & services..........................................................................................................14  
3.1.2.  The Regions ..................................................................................................................14  
3.2.  THE TRADE IN FRESHWATER ORNAMENTALS .....................................................................................15 
3.2.1.  Species in trade ............................................................................................................15  
3.2.2.  Common practices & techniques .................................................................................19 
3.2.3.  Mortality.......................................................................................................................19  
3.2.4.  Vulnerability to exploitation.........................................................................................19  
3.2.5.  Invasive species ............................................................................................................21  
3.2.6.  Disease .........................................................................................................................21  
3.3.  SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC CONSIDERATIONS .......................................................................................22  
3.3.1.  People & livelihoods.....................................................................................................22  
3.3.2.  Fair trade ......................................................................................................................22  
3.3.3.  Freshwater aquaculture ...............................................................................................22  
3.3.4.  Sustainable use initiatives ............................................................................................24  
3.3.5.  Awareness raising.........................................................................................................25  
4.  LITERATURE ..........................................................................................................................26 



Ornamental aquarium species supply a multi-million dollar industry involving the
farming or harvest, sale and use of live marine and freshwater animals for display in
aquaria, garden ponds and lakes. This report considers the trade in fish, although
plants and invertebrates are also involved.
The aquarium trade is a global industry of significant economic importance. The
World Customs Organisation Market access map 1 indicates that global exports of
ornamental fish in 2005 were valued at US$237,636,000 and that global imports were
worth US$282,549,000. Estimates suggest that, in terms of value, the majority (at least
90%) of the trade in ornamental species comprises freshwater species (Basleer, 1994
cited by Gerstner et al., 2006; Olivier, 2001; Henley, 1984 cited by Andrews, 1990).
Aquarium keeping has become increasingly popular in industrialized countries and
has been rated as the second most popular hobby and the most popular type of pet
(Olivier, 2001). The National Pet Owners Survey 2007-2008 revealed that 142 million
freshwater and 9.6 million saltwater fish were kept as pets in the US (APPMA, 2008).
Although freshwater species have dominated the ornamental trade in terms of value
and volume, from the end of the 20th century the trade in marine tropical species and
live coral reef appears to show a growing trend, and prices have become increasingly
affordable for European and American markets (Andrews, 1990; Olivier, 2001).
Most marine ornamental fish are harvested from the wild, with only 1-10% of species
in trade estimated to be captive-bred (Wabnitz et al., 2003). By contrast,
approximately 90% of freshwater ornamental fish were reported to be captive-bred
(Andrews, 1990; Olivier, 2001; Tlusty, 2002). Junk (1984b) noted that many
ornamental fish are bred in high numbers in South East Asia, Europe and the US.
However, although the majority of freshwater fish in the trade were captive-bred,
significant numbers were also removed from the wild (Andrews, 1990). Several
authors noted that virtually all of the trade from South America involves wild
specimens (Crampton, 1999b; Junk, 1984b; Olivier, 2001), as cultivation in this region
was considered uneconomical (Crampton, 1999b; Junk, 1984b). Gerstner et al. (2006)
suggested that the number of wild-caught freshwater fish in the trade far exceeds the
number of wild-caught marine fish.
Issues related to sustainability and methods for monitoring the trade have been
addressed through the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Bartley,
2000), the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on Trade in
Endangered Species. In the marine sector, growing consumer concern for

1 http://www.macmap.org

environmental issues and sourcing resulted in several ecological labeling schemes for
fish and corals and the establishment of the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC)
(Olivier, 2001). No equivalent body has been established in the freshwater sector.


Trade data on aquatic ornamentals at the global or regional level are compiled by
various organizations, each of which collects different types of information.
Summary data from a number of databases are provided in Annex 1 to this report, in
particular the UN Comtrade database, the World Customs Organisation database,
the EU Export Helpdesk, and from data collected through the EU Veterinary
Most of these data sources do not distinguish between the marine and freshwater
sectors and the figures relate to one or more of: weight, number of organisms or
value. As a result, it is not possible to compare directly the data from the different
sources. Furthermore, the measures used have their limitations – estimates based on
freight weight are affected by fish size and the volume of water in which the fish are
transported, while estimates based on economic value will be subject to inflation,
fluctuations in currency values and price to consumer. Moreover, datasets are also
variable in terms of the years for which there is data available. Nevertheless, the data
within each category can be used to demonstrate where markets exist, to identify
major exporting and importing countries, and to gain an impression about the
relative levels of trade.



Marine ornamental species involved in the aquarium trade are mostly associated
with coral reefs from tropical coastal seas. Coral reefs provide millions of people
with a range of benefits including fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. Most
coral reefs are located in developing countries, with millions depending directly on
them as a source of protein and, at least in part, for their livelihoods. Reefs also
support non-food commercial fisheries including the marine ornamental fishery
(Spalding et al., 2001).
Coral reefs face an increasing number of threats, including overfishing, destructive
fishing methods (breaking corals or using chemicals), coral mining, sedimentation as
a result of poor land use practices, marine pollution, boat anchoring, tourism-related
activities (Rajasuriya et al., 1998), periodic infestations of crown of thorns star fish,
and coral bleaching episodes (Hughes, 2003; McClanahan, 2002). Reefs of South East
Asia, the most important source of the majority of animals in the marine ornamental
trade, are particularly at risk, with 88% of all reefs at medium to very high threat
from anthropogenic impacts (Chou et al., 2002; Lecchini et al., 2006).


Wood (2001) estimated that about 14-30 million coral reef fish were collected every
year for the aquarium trade and Wabnitz et al. (2003) estimated annual global trade

in marine species of between 20 and 24 million individuals. Although at present the
ornamental industry is dominated by mostly freshwater species, experts have
indicated that increasing popularity for coral reef aquaria may become the dominant
trend during the 21st century (Olivier, 2001).
Concerns have been raised by conservationists and marine biologists about the
effects of the industry on coral reef habitats and their species (Andrews, 1990), in
particular the state of the South East Asian marine ornamental stock (Lecchini et al.,
2006). Threats include overexploitation of target species, secondary effects on coral
reef communities, high post-harvest mortality levels and damaging methods of
collection (Wood, 2001a).
Interviews with collectors and suppliers in Sri Lanka indicated a declining trend in
marine ornamental fish abundance, with catch effort increasing greatly, while export
data showed a decrease from 1996-1999 and a consistent demand for ornamental
species (Wilhelmsson et al., 2002). Most of those interviewed considered coral
bleaching to be the greatest cause for declining catches as well as an increased
number of fish collectors, destructive methods used for fish food and to a lesser
extent ornamental collection, water pollution, coral mining and contamination of
water by waste (Wilhelmsson et al., 2002).
Although the collection of ornamental fish from coral reefs has been recognized as
having potential impacts on coral degradation, the extent of the activity has not been
quantified and may often be one of many extractive activities that occur (Wood,
2001). Other direct uses of coral and marine fauna may include the reef fish food
trade, traditional small-scale fisheries, the jewellery and curio trades, construction
materials, traditional medicines and pharmaceuticals (Liebermann & Field, 2001).
Other indirect factors can influence the state of aquarium fisheries such as pollution,
war, political upheaval, deforestation or airline strikes (Olivier, 2001). For example,
trade from Eritrea virtually stopped several times due to political instability and war
(Daw et al., 2001).
Many traders argue that the collection of specimens for the aquarium trade does not
significantly impact reef fish populations which are continually replenished (Wood,
2001a). This may be the case in areas where the fishery has been relatively small and
the resource is plentiful. Catch per Unit Effort (CPUE) recorded in 1990 over four
years in the Cook Islands showed that levels had remained constant and was likely
to be sustainable (Bertram, 1996). In the ornamental fisheries on the Great Barrier
Reef in Australia, although the total annual harvest was 200,000 fish, a single coral
reef can support 10 million fish (QFMA, 1999).
Dawes (2002) highlighted that the ornamental marine fish harvest (70-100 tonnes)
represented a maximum of one millionth (0.00007-0.0001%) of the food fish harvest
(100 million tonnes) and that even the by-catch (17 million tonnes) produced by the
food fish trade was greater than the harvest for marine ornamentals (representing
Watson & Moreau (2006) argued that the effects of collection for the ornamental
trade “can pale into insignificance compared to major ecosystem threats such as coral
bleaching or forest clearance”. Lubbock & Polunin (1975) reported that the marine
aquarium industry alone is unlikely to endanger a species, although local
extirpations can be caused by unmonitored collection and ecological effects on the
reef ecosystem can add to the range of impacts that exist.

