Tropical fish keeping as a hobby can be a wonderful way to appreciate the fascinating creatures that live beneath the waves. But we want to see hobbyists ensure that their reef keeping practices are sustainable. And to do this, we recommend that hobbyists hold their retailers accountable for sustainable and responsible fish trading.
MarineBio.org recommends that reef keepers insist that their tropical fish retailers:
To be sold as a MAC Certified organism, the marine organism must pass the unbroken chain of custody from ‘Reef to Retail’; meaning collected from a MAC Certified area by a MAC Certified fisherman or cultured in a MAC Certified facility, then passed to a MAC Certified Exporter, then importer and retailer.
The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) is an international, multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit and non-governmental organization that brings together conservation organizations, the aquarium industry, public aquariums, hobbyist groups and government agencies to ensure the marine aquarium trade is responsible and sustainable. MAC’s mission is to conserve coral reefs and other marine ecosystems by creating standards and certification for those engaged in the collection and care of ornamental marine life from reef to aquarium. MAC accomplishes its mission through the following activities:
Establishing independent certification of best practice standards;
Raising public awareness of the conservation role of the marine aquarium industry and hobbyists;
Promoting the sustainable use of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems though the responsible collection of marine ornamental life;
Ensuring the health and quality of marine ornamental life through responsible collection, handling and transporting practices; and
Encouraging responsible husbandry through education and training
Quarantine fish stocks before selling them to ensure their viability
Demonstrate knowledge regarding the livestock they sell, including where and how the livestock was harvested
Demonstrate commitment to only selling sustainably caught or raised livestock
Demonstrate a commitment to educating their sales staff
Refuse to stock marine life that is not suitable for captivity
Refuse to stock marine life whose populations are in jeopardy so that they have the chance to re-populate in the wild
Provide education and educational materials for reef keepers to ensure their customers have sufficient knowledge to successfully keep reef fish
Support fish bred through aquaculture
Huge areas of natural reefs have been decimated by the retail tropical fish trade where fish and other marine life were obtained by destructive methods. One of the most destructive practices is poisoning reefs with cyanide or other toxic chemicals to stun the fish so that they can be captured live. The chemical mixture is squirted into reef crevices and the reef is broken apart to harvest the fish. Many of these fish die before or soon after they have been sold. Some estimate up to 80% of fish harvested this way die before they ever make it to a home aquarium. The poison also harms non-targeted species and the live corals. Fortunately, some countries are taking action against this practice. In the Phillipines, the Cyanide Fishing Reform Program is a partnership between the government and the International Marinelife Alliance (IMA), which trains local fishermen to use alternatives to cyanide, such as fine-mesh nets that can be draped over reefs to catch fish for the aquarium trade.
Mortality of tropical fish before it reaches the consumer is also estimated at up to 80% for a number of reasons including poor capture and husbandry practices, stress, and poor shipping practices (see Death in the live fish reef trades reference below). Poor shipping practices of the aquarium trade also needlessly harms wild-caught marine species.
But the ornamental fish trade can be a sustainable industry that can support the livelihoods of indigenous coastal communities as long as these destructive practices are stopped, and fishermen are educated on ways to harvest tropical fish sustainably.
To learn more about general marine conservation issues and about marine life visit: MarineBio.org