Every day planes leave Kona, Hawaii with live yellow tangs loaded in the cargo hold, most of them destined for a U.S. aquarium. Craig Schmarr of Ocean Riders Seahorse Farm believes the "self-regulating fishery" is a threat to Hawaiian reefs.There is now a market for captive-bred, eco-friendly seahorses for private aquarists in the U.S., but this message has not been taken onboard by public aquaria. Nor has captive-bred production been considered for many other reef fish victims of live fish trade, such as the yellow tang.
The live fish trade--as 'bushmeat of the sea' and as ornamentals for U.S. and European aquaria--threatens reefs worldwide. In the U.S. there are more than 200 public aquaria, which dwarf the demand of hobby aquarists due to their scale but also due to high turnover rates (a result of predation). Craig estimatess public aquarium animals are almost always wild-caught.
When possible, aquaria should use captive-bred fishes instead of ones taken from the wild. Captive-bred fish last longer in captivity (surprise!) and do not fuel demand for reef destruction and overfishing. Perhaps this initiative could be underscored by the Marine Aquarium Council, an international NGO interested in conservation.
Yet, the live fish for the live fish trade is largely supplied by fishers in the developing world in dire need of the income. But couldn't the U.S. offer overseas development assistance offering help setting up captive breeding programs with these same fishers? After all, the U.S. is by far the largest consumer of ornamentals, importing about 60 percent of all marine ornamental fish and 70 to 90 percent of all live coral worldwide. We are also embarrassingly behind on the Millennium development goals, to which we've committed but have not followed.
There is one further snag. On average, captive-bred fish probably cost three times wild-caught ones, so aquaria, particularly those committed to conservation, need a nudge from their visitors and employees. Many of you visit an aquarium or two or maybe even work at one. Please share any insights or, if you agree, encourage your aquarium to use captive-bred fish.
great post on an important topic, jennifer... i can't adequately portray the tremendous amount of human effort we see expended in our project sites in fiji, papua new guinea, indonesia, and the philippines by local communities to work over their home reefs to remove fish and invertebrates for the short term profit in the aquarium trade... there needs to be more effort on establishing microenterprises in these countries so more locals have the seed funds needed to engage in aquaculture (something we are exploring in a few destinations)...
also, you didn't hear it from me, but i've heard that mac is having some serious difficulties in maintaining assurance/enforcement of sustainability once they "certify" a seller... an all too common problem in certification programs...