A large proportion of fish species collected for the aquarium trade are small,
brightly-coloured reef fish that survive relatively well in captivity. There is also some
demand for larger fish, particularly in public aquaria which have larger capacity
tanks for sharks, moray eels and groupers (Wood, 2001a). The main marine fish
groups that have dominated the aquarium market are: Pomacentridae,
Acanthuridae, Balistidae, Labridae, Pomacanthidae, Chaetodontidae and
Syngnathidae (Olivier, 2001). Amphiphrion spp., Dascyllus spp., Chaetodon spp. are
among the favoured genera as they are small, robust and long-lived (Olivier, 2001).


At least 95% of the species exploited for the aquarium industry are reportedly taken
directly from the reef (Lecchini et al., 2006). A wide range of collection methods are
used, with scuba or hookah gear commonly being used (Wood, 2001a). The industry
has often received negative publicity concerning damage from collection methods
and high rates of mortality (Wabnitz et al., 2003), although such malpractice is
considered to be the exception rather than the norm (Dawes, 2002). Before collection
begins, the core of good practice is implementing a collection area management plan
to manage the marine aquarium fisheries properly and sustainably (C. Schmidt,
MAC, pers comm., 2007).
Considerable skill is required to collect fish efficiently without causing damage to the
habitat. Techniques vary and may be specific to a particular species. Some collection
techniques have minimal impact on coral reefs (Wood, 2001b). Lines with small
barbless hooks are used for species that are difficult to trap and tubular nets may be
used to catch species that live in burrows as they are tickled out of their hiding place
(Wood & Rajasuriya, 1999; Wood, 2001a). Various types of non-destructive nets are
used in Sri Lanka, Australia, Hawaii and the Pacific (Ogawa & Brown, 2001; Randall,
1987; Wilhelmmson et al., 2002; Wood, 2001a). In the Philippines and Indonesia,
many marine ornamental collectors are free divers, who collect using handmade
goggles and fins and sometimes a piece of rock to go deeper in a short time (Schmidt,
MAC, pers comm., 2007).
Other methods include the “pana”, a rifle using a modified harpoon with a small
needle on the end used for catching Synchiropus splendidus, gobies and blennies. The
“kapandra” or “hookah” methods involve diving methods (with air piped to the
surface) to catch rare fish such as Holacanthus at depths of up to 18 metres (Olivier,
In some cases, damaging techniques are used to collect reef specimens. In Brazil,
corals are often deliberately smashed while harvesting the yellowtail damselfish,
causing extensive damage (Gasparini et al., 2005). As many fish retreat and hide in
burrows in the coral reef, collectors may use chemicals such as tranquilizers and
anaesthetics including cyanide and quinaldine (Wood, 2001a) or poisons such as
rotenone (Lubbock & Polunin, 1975) to make collection easier by temporarily
stunning the fish to increase catch efficiency (Wood, 2001a; Randall, 1987).
The use of cyanide in fisheries has been globally prohibited but enforcement has
been difficult (Wood, 2001). Even though hundreds of thousands of dollars have
been spent by governmental and non-governmental organizations to reform
collection practices and avoid cyanide use, success has been limited (Cruz, 2001).
Quinaldine is prohibited in some parts of the world but allowed for use in other

places such as Florida (Wood, 2001a). Other chemicals that have been used for
collection in Puerto Rico include bleach, formalin and gasoline (Sadovy, 1992). Clove
oil has been suggested as an eco-friendly alternative to these toxic chemicals
(Erdmann, 1999).
Once fish have been caught they may be kept in polythene bags, plastic containers or
a plastic holding cage with a trap door. Deep water fish are brought to the surface
slowly to prevent the bladder bursting (Randall, 1987). Some skilled collectors use a
needle on a syringe to pierce the swim bladder, which avoids the wait and is
apparently not stressful for the fish (Pyle, 1993).
After the fish are landed they are taken for export or to a holding tank, although in
some countries the fish are left in bags for several days with daily water and oxygen
changes (Wood, 2001a). Water quality must be closely monitored to avoid disease.
No standards appear to be in place for holding tanks or filtration systems for the
aquarium trade, although Wood (2001a) observed that great efforts are focused to
increase survival and minimise loss of stock from holding tanks and during onward
transport. Fish are packed separately for transport, in bags and then in Styrofoam
boxes, for a maximum of 48 hours, with 10-60 fish per box depending on the size of
the fish (Wood, 2001a).

Mortality rates in the industry may increase when collectors are unskilled and take
little care of the health and conditions in which the fish are kept (Olivier, 2001). As
Barratt & Medley (1990) pointed out, in cases where collection is undertaken as a
means to supplement the income of people in unrelated professions, the collectors
may not have any formal training, risking increased mortality and overexploitation.
For example, in Brazil, marine fish were reported to be inadequately handled and
stored in most cases (Gasparini et al., 2005) and mortality immediately after collection
and in holding tanks was estimated to be at least 30-40% (Gasparini, pers. obs. 1995-
2003 in Gasparini et al., 2005). Schmidt and Kunzmann (2005) reported post-harvest
mortality rates of 10-40%, with total losses, including injured fish, of between 25-51%
in six consignments delivered to a branch station in Indonesia. Well-managed
shipping and husbandry practices can help keep mortality levels low, as has been
shown by some operators in the industry (Wabnitz et al., 2003).


Fish populations with narrow geographical ranges and low population densities can
be the most vulnerable to exploitation. In general, narrow-endemic species have been
more susceptible to overexploitation. However, vulnerability to exploitation may
vary, as a relatively rare widespread species which occurs at low densities may be
more vulnerable to exploitation than an endemic but highly abundant species
(Wood, 2001a). Lubbock & Polunin (1975) reflected that even marine species with
narrow distributions often occupy a relatively large range in relation to the area in
which they are exploited.
Reproductive factors, including fecundity and the rate and frequency of recruitment,
have a significant impact on the recovery rate of a species after exploitation. The
location of a coral reef may affect its resilience, with species on upstream reefs being
less resilient to exploitation than downstream reefs due to lower fluxes of larval

recruitment (Sale, 2002). Parental care and reproductive strategies that limit breeding
potential are common in reef species, and represented 75.3% of marine aquarium
species in trade from Brazil (Gasparini et al., 2005). Since many adult reef species are
sedentary, when they are removed the site may be depopulated (Olivier, 2001).
Fishing juveniles could be a better method than fishing sedentary adults, which soon
depopulates the reef. Juveniles also adapt better to captivity (Olivier, 2001).
Natural fluctuations in recruitment, in population size, and according to season
should be considered when assessing and managing ornamental fishes (Barratt &
Medley, 1990). For example, some coralivorous species such as butterflyfish have
been shown to decrease following bleaching and coral mortality events
(Wilhelmmson et al., 2002). Olden et al. (2007) found that commercial fishing
activities disproportionately threaten large-bodied marine and freshwater species,
whereas habitat degradation and loss threaten smaller-bodied marine fishes.
The removal of certain species can affect others in unexpected ways through
behavior and dominance (aggressive, territorial behavior) which can affect
distribution of species to the same degree or more as extractive activities themselves
(Lubbock & Polunin, 1975).
The effect of collecting closely-interacting symbiotic species is unknown (Wood,
2001a). Cleaner wrasses, gobies (Côté, 2000) and juvenile fish of species such as
butterflyfish and angelfish remove parasites from other fish and turtles. Fishing
pressure on these species for the marine aquarium trade has the potential to affect
host species that rely on their ‘cleaning services’. The cleaner wrasse Labroides
dimidiatus is a very popular species in the trade and 20,000 were exported annually
from Sri Lanka (Wood & Rajasuriya, 1999). Edward & Shepherd (1992) expressed
concern at the high trade in Labroides from the Maldives and potential negative
impact on the health of other reef fishes. In Brazil, the large harvest of cleaner neon
gobies (Elacatinus figaro or Gobiosoma evelynae) may negatively affect other fish
species, including commercially important ones (Monteiro-Neto et al., 2003).
The Bangaii cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), endemic to the Bangaii Islands (Allen
& Steene, 1995), is widely regarded as vulnerable to exploitation for several reasons.
The population was estimated to be 2.4 million and apparently 700,000-900,000
specimens collected and traded per year have been exported to Europe, the US and
Japan since its rediscovery in 1995 (Kolm & Berglund, 2002). The Bangaii cardinalfish
has a restricted range due to its reproductive strategy of intense parental care: it lacks
a pelagic larval stage (Vagelli, 1999) and has a relatively small clutch size which the
male mouthbroods for 30 days (Kolm, 2004). The natural range of this fish extends
over 5,500km² but because the species occurs at a preferred depth range of 1.5-2.5
metres and only occurs along 426km of coastline at about 100m offshore, its actual
range of distribution is only 34 km² (Dawes, 2007). Kolm & Berglund (2003) observed
a decrease in group size with fishing pressure. These authors pointed out that this
may have indirect effects on characteristics associated with group living such as a
reduced predation dilution and reduction of anti-predator vigilance. Particularly in
view of low dispersal rates and loyal behavior of fish of this species to their group,
indirect effects on group size due to fishing pressure could impact population
dynamics due to lower genetic diversity within groups (Kolm & Berglund, 2003). The
conservation status of this species was discussed at the CITES CoP 14 in June 2007
but the proposal to list it on Appendix II was rejected as its status has been difficult
to assess due to a lack of data and the possibility that the species may be relatively
abundant overall despite localized declines. In September 2007 the SRG

recommended that the species be listed in Annex D to the Wildlife Trade
Culturing can be an alternative to collection from the wild, but it does have
disadvantages (Section 2.3.6). More research on reproduction of species in captivity is
needed to improve mortality rates, though the quality and life expectancy of farmed
fish is generally higher than those collected in the wild (Olivier, 2001). The feeding
habits of some species make them unsuitable for keeping in aquaria (Barratt &
Medley, 1990). Some UK importers have stopped importing species that are too
difficult to feed or to maintain in aquaria (Dawes & Sankey cited by Andrews, 1990).
However, Edwards & Shepherd (1992) recorded a significant number of Chaetodon
meyeri and C. triangulum exported from the Maldives, despite there being low
probability of survival in captivity.


In many cases, the impact of ornamental fisheries is selective and focused on species
with high market values such as butterflyfish and angelfish, or easily caught species
such as anemonefish and lionfish (Lubbock & Polunin, 1975).
Marine biologists have reported declines of species that have become rarer over time,
through personal observation and/or from surveys: butterflyfish in Sri Lanka
(Lubbock & Polunin, 1975); Amphiprion allardi and A.akallopisos in Kenya (Lubbock &
Polunin, 1975); angelfish in Florida (Noyes, 1976); several species in Seribu Islands of
Indonesia (Soegiarto & Polunin, 1982); butterflyfish, triggerfish and angelfish in the
Philippines (Albaladejo and Corpuz, 1984); angelfish Centropyge bispinosus, emperor
angelfish Pomacanthus imperator and blue tang Paracanthurus hepatus in the
Philippines (Rubec, 1987); and Pomacanthus maculosus and P.chtysurus in Kenya
(Samoilys, 1988). Other reported declines include black angelfish Chaetodontoplus
personifer and scribbled angelfish C. duboulayi in Australia (QFMA, 1999), and Indo-
Pacific blue tang, powder blue tang, blue girdled fish and emperor angelfish in
Indonesia (Boggiatto & Reiser, 2004).
Depletions attributed to collection for aquaria include: French and grey angelfish in
Brazil (Gasparini et al:, 2005); Acanthurus achilles, Chaetodon multicinctus, C.
quadrimaculatus, Centropyge potteri, Forcipiger spp. Zanclu cornutus and Zebrasoma
flavescens in Hawaii (Tissot & Hallacher, 1999); and Holacanthus clarionensis in Mexico
(Almenara-Rolan & Ketchum, 1994).
Kolm & Berglund (2003) investigated the effects of non-destructive fishing, without
the use of poison or explosives, on the conservation status of the Bangaii cardinalfish.
They found that the Bangaii cardinalfish had declined in density due to the pressure
from marine aquarium fisheries despite non-destructive methods being used and
only six years of activity. Populations had halved in locations where fishing pressure
had been high (Kolm, 2004).
Certain endemic marine species with restricted distribution such as Gramma
brasiliensis (or G. loreto) in Brazil may be at risk to localized fishing pressure, as well
as species which are already threatened (such as Hippocampus erectus and Balistes
vetula), due to other forms of commercial exploitation (Monteiro-Neto et al., 2003).
Some good practices have been put in place in Australia, for example, where one
anemonefish is spared at each host anemone which helps new recruits to locate a
host and join a group (QFMA, 1999). Shuman et al. (2005) suggested leaving behind

the largest breeding female, as research has found that up to two thirds of removed
breeding males are replaced by foreign males who share parental responsibility.
There are reports of ornamental fisheries which have not exhibited serious declines
despite being subject to high levels of exploitation. One of the most heavily exploited
species, the yellow tang (Zebrasoma flavescens), showed no overall declines when
assessed over two years in Hawaii (Taylor & Nolan, 1978), although Tissot &
Hallacher (1999) found a significantly lower abundance of yellow tang in collection
sites than in control sites in Hawaii.

Juveniles are generally preferred to adults by collectors (except gobies, blennies and
dottybacks). This may reduce overexploitation as breeding adults remain on the reef
and are therefore able to produce new recruits. However, overfishing can still occur
if juveniles are constantly removed from the population and new breeding adults do
not replace older ones. Chan & Sadovy (1998) revealed that 56% of fish being sold in
Hong Kong were within the juvenile size range. Fishing for certain species may be
unselective (eg. Bangaii cardinalfish) where most sizes and ages are suitable for
home aquaria (Kolm & Berglund, 2003). Males are sometimes selectively fished (e.g.
mandarin fish, Synchiropus splendidus) for their more attractive and flamboyant
appearance (Wood, 2001a).


As the main ornamental species in trade are from tropical and subtropical regions of
the world, they are often sourced from developing countries (Rana, 2004). According
to FAO statistics, developing countries account for 63% of the export value (Bartley,
Articles in the press have often made the assumption that the trade of marine
ornamentals is incompatible with reef conservation (Wabnitz et al., 2003). However,
the exploitation of ornamental fish can provide an incentive for habitat and holistic
ecosystem conservation. On similar lines to Project Piaba in the Amazon, “Buy a fish
and save a tree”, marine species could be used to help protect coral reefs (Dawes,
2002). The economic value of natural resources is increasingly being recognised, with
activities such as dive tourism being recognised as dependent on preserving coral
reefs. Marine fish species exploited for the ornamental trade are often different to
those exploited for food trade (Edwards & Shepherd, 1992) and mostly associated
with reef habitats – collection for the ornamental trade can add another value to
ecosystem and biodiversity conservation particularly when no economic activity
previously existed (Bartley, 2000).


The distribution network for ornamental fish is large and complex, with a number of
coexisting subsystems (Olivier, 2001). Fishermen and collectors constitute the first
part of the supply chain. Collectors may be part-time, full-time, self-employed or
employed by a dealer or exporter. Usually they work directly for a wholesaler or
exporter, and few are part of associations where their views can be represented
(Olivier, 2001). Fishermen sometimes sell non-target ornamental fish caught in traps
to aquarium dealers (Wood, 2001b). Pay is usually relative to the number of fish
collected and can be poor in comparison to final sale value. A collector may receive

10 cents in Indonesia for Amphiprion percula sold for $12 to a hobbyist in an importing
country (Wood, 2001b). Local collectors are usually involved but some companies
employ skilled collectors from elsewhere to work in particular areas, e.g. from the
Philippines in Eritrea (Daw et al., 1998; Daw et al., 2001) and in Yemen (pers. comm.
cited in Wood, 2001a). Small export companies have two or three individuals
involved with half a dozen tanks. Larger export companies employ a large workforce
and have hundreds of tanks (Wood, 2001a).
Exporters may buy from wholesalers or directly from breeders and collectors. Fish
are usually quarantined before export to enable any diseases to be detected and
treated and to acclimatize the fish to life in captivity. Exporters go through a national
procedure before export, including obtaining a special licence or permit for export,
phytosanitary certificate, and declaration to Customs (Olivier, 2001). Requirements
on arrival in importer country vary. In some cases, a phytosanitary certificate is
required and another quarantine period may be undertaken to ensure
acclimatization of the fish to water, food and captive conditions (Olivier, 2001).
Importers sell fish to wholesalers for distribution to retailers, directly to retailers or
may re-export fish to another country (Olivier, 2001). Alternatively, retailers can use
a transhipper. The role of the wholesaler is to group together ornamental products
for redistribution and to acclimatize fish, whereas the transhipper groups together
and collects orders from different retailers. Traditional wholesalers are becoming less
common now as transhipping becomes more common and with increasing use of the
electronic market.
Airline companies are also key players in the aquarium trade because the conditions
of transport have a direct influence of the health and quality of fish traded (OFI,
2003). Packaging is carried out according to international criteria set by transport
associations for live animals prior to departure on international flights. As this is a
highly profitable sector for airline companies, they have an interest in ensuring a
good quality service (Olivier, 2001).
There are many associations and syndicates of individuals involved in the marine
ornamental industry. Examples include: Indonesia Corals, Shells, and Ornamental
Fish Association; Philippine Tropical Fish Exporters Association; Singapore
Aquarium Fish Exporters’ Association; Ornamental Fish International; Ornamental
Aquatic Trade Association; and Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.


The value of the ornamental trade represents only 0.5% of FAO statistics for the
international fish trade, yet its importance goes beyond its share in the international
market. The sector plays a valuable role in providing employment opportunities and
income to rural, coastal and insular communities in the developing world through
export-generated revenues (Olivier, 2001). The trade in ornamentals also supports
the market for a multi-million dollar industry in aquarium tanks, filter systems and
other accessories (Rana, 2004).
Aquarium animals are the highest value-added product that can be harvested
sustainably from coral reefs. The difference in price between fish for the aquarium
trade and for the food trade is of a ratio of 1 to 100 due to the higher risk costs of
mortality and specific measures needed for transportation of live animals (Olivier,
2001). Dawes (2002) highlighted this point when comparing the average retail price
of marine ornamental fish (US$1,800,000/tonne) with the average retail price for food
fish (US$14,5000-16,500/tonne).

Export prices vary greatly from country-to-country and according to the distance
from exporter to importer, as freight costs can represent 50-90% of the landed price.
Production costs, stock quality and local inflation rates also influence the price. Prices
for marine species tend to fluctuate much more than for freshwater species (Olivier,
2001). Import prices can vary depending on the number of fish bought or as a result
of the season, as conditions (such as climate) may affect the availability of certain
species for sale (Olivier, 2001). The rate of mortality will also affect the price per fish.
The importer marks up the price when selling to the retailer or wholesaler to account
for costs such as labour, overheads and supplies. Similarly, the retail price is marked
up to include running costs and costs that may be incurred, such as loss from
mortality (Olivier, 2001).
In cases where the main trade companies involved in export are large multinational
groups that have a monopoly over the industry, benefits to local fishermen may be
limited. This was the case in Eritrea where one US and one German company
operated the fishery (Daw et al., 2001). Furthermore, collectors were brought in from
the Philippines to work for one of these companies, thereby limiting the employment
opportunities available to locals (Daw et al., 2001)
Aquarium fisheries have the potential to provide an alternative economic activity for
coastal populations, an important source of foreign exchange for national economies
and a strong economic incentive for the sustainable management of reefs (Daw et al.,
2001). If managed sustainably, the trade in marine ornamentals can support jobs in
predominantly rural, low-income coastal communities and provide strong economic
incentives for coral reef conservation in regions where other options for generating
revenue are limited. Local people in exporter countries have the right to earn a living
from natural resources that surround them and the ornamental fish trade offers the
opportunity to do this in a sustainable and equitable way (Daw et al., 2001; Watson &
Moreau, 2006).


Apart from conservation issues associated with the sustainability of the industry,
other issues which may affect sustainability are lack of organisation of the sector,
miscommunication, lack of awareness and the perception of ornamentals as
disposable items by consumers and exporters (Olivier 2001).
The interaction of the ornamental fishery with other extractive activities is also worth
noting. Although not then a source of conflict, in the late 1980s-1990s Edwards &
Shepherd (1992) highlighted the potential conflict between dive tourism or eco-
tourism and the ornamental fishery in places such as the Maldives where the main
attraction is the coral reef. Lubbock & Polunin (1975) also noted this potentially
important conflict in economic terms to the industry. Another source of potential
conflict is the use of some ornamental species as bait (Edwards & Shepherd, 1992).


The aquarium trade can provide the opportunity to educate the public about coral
reefs and increase awareness and understanding of what is often perceived as a
hidden ecosystem (Wabnitz et al., 2003). The trade may also foster marine
conservation by providing a strong incentive for subsistence fishers to harvest wild
populations sustainably, and to maintain fish stocks and reef environments in good
condition (Woods, 2001).

The first international conference on marine ornamentals was held in 1999 in Hawaii
(Corbin, 2001).
In 1994, a co-operative called the Federation of Fishermen of Ornamental Fishing in
the Philippines (PMP) was created, following a training programme to reduce the
use of damaging practices for collection of ornamentals. This allowed fishermen to
participate in discussions with the government and other pressure groups as well as
setting up their own storage and export facilities in collaboration with NGOs and
thus enabled fishermen to be able to certify their fish as being caught using nets
(Olivier, 2001).


One of the first success stories of cultured marine ornamental species was the
clownfish (Amphiprion spp.). The culture of species such as the Bangaii cardinalfish in
marine cages or in artificial conditions has also been successful and recommended, as
it is possible to complete the entire life cycle (Kolm & Berglund, 2003). Wild
populations can potentially be re-stocked when conservation status reaches critical
levels. The giant clam (Tridacna gigas) recovered following reintroductions into the
wild, to the point that it could be traded again (Tlusty, 2004).
Recent advances in technology, including improvements in feeds for different life
cycle stages will enable more species to be cultured in the industry (Tlusty, 2004).
Rearing larvae collected at the end of the planktonic phase before they settle on the
reef and then grown to a commercial size has also been recommended (Dufour et al.,
1999; Lecchini et al., 2006).
The conservation concern for the state of wild stocks of some marine ornamental
species will stimulate the development of captive breeding operations (Tlusty, 2004),
so the negative impacts of ornamental marine aquaculture should be taken into
account. If the success of captive breeding operations results in increased demand at
a pace that production through aquaculture cannot meet, the level of harvest from
the wild may increase. In other cases, when a brood stock cannot be maintained in
captivity, mature adults need to be sourced from the wild. The main criticism
identified through Project Seahorse 2 was that the culture of seahorses serves no
conservation benefit where the regular removal of breeding pairs from the wild is
required (Tlusty, 2004), and where aquaculture of seahorses could raise demand for
previously non-commercialized wild species.
Escapees from farms may interact with wild populations. In the US, where there are
many ornamental aquaculture operations, approximately 185 species have been
introduced and have established populations (Tlusty, 2004).
Increased nutrient loading from organic waste creates problems such as
eutrophication and the risk of parasites and disease in farms results in the use of
chemicals, antibodies and pesticides. Very little is known about the local effects of
marine ornamental farms, although the impacts are unlikely to be very negative in
terms of pollution (Tlusty, 2004). Higher stress levels due to crowding and captive
conditions in aquaculture can lead to disease proliferation. Pathogenic agents reduce
survival of reared ornamental fish and can potentially spread to the wild. In
Australia, imports were suspended for the panther grouper (Cromileptes altivelis) by

2 www.seahorse.mcgill.ca

the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service which received information on the
increase of this species coming from aquaculture facilities where pathogen risks may
be higher (Dawes, 2005).
Although 95% of fish exploited for the aquarium industry are reportedly taken from
the wild (Lecchini et al., 2006), efforts to breed and raise marine ornamentals in
captivity are in progress (Tlusty, 2002). At the end of the 1990s, 25 species were
cultured for commercial purposes but most specimens (~98%) were taken from the
wild (Moe, 1999). According to Olivier (2001), 16 marine species can now be bred and
are farmed and commercially available. These comprise:
• Amphiprion ocellaris
• Amphiprion percula
• Amphiprion melanopus
• Amphiprion rubrocinctus
• Amphiprion frenatus
• Amphiprion ephippium
• Amphiprion clarkia
• Amphiprion perideraion
• Amphiprion akallopsis
• Amphiprion akindynos
• Gobiosoma oceanops
• Gobiodon citrinnus
• Premnas biaculeatus
• Pseudochromis fridman
• Pseudochromis flavivertex
• Pterapogon kauderni.

They represent 2-3% of the 25% of marine ornamental species which could
potentially be cultured (Tlusty, 2004).
Efforts are underway to breed four further species:
• Amphiprion chryopterous
• Amphiprion bicinctus
• Amphiprion polymnus
• Elactinus xanthipora.
Research is being undertaken to breed the following:
• Gramma loreto
• Hypoplectrus unicolor
• Equetus punctatus
• Equetus lanceolatus
• Pomacanthus paru
• Pomacanthus arcatus
• Apogon spp.
• Chromis cyanea
• Microspathodon chrysurus
• Bodianus rufus
• Opistognathus aurifrons
• Hypsypops rubicunda
• Diodon spp.

• Calloplesiops altivelis
• Synchiropus splendons
• Hippocampus erectus
• Anisotremus virginicus.

Aquaculture can provide an alternative source of income and productivity can be

greater than collection from the wild. Safety and health risks of venturing out to sea
and diving are reduced as well as the time invested in searching and capturing fish.
Women may be involved in the ornamental trade, particularly in fish farming
(Bartley, 2000). However, aquaculture production can also reduce market prices as
supply increases, which can have negative impacts on fishermen-collectors.
In cases where ornamental aquaculture productions are not small scale and local but
industrial and owned by a large company, the benefits to local people may be much
more reduced (Daw et al., 2001). Aquaculture facilities may also be set up closer to
consumer countries, reducing employment opportunities in the country of origin
where local people may rely on collection and fishing for all or part of their income
(Tlusty, 2004). This may be the case in Eritrea where 75 species are collected for the
ornamental trade (600,000 exported per year) (Daw et al., 2001) but many of these
species can be cultured outside of the country. This could remove job opportunities
as well as an incentive to conserve coral reefs (Tlusty, 2004). One suggestion by John
Dawes at the World Conference on Ornamental Fish was to introduce an element of
‘compensation’ to the country of origin: a similar concept to that used by the FAO on
genetic resources (Bartley, 2000).
A growing proportion of marine ornamentals are predicted to be sourced from
aquaculture (Tlusty, 2004). Lessons can be learned from successes and difficulties in
food fish and freshwater ornamental aquaculture to develop best-practices for the
ornamental industry (Tlusty, 2002).



Freshwater habitats include marshes and fens, rivers and lakes, and artificial bodies
such as rice fields and reservoirs. Large lakes are found in North America
(particularly Canada) and northern Russia, and ancient lakes are found in the
African Rift Valley and the Lake Baikal region of Siberia in the Russian Federation.
Freshwater ecosystems are very diverse, representing 40% of global fish diversity
and 25% of global vertebrate diversity (Dudgeon et al., 2006); however, knowledge of
the species in freshwater ecosystems is very incomplete (Cowx, 2002; Cowx et al.,
2004; Dudgeon et al., 2006). Levels of endemism are particularly high in inland
wetlands e.g. the Great East African Lakes or Lake Baikal in Siberia, which have been
isolated from other water bodies for millions of years (Millennium Ecosystem
Assessment, 2005).
Freshwater species are often subjected to a range of threats, the relative impacts of
which are difficult to dissentangle (Cowx, 2002; Cowx et al., 2004). The Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment (2005) estimated that approximately 20% of the world’s
described freshwater fish species have been listed as threatened or extinct.

Infrastructure development, land conversion, water extraction, pollution, over-
harvesting and overexploitation, and the introduction of alien species were
considered to be the main direct causes of the deterioration in the extent and quality
of freshwater habitats (Andrews, 1990; Dudgeon et al., 2006; FAO, 2007; Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). Cowx (2002) highlighted species introductions, dams
and weirs, and water quality as the main threats to freshwater fish and fisheries. In
addition, climate change is expected to exacerbate the loss and degradation of many
wetlands (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).
Wild harvest of freshwater ornamental fish for trade primarily occurs in South
America (in particular Amazonia), East and West Africa, and South and South East
Asia. Each of these regions is characterized by distinctive habitats and fish
assemblages, which lead to differences in the nature of the trade.


Freshwater habitats provide many economic, social and ecological services and
functions, including fish supply for consumption, provision of drinking water, water
purification and detoxification, climate regulation and mitigation of climate change,
recreation and tourism, and cultural and societal functions (Cowx et al., 2004;
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).
Freshwater ecosystems are an important source of dietary protein in many parts of
the world, in particular rural communities in developing countries, and are therefore
linked to global food security (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).


The Amazon River basin, which stretches more than seven million square kilometres,
is the largest river basin in the world (Junk et al., 2007). It is a diverse ecosystem, both
in terms of its aquatic habitats and species richness. About 2,500 fish species have
already been described and it was estimated that more than 1,000 new species
remain to be discovered (Junk et al., 2007).
In many large areas, the low density of the human population means that aquatic
habitats are still in relatively good condition (Junk et al., 2007). However, pressures
on aquatic ecosystems and habitats have increased, mainly due to large-scale
destruction of natural vegetation cover, small-scale agriculture, logging in
rainforests, and construction of dams (Junk et al., 2007). Pollution, including mercury
contamination and siltation as a result of gold mining, is problematic in some areas,
for example, the Rio Nanay in Peru (Gerstner et al., 2006). Rodríguez et al. (2007)
reported that large regions of the Orinoco basin were still in a relatively pristine
condition, but that threats from habitat destruction, overharvesting, pollution, and
hydrological perturbation were increasing.
About 16.4% of the Amazon River basin is protected, while another 15.2% is under
partial protection in indigenous reserves in Brazil (Junk et al., 2007). Brazil intends to
protect a further 9.1% as reserves in the next 10 years (Junk et al., 2007).

East Africa is home to a number of large, species-rich lakes, often referred to as the
Great Lakes, which include the rift valley lakes Albert (Mobutu), Edward-George,
Kivu, Malawi (Nyasa), Tanganyika and Turkana (Rudolf); the inter-rift lakes Kyoga

and Victoria; several others including Bangweulu, Chad and Chilwa; and the man-
made lakes of Cahora, Bassa, Kainjii, Kariba and Volta (Craig, 1992). The African
Great lakes have been affected by overexploitation and introduction of exotic species,
but the impact of each has been difficult to quantify (Craig, 1992). Eutrophication and
decline in water quality is also problematic e.g. in Lake Victoria (Lung'ayia et al.,
2001). Fishing pressures, in particular to feed local and other populations, have
increased in all of the lakes due to an increase in human populations and changes in
fishing techniques (Craig, 1992). The introduction of fisheries species such as
Oreochromis leucostictus, O. niloticus, Tilapia redalli, T. zillii and Lates niloticus in Lakes
Kyoga and Victoria, and the Limnothrissa miodon in Lakes Kivu, Kariba and Cahora
Bassa are likely to have affected native faunas, though measuring the impact has
proved challenging (Craig, 1992; Ligvoet & Witte, 1991). However, recent recoveries
in cichlid fishes have been reported in Lake Victoria and Lake Nabugabo as a result
of intense fishing of the introduced Lates niloticus (Witte et al., 2000).
West Africa is another species-rich area, and the Guinea Rainforest has been listed as
a Global Biodiversity hotspot by Conservation International. However, this region
faces some of the same threats as those that face East Africa. Alien species, including
O. niloticus, Clarias gariepinus and Heterotis niloticus have been introduced for
aquaculture or accidentally, and have led to the disappearance of several native
species from commercial catches (Brummet, 1995).

South-East Asia benefits from a climate of year-round warmth, high humidity and
light with the result that is very diverse, both in terms of habitats and freshwater fish
(Ng & Tan, 1997). Scott & Poole (1989) estimated that over 120 million hectares of
wetlands, excluding permanent rice paddies, were present in the region from
Pakistan in the west to China, Japan, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea in the east,
with 80% occurring in Indonesia, China, India, Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh,
Myanmar, and Viet Nam. There is a huge variety of wetlands in Asia, from rivers,
lakes, estuaries, but those considered to be most threatened were mangrove forests,
freshwater swamp forests and peat swamp forests (Scott & Poole, 1989).


More than 4,000 species of ornamental freshwater fish are traded internationally each
year (Whittington & Chong, 2007). One major European importer listed 700-800
species of freshwater and marine species as ‘commonly available’ (Andrews, 1990).
The Cyprinidae Family is an important family of freshwater fishes that is distributed
throughout Africa (except Madagascar), Asia, Europe and North America, and
whose species are often dominant where they are found. It includes goldfish,
minnows, barbs, rasboras and danios. Species from this family are traded for food
and for ornamental purposes. Other important groups in the ornamental trade
include the Callichthyidae, Cichlidae, Characidae, Gasteropelecidae, Loricariidae and

Crampton (1999b) estimated that 150 ornamental species were regularly exported
from the Amazon, but noted that market demand focused on a small number of

species. Popular aquarium fishes caught from the wild in the Amazon and mostly
purchased by home hobbyists include: bleeding-heart tetra Hyphessobrycon
erythrostigma; cardinal tetra Paracheirodon axelrodi; cichlids Apistogramma spp.;
corydoras catfish Corydoras spp. ; discus Symphysodon spp.; hatchet fish Carnegiella
spp.; leopard cordoras Corydoras spp.; neon tetra Paracheirodon innesi; ocellate river
stingray Potamotrygon spp.; otocinclus Otocinclus spp.; pictus cat Pimelodus pictus.;
red-tail catfish Phractocephalus hemioliopterus; silver arowana Osteoglossum bicirrhosum;
suckermouth catfish Hypostomus spp.; tiger ray Potamotrygon spp.; tiger-striped
catfish Brachyplatystoma tigrinus; and zebra otocinclus Otocinclus spp. (Crampton,
1999b; Gerstner et al., 2006; Junk, 1984b; Moreau & Coomes, 2006; Moreau & Coomes,
Moreau & Coomes (2007) reported trade from Peru in 704 varieties, from 139 genera
and 36 families, and noted the five most important families (by volume) to be
Characidae, Gasteropelecidae, Osteoglossidae, Callichthyidae and Loricariidae.
Gerstner et al. (2006) estimated that over 300 species were probably exported from
the Peruvian Amazon and approximately 60% of the trade comprised 10 species.
Moreau & Coomes (2007) supported this view also found that most (70%) of the
trade involved around ten species.
By contrast, it was estimated that around 60 species were exported from Brazil
(Chao, 1992), and Crampton (1999b) reported that Paracheirodon axelrodi represented
81.6% of the total. Osteoglossum bicirrhosum is a popular fish exported from Brazil,
Colombia, Guyana and Peru (Moreau & Coomes, 2006). Exports of this species from
Peru reportedly increased more than 100-fold between 1978 and 2001, and over one
million juveniles were sold internationally in 2001 (Moreau & Coomes, 2006). This
species, along with Phractocephalus hemiliopterus and Brachyplatystoma tigrinus was
considered the most economically important species in Peru (Moreau & Coomes,
Approximately 30,000 Symphysodon aequifasciatus were harvested from the Estação
Ecológica Mamirauá in Brazil in 1990 (Crampton, 1999b), which decreased to an
estimated 10,000-20,000 fish in 1991, 300-500 in 1992, and 200 in 1993 when
commercial extinction of the species was apparent (Crampton, 1999b). Symphysodon
spp. and Pterophyllum scalare were extracted in the mid-late 1980s from the Jarauá
lake system in Brazil, but commercial exploitation began in earnest in 1990
(Crampton, 1999b).
In Guyana, the sustainable, community-based aquarium fisheries business Iwokrama
concentrates primarily on 30 Loricariid Catfish species 3 which they categorized as
high-value, low-volume aquarium species. Five taxa were particularly targeted:
lemon fin Hemiancistrus spp.; red-tailed pleco Pseudacanthicus leopardus; bushy nose
Ancistrus spp.; cochliodon Hypostomus cochliodon; and hypostomus Hypostomus

Brummet (2005) suggested that fish with potential as ornamentals were unusually
abundant in African rainforest rivers, and wholesaled at an average of US$2.43 per
fish. These include Barbus camptacanthus and species from the genera Aphyosemion,
Benitochromis, Brienomyrus (including Brienomyrus brachyistus), Brycinus (including



Brycinus longipinnis), Epiplatys, Mastecembelus, Chiloglanis, Doumea, Neolebias,
Parauchenoglanis, Pelvicachromis and Procatopus. One survey found that the total value
of ornamental fish species in forest rivers in south-west Cameroon was insufficient to
support any significant increase in the level of exploitation (Brummet, 2005).
The IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Assessment Unit (IUCN, 2007) has conducted
four regional freshwater biodiversity assessments for fish. These are the
Mediterranean endemic freshwater fish (Smith & Darwall, 2006) and comprehensive
assessments (all freshwater fish species) for eastern (Darwall et al., 2005), western and
southern Africa. The assessments for the last two are ongoing (as of November 2007),
and although the species assessments have been evaluated, they may be subject to
No data are yet available for the northern, north-eastern and central regions of
Africa. The region boundaries are based on river basins and not political boundaries,
except for eastern Africa and northeast Africa on the Nile.
Over half of the endemic freshwater fish species in the Mediterranean are threatened,
although no species were identified as being involved in the ornamental trade (Table
1). The western Africa assessment showed the highest level of threat for all species,
with over one third of the species threatened. It was clear, that of the regions
assessed, only western and eastern Africa had significant numbers of species that are
found in the aquarium trade. For eastern Africa this included 21% of all the
freshwater fish species, and just over 10% of the western Africa species. Only two
species in southern Africa were identified as being in the aquarium trade and none
from the Mediterranean endemic species. Similar levels of threat, for both eastern
(around 27%) and western Africa (around 33%), are seen between the proportion of
all the species threatened and the proportion of species in the aquarium trade that
are threatened (IUCN, 2007).
Three endemic species classified as Critically Endangered were identified as being in
the aquarium trade:
• Guinea - Scriptaphyosemion cauveti
• Liberia - Epiplatys ruhkopfi
• Tanzania - Lamprologus kungweensis endemic to Lake Tanganyika.
Table 1. Freshwater fish species regional datasets and species in aquarium trade
All species in regional Species only identified as occurring in the
biodiversity assessment aquarium trade
Region Total Threatened % Species in % Threatened %
species species threatened aquarium total in threatened
trade species aquarium
Mediterranean Endemics 253 142 56.1 0 0 - -
Eastern Africa All 1060 283 26.7 223 21.0 61 27.4
Endemics 901 250 27.7 212 23.5 58 27.4
Southern All 359 40 11.1 2 0.5 0 0
Africa species
Endemics 240 40 16.7 2 0.8 0 0
Western All 615 214 34.8 66 10.7 21 31.8
Africa species
#Forthe western Africa regional assessment not all the global and regional assessments have
been separated out.

All eastern Africa species that were identified as being used in the aquarium trade
are traded at an international level, about 5% are traded commercially within
national borders, and less than 1% are traded locally. By contrast, in western Africa
just over 40% of the aquarium species are traded internationally whereas nearly two-
thirds of trade, in terms of number of species (rather than volume of trade, which
was not recorded), is at the national level. Also subsistence/local trade in western
Africa also makes up a much greater proportion than in eastern Africa with nearly
30% of the species traded on this scale.


In East Africa, 223 species have been identified as being in the aquarium trade. Of
these, 102 (45.7%) are threatened by the harvesting process and 49 (48%) of these are
listed as vulnerable at the global level according to IUCN.
In addition, 51 (23.3%) of the 223 species in the aquarium trade are identified as only
being harvested from the wild, and 11 of these are threatened. No species were
identified as being harvested only from captive breeding facilities; however 76.7% of
the species were recorded as having an unknown source.

Much of the trade from South East Asia comprises non-native species that have been
captive-bred in the region; these include guppies, goldfish, koi, mollies, swordtails
and cichlids (Ng & Tan, 1997). Some native species are also captive-bred.
Nonetheless, a significant number of wild-caught fish are also exported for the
ornamental fish trade.
Ng & Tan (1997) categorized wild-caught species according to their prevalence in the
• Category I. Popular species exported in high numbers, including the clown loach
Botia macracanthus; eel loach Pangio spp.; chocolate gourami Sphaerichthys
osphromenoides; pearl gourami Trichogaster leerii; harlequin rasbora Rasbora
heteromorpha; flying fox Epalzeorhynchus kalopterus; apollo shark Luciosoma
setigerum; two-spot catfish Mystus bimaculatus; and glass catfish Kryptopterus
• Category II. Wild-caught species that are traded occasionally but have the
potential for increased popularity and export, including species from the genera
Bagrichthys, Barbucca, Betta, Boraras, Carinotetraodon, Channa, Chonerhinos,
Eirmotus, Glyptothorax, Gymnochanda, Kryptopterus, Leiocassis, Lepidocephalichthys,
Mastacembelus, Neohomaloptera, Osteochilus, Parosphromenus, Pseudomystus,
Pseudotropius, Puntius, and Tetraodon.
• Category III. Very expensive species to supply the high end of the market,
including the arowana Scleropages formosus; red-flag giant gourami Osphronemus
laticlavius; and sawfish Pristis microdon (CITES Appendix II).
The main species in trade from Indonesia was reported to be Botia macracanthus,
although there are discrepancies among estimates of trade levels. Kottelat & Whitten
(1996) estimated that 10,000,000 were exported per year. Field surveys in Danau
Sentarum indicated that some 2.4 million fish were caught annually; however,
provincial trade statistics until 1995 indicated that between 50,000 and 300,000
individuals were caught (Kottelat & Whitten, 1996).

Harvesting techniques can heavily impact both the ecosystem and the survival of the
fish on capture or subsequently in transport or when sold. A range of nets and traps
are used to capture freshwater ornamental fish.
Fishing practices are generally associated with an intimate knowledge of fish
behaviour and habitats (Moreau & Coomes, 2007). Nets, traps and hook-and-lines are
used in the Lower Guinea forest (Brummet, 2005). Various methods of collection in
South East Asia were noted by Ng & Tan (1997), including traps and catching by
hand. Banister (1980) reported that in Sri Lanka, streams may be poisoned in order to
catch target species; this is now prohibited by the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
Act, No. 2 of 1996.
Bycatch can be problematic: in the Okavango in Botswana, the small Barbus species is
harvested when it forms shoals; for every B. multilineatus captured, up to one
thousand other species might be captured and may be discarded (Banister, 1980).

Ornamental fish can suffer high mortality rates during catch, transport, quarantine
and other practices, with one estimate of 80% mortality in the Amazon (Junk, 1984b)
and up to 85% in the Lower Guinean rainforest (Brummet, 2005). Chao (1992)
estimated that 30% mortality was suffered during the export process in Brazil.
Moreau & Coomes (2007) suggested that substantial mortality rates might be
suffered in holding facilities in Peru, due to the rudimentary export facilities.



Andrews (1990) noted the argument that certain life history traits, including short
lifespan and high egg production, coupled with a relatively low-impact method of
collection and limitations caused by seasonal extremes in rainfall, could in theory
minimize the vulnerability of species to overexploitation in the Peruvian Amazon.
Moreau & Coomes (2007) suggested that this argument has not been studied and that
it was unlikely to apply to species with restricted geographic ranges or to those
biologically unsuited to heavy exploitation. In practice, moderate levels of fishing
did not appear to negatively affect some aquarium fish populations; however,
populations from areas with relatively high fishing intensity experienced negative
impacts (Gerstner et al., 2006).
In the Amazon, many headwater species have restricted distributions and are
therefore particularly vulnerable to large-scale environmental degradation (Junk et
al., 2007). Some species, such as the discus Symphysodon spp., exhibit high site fidelity
and a low rate of population dispersal, which means that recolonization and
recovery of an overfished area is slow compared to species with higher dispersal
rates, such as the cardinal tetra Paracheirodon axelrodi (Crampton, 1999b). Indeed
Crampton (1999b) suggested that it would take 5-15 years for discus species to regain
their former levels after exploitation. The late maturity, low fecundity and mouth-
brooding of the silver arowana Osteoglossum bicirrhosum mean that it is vulnerable to
overexploitation (Moreau & Coomes, 2006).

In some areas, such as the Estação Ecológica Mamirauá, the ease of collection at low
water can lead to a high rate of capture, particularly for high value species such as
discus (Crampton, 1999b).
Reynolds et al. (2005) found that small-bodied freshwater fish in Europe were most at
risk owing to their naturally small ranges, which means they are more vulnerable to
habitat change. Many of the endemic species of the African Great lakes do not have
the flexibility to alter life history traits, and are also very vulnerable to exploitation
(Craig, 1992).


Junk (1984b) postulated that despite the high numbers collected, Amazonian fish
were not likely to be seriously endangered. Many fish species suffer naturally high
mortality rates due to seasonal modification of habitat and have adapted to these
losses with a high rate of reproduction and short reproductive cycles (Junk, 1984b).
By contrast, Andrews (1990) and Crampton (1999b) highlighted the cases of the
discus Symphysodon spp. and the cardinal tetra Paracheiredon axelrodi, which became
commercially extinct in the middle reaches of the Rio Negro as a result of
exploitation for the ornamental fish trade. However, in a workshop on Amazon
River diversity, Axelrod (2001) claimed that he had never seen any species in the Rio
Negro or other Amazon regional river disappear, and that people stop collecting
when it becomes unprofitable.
Although Gerstner et al. (2006) believed that wild-caught aquarium fishes were
potentially one of the few sustainable resources in the Amazon Basin, they suggested
that evidence was not available to support claims of sustainability and that anecdotal
evidence in Peru indicated that the number of species available was declining. In the
Peruvian Amazon, Gerstner et al. (2006) found that high fishing pressure on
freshwater aquarium species led to decreased fish abundance, species diversity and
biomass, compared to areas subjected to low and medium levels of fishing. Similarly,
Crampton (1999b) found that populations of discus in the Estação Ecológica
Mamirauá in Brazil collapsed, apparently due to over-collection (Crampton, 1999b).
Moreau & Coomes (2006) noted that little information was available on the status of
silver arowana in South America, so it was difficult to determine whether or not the
trade poses a threat to this species. In Guyana, illegal harvesting of Arapaima
(Arapaima gigas) has led to huge reductions in its population (IWOKRAMA, 2007). In
parts of the Amazon, local exporters have imposed closed season restrictions in some
areas (Andrews, 1990).

The excessive or uncontrolled extraction of ornamental fish was considered by the
Strategic Action Programme (SAP, 2000) to be a problem in all countries bordering
Lake Tanganyika. Licensing programmes were rarely enforced; SAP (2000) suggested
monitoring from the end market and using fees from export licences to pay for
enforcement of legislation. By contrast, one of a limited number of exporters from
Lake Tanganyika exported 100,000 wild-caught fish (mainly cichlids) each year, with
no apparent impact on the local populations of fish in 20 years of operation
(Andrews, 1990).


Ng & Tan (1997) noted the overexploitation of several species including the bala
shark Balantiocheilos melanopterus, the pygmy loach Botia sidthimunki, and arowana
Scleropages formosus. The bala shark was reported to have been abundant in Sumatra
and Kalimantan, but overfishing effectively exterminated wild populations.
Fortunately for these species, the majority of individuals entering the aquarium trade
now originate from culture operations, which reduce or eliminate the need to capture
wild fish (Ng & Tan, 1997).
Kottelat & Whitten (1996) claimed there was no documented evidence that selective
overfishing for the aquarium trade had caused populations to decline. For example,
while some attributed declines in the red tail shark, Epalzeorhynchos bicolour, to
overharvesting for the aquarium trade, others have suggested that alternative factors,
in particular habitat modification, were responsible (Kottelat & Whitten, 1996).
Clarke (2007a) reported on a newly discovered species found East of Inle Lake in
Myanmar. The species, originally traded as Galaxy microrasbora or Celestial Pearl
danio and recently named Danio margaritatus (Conway et al., 2008), faced the threat of
being wiped out by the aquarium trade. The fish was first introduced into the hobby
in September 2006, and was collected so heavily that six months after its discovery
catches of the species were reported to be down to 30-50 fish per day and its habitat
was destroyed by trampling. The Government of Myanmar banned exports of the
species in February 2007 to allow assessment of conservation status and
subsequently identified some new sites where the fish is still present (Clarke, 2007b).


The majority of trade in freshwater ornamental fish involves captive-bred specimens.
The introduction of alien species has been considered a major problem (Craig, 1992;
Dudgeon et al., 2006; Witte et al., 2000) as the farms very often breed species not
native to the area in which they are located (Andrews, 1990). For example, a wide
range of Central and South American, African and tropical Asian fishes are bred on
ornamental fish farms in South East Asia, and South East US (Andrews, 1990). As
these species are kept in outdoor ponds, there is a risk that they might escape to
nearby water bodies, and establish populations. Accidental or intentional release by
amateur hobbyists can also be problematic (Andrews, 1990). In 2006, there were 22
species of alien ornamental fish with established breeding populations in Australian
waterways (Whittington & Chong, 2007).
The translocation of species within a lake involves moving a species from one part of
the lake to another, to stock that part of the lake. Translocations may be conducted to
intentionally set up new breeding populations closer to the collector’s home base, or
in other cases the fish fry escape from holding facilities and colonise new areas.
Given the potential for competition and hybridisation with indigenous taxa, Genner
et al. (2006) recommended that translocation should be avoided.

3.2.6. DISEASE
The disease risks associated with the trade in aquatic ornamental species have been
poorly documented when compared to that for other commodities (Whittington &
Chong, 2007). Whittington & Chong (2007) found that despite stringent Australian
border controls, there had been many disease incursions as well as the establishment
of significant exotic viral, bacterial, fungal, protozoal, and metazoan pathogens from
ornamental fish in farmed native Australian fish and free-living introduced species.
They suggested that the establishment of alien species in Australian waterways

provided a transmission pathway for the establishment of pathogens in native fishes
(Whittington & Chong, 2007). Lal Tekriwal & Arunava Rao (1999) noted that disease
was widespread among the fishes of the small-scale breeders of Calcutta.


The harvest and trade in freshwater ornamental species provides income to many
communities in rural and urban (markets) areas, where other opportunities to
generate income may be limited. If managed sustainably, the trade in freshwater
ornamentals can support jobs and provide economic incentives for habitat
conservation. This trade can also represent an important source of foreign exchange
for national economies.
Junk (1984b) noted that collection of ornamental fish in the Amazon provided a
source of income for people who had little opportunity to earn money in other ways,
and also generated foreign income. Chao (1992) estimated that eight to ten thousand
Amazonians depended for subsistence on the income generated through the trade in
ornamental species. Chao & Prang (1997) suggested that the trade contributed at
least 60% of the income revenue in Barcelos (population 12,000). They further noted
that the income generated through other extractive industries (e.g. rubber, Brazil
nuts) had declined in this region, so that the ornamental fish trade was playing an
increasingly important role.
Moreau & Coomes (2007) estimated that close to 10,000 people in the Iquitos region
of Peru were earning at least some income from collecting fishes for the trade.
Although the economic impact on local communities in Peru was not known,
Gerstner et al. (2006) estimated that 3000 families made a living from the trade and
that 100,000 people benefited economically, often in villages where few other
economic opportunities were available.


Extraction of ornamental fish is often done co-operatively; frequently in family
groups, but also in community groups e.g. in Brazil (Chao & Prang, 1997) and in
Peru (Moreau & Coomes, 2006). However, large export companies in the exporting
centres such as Manaus in Brazil may preclude the opportunity for people in local
communities to set up their own export companies.
Exploitation of the Estação Ecológica Mamirauá in Brazil was initially (in 1990)
undertaken by a fish-exporting company in Manaus that hired men from local
commuities to provide manual labour and assist the harvest; however, in subsequent
years, the same company exploited the resource using its own crew and did not
employ local people (Crampton, 1999b). Crampton (1999b) suggested that co-
operatives of local communities could be established to capture and store ornamental
fish for sale to visiting boats from Manaus companies.


Most aquaculture of ornamental fish involves freshwater species and approximately
90% of freshwater ornamental fish are captive-bred (Tlusty, 2002). Ornamental fish
are an important part of aquaculture production in some countries, notably
Singapore and the US (Tlusty, 2002). Freshwater tropical ornamental fish culture is

the largest component of aquaculture in Florida and accounts for approximately 95%
of all ornamentals produced in the US. There are about 200 Florida producers who
collectively raise over 800 varieties of freshwater fishes (Hill & Yanong, 2006).
Opinions differ on the benefits and risks of aquaculture of ornamental species. One
argument is that aquaculture of ornamental fish can contribute towards the recovery
of overexploited resources and species which may be in decline. For example, market
demand for Scleropages formosus is currently met by captive-bred specimens,
eliminating the demand from the wild of this endangered species (Tlusty, 2002).
Captive breeding operations for threatened species such as S. formosus and
Balantiocheilos melanopterus relieved the pressure on wild stocks, allowing the species
to recover (Ng & Tan, 1997).
Aquaculture often stimulates research and improved knowledge of species biology.
It can lead to increased production efficiency and lower mortality during transport,
particularly where the breeding facility is located close to an airport (Tlusty, 2002).
Culture of ornamental fish tends to be undertaken in completely closed tanks or
ponds, differing from much of the food aquaculture which very often utilizes the
marine coastal environment (Tlusty, 2002). The environmental risks, including
release of antibiotics or other pollution into the surrounding environment, may
therefore be lower than in food production.
One of the main arguments against aquaculture for ornamental species relates to the
shift of economic benefits from the native range of a species to another area or
country. Wild harvest can provide a reliable source of income generation for rural
communities. However, aquaculture operations tend to be focused in developed
areas where there is sufficient capital investment for the high cost of developing the
necessary infrastructure (Tlusty, 2002). For example, the majority of Malawi cichlids
are produced in Florida and Singapore, while the neon tetra is mostly supplied by
Hong Kong SAR (Watson, 2000 cited by Tlusty, 2002). Numbers of neon tetra
declined from 50% of the total Peruvian exports to about 14% as a result of successful
breeding in South-East Asia (Junk, 1984b). Chao (1992) reported that the ornamental
fish fishery of the Rio Negro in Brazil was diminishing as a result of competition
from operations that breed tetras in Asia. He also noted that various strains of discus
were bred in Asia, Europe and North America.
The transfer of activity to concentrate around export centres, or to countries with
lower labour costs, can have a negative effect on the economies of local people
involved in the wild harvest and removes incentives for habitat conservation
(Gerstner et al., 2006). Furthermore, Chao and Prang (1997) noted that captive
breeding and marketing of endemic species outside the region may lead to the need
for alternative forms of income generation that are environmentally destructive, such
as mineral extraction and cattle raising, which may have serious social, economic and
environmental repercussions. Banister (1980) emphasized the lack of captive
breeding of freshwater ornamentals in range states, wasting the opportunity to
generate income without depleting wild stocks. Brummet (2005) suggested that the
development of aquaculture in West Africa could represent a viable alternative to
wild harvest, particularly for valuable species.
Tlusty (2002) considered aquaculture of ornamental species to be beneficial when
species are difficult to obtain from the wild, breeding supports a conservation
programme, and the breeding programme provides some environmental benefit or
does not cause environmental damage. He recommended that aquaculture

production of ornamental species be avoided when it would replace harvest from the
wild, and where that harvest maintains habitat or a cultural or economic benefit.


A range of initiatives to promote sustainable trade have been developed in many of
the regions that export freshwater ornamental fish, particularly in South America.
Responses to conservation concerns have involved activities such as certification and
improvement of fishing practices (Lecchini et al., 2006).
Project Piaba was established to promote an economically viable fishery for the
riverine communities of the middle Rio Negro in Brazil and an ecologically
sustainable resource for the aquarium industry (Chao & Prang, 1997). This project is
conducting research on the diversity, abundance and distribution of ornamental
species with a view to: establishing fishery management strategies; looking at ways
in which fish husbandry techniques and captive breeding could be improved;
providing environmental education; creating community-based fisheries
management strategies; and liaising with the regulatory bodies in Brazil to provide
advice on monitoring and inspection of stocks, fisheries management and export
policy (Chao & Prang, 1997).
The Zoological Society of London is working with Sociedade Civil Mamirauá to
develop a pilot project in the Mamirauá and Amaná Sustainable Development
Reserves, which aims to establish best practice guidelines for a certification system
within Amazonian regions, allowing improved control of the trade in ornamental
fish. It is hoped that this will result in direct economic benefits to the rural
community and that the monetary value, along with the establishment of a
sustainable system, will ensure the long-term protection of fish diversity within the
In Guyana, an organisation called Iwokrama is working in partnership with the
North Rupununi District Development Board on a sustainable, community-based
aquarium fisheries business in the Rupununi Wetlands. The project is designed to
generate revenue for indigenous communities and benefits from the area's
extraordinarily high fish diversity. Management protocols to ensure local ecological
and social sustainability have been implemented. Iwokrama hopes to influence South
America's aquarium trade by introducing a certified 'green equity' trade, resulting in
regulation of the presently unregulated industry.
The World Fish Centre is currently working on a project to improve local incomes
and encourage sustainable exploitation of the Lower Guinea rainforest rivers of
southern Cameroon.
In the Isla Verde in Peru, villagers can deny outsider access to the 36 lakes of the
reserve, and a quota for arowana is allocated to the villagers in exchange for
monitoring and guarding duties (Moreau & Coomes, 2006).
Although ornamental fish are not specifically mentioned by the FAO Code of
Conduct, they are considered to be covered by the same guidelines. The Ornamental
Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) has produced a Code of Conduct for the
aquarium industry in the United Kingdom 4 (Bartley, 2000). The code includes three
main sections: guidelines on various aspects of trade in livestock and health and
safety; water quality criteria; and a customer charter.

4 www.ornamentalfish.org/association/code/code.php

The aquarium trade can provide the opportunity to educate the public about fish-
related environmental issues and increase awareness and understanding of what is
often perceived as a hidden ecosystem (Andrews, 1990; Wabnitz et al., 2003).
Some conservation and/or sustainable trade initiatives have incorporated public
education into their programmes. For example, Project Piaba in Brazil and Iwokrama
in Guyana have been involved in outreach programmes, engaging with the local
communities and providing environmental education. Others, such as ZSL (2006),
are carrying out research on the Brazilian and UK markets to assess whether trade in
sustainably sourced fish is economically viable.


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