For decades home aquarium fish have been collected from regions of biological importance across the globe. The vast majority of the organisms in the home aquarium trade are represented by freshwater species (90 percent). The home aquarium fish trade is a large international market responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars annually in revenue for businesses. Although the majority of freshwater aquarium specimens are captive cultured, there are still fishing communities residing in areas of biological importance that capture and export fishes for the global trade. These fisheries are a powerful driver of the local economies and environmental protectionism in regions where their collection takes place. These fisheries face many pressing issues, including:
• Market competition from Ex-situ fish farms
• Public perception pressure on the industry to shift to captive bred stock
• Decline in recruitment of new fish hobbyists and a disconnection with millennials
• Increasing regulations on the importation of wild captured fishes
• The need to implement Best Handling Practices for wild caught fishes to maximize value and market competitiveness and minimize fish stress
• The need to develop marketing framework to highlight socioeconomic and environmental benefits of wild caught fishes
• The need for solutions that benefit the environment to address unsustainable or destructive practices
• The need to establish fair and equitable distribution of economic benefits
Enacting best practices for the capture and export of these fish can provide effective incentives for communities and workers to fend off other industries and practices that degrade the environment upon which the fish depend, resulting in protection for not only the target species but the entire ecosystem. Many of these regions that contain marketable species, as well as other species that may be threatened according to IUCN Red List, are, in effect, Protected Areas, as a result of resident-based stewardship. In important instances in developing countries, the home aquarium trade has become an effective instrument for poverty alleviation, preservation of remaining areas of biological importance and critically endangered species, and preserving global climate stability.
The HAFSG is composed of and draws from its Steering Committee and Advisory, composed of stakeholders the IUCN’s Specialist Groups and partnering NGO’s, leaders in the home aquarium industry, and the public aquarium and zoo community. Science-based findings towards conservation objectives are conveyed via zoos, aquariums and other outlets in a harmonized strategy with commercial partners to achieve shared goals.
With this in mind, the HAFSG has been created with several goals, which include:
• To identify, validate, and promote the conservation and wise management of wild populations of tropical fishes that are part of the home aquarium trade, as well as the ecosystems where they are found
• To support sustainable, socioeconomic, and environmental benefits for home aquarium fishing communities, especially living in regions of biological importance
• To develop and implement solutions that result in the most robust market for home aquarium fish that result in environmental protectionism, poverty alleviation, and climate stability.
Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan who is a key member on the steering committee of the Home Aquarium Sub-Group, will be holding a talk at AquaRealm called Buy a Fish, Save a Tree: Sustainability of the Rio Negro.
Learn more about AquaRealm: here
Scott Dowd and Tim Miller-Morgan, in addition to several members from the Project Piaba Brazil team and international partners, will lead a group to the fishing grounds in Brazil from January 20 to Friday, February 2, 2018.
Several stakeholders will join Scott and the Project Piaba team in the field, including commercial fish traders, zoo & aquarium specialists, aquatic animal health specialists, and Brazilian collaborators from the Amazonas State and Brazil’s Federal Government.
More details about the expedition are available here.
OATA’s Chief Executive Dominic Whitmee visited the Rio Negro to see the work of Project Piaba, a non-profit organisation established to study and foster environmentally and socially beneficial home aquarium fish trade.
Unseasonally high water levels when I visited in January 2017 are making life difficult for the Piaberos, the artisanal fisherman of the Cardinal Tetra unique to the Barcelos region of the Rio Negro in Brazil.
The Piaberos from the village of Daracua, upstream of Barcelos, will often paddle for between one or two hours to find good fishing sites. They don’t normally use the small outboard motors on their canoes in order to keep their costs down because the margins these fishermen operate to are extremely low.
Segrest Farms, one the world’s largest wholesale ornamental fish distributors, has a commitment to not only find the best suppliers of fish, but also ensure their suppliers are following the best practices to ensure long-term sustainability and success. Hence, they have stated their support for Project Piaba – a project that is central to FFSG’s Home Aquarium Fish Sub-Group. Project Piaba focuses on sustainable capture of wild populations of Amazonian fishes. Project Piaba follows methods that do not represent a threat to those populations, because they are directed at species that have adapted to high levels of natural mortality by spawning in huge numbers. Project Piaba also focuses on the economic incentives that the ornamental fish trade has on the local communities, providing income for more than half of the region’s inhabitants who would, otherwise, be forced to work in environmentally destructive industries such as logging, mining, and ranching.
Segrest Farms has been able to assist by offering their expertise in best practices for shipping and handling fishes. In addition, as the largest wholesale supplier in the US, Segrest Farms have the ability to offer these sustainable resourced fishes to retailers across the US, hence significantly supporting the income that is returned to the fisheries and communities.
Public aquaria and the aquarium trade once again joined forces to promote conservation at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) annual conference held in September in Salt Lake City UT. The collaboration came in the form of a display booth for the AZA’s Freshwater Fish Taxon Advisory Group which showcased the potential for conservation outcomes from the aquarium trade and hobby—in particular how zoos and aquariums can encourage the hobby and drive conservation through their exhibits. The IUCN FFSG Home Aquarium Fish Sub-Group collaborated on the booth.
The conference was attended by over 5,000 people representing 228 institutions—primarily zoos and public aquaria in the US. Although the aquarium hobby would not typically be highlighted at an event like this, members of the advisory group decided to dedicate their entire booth space to exactly that during the 3-day event. The concept for this exhibit was to demonstrate how zoos and aquariums could simply and effectively engage visitors with a way to drive conservation from home—by way of an aquarium. This idea builds upon increasing recognition in conservation circles that managed, community-based collection of aquarium fish in areas of biological importance can help prevent habitat destruction while providing sustainable livelihoods for people. It is also thought that aquarium fisheries can help protect species prone to poaching—like the Sumatran rhino or Bengal tiger—by dissuading poachers from entering habitat where fishers are active. The display at this year’s AZA conference used the Asian elephant as a model for a species of large, popular, and threatened species whose native habitat could potentially be preserved by aquarium fish collecting.
At the Aquarama 2015 Seminars held in Singapore May 28 – June 1, 2015 the IUCN Freshwater Fishes Specialist Group worked with the event organizers to convene discussions, panels, and a Strategic Development Meeting with the goals of developing a framework to maximize environmental and socioeconomic benefits as an outcome of the home aquarium trade.
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear there is substantial overlap in the shared goals for environmental and socioeconomic benefits between commercial stakeholders, the academic/conservation community, and zoos and public aquariums. Leaders in these three groups convened at Aquarama to discuss shared goals, shared challenges, and how a harmonized strategy may yield significant benefits to all.
In the not too distant past, these three groups would not necessarily have viewed the others as partners; in fact, a certain degree of reservation towards each other was not uncommon. The sincere commitment to collaboration that took place at the Singapore meeting was, itself, a great step forward.
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As one of its first activities, the HAFSG hosted a side event at the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. The event took place on Monday, November 17, 2015 from 7-8 a.m. AEDT (UTC +11). Sub-group Chair lead a discussion about the new sub-group and its many opportunities. The side event built upon a separate presentation at the Congress on Creating Protected Areas by Fostering Socioeconomically and Environmentally Beneficial Aquarium Fisheries.
Scott has served as a biologist at the New England Aquarium (NEAq) since 1987 He also co-founded, and is now Executive Director of Project Piaba (piaba is the local name for the ornamental fish). The Mission of Project Piaba is to increase the environmental, animal welfare, and social sustainability of the Amazonian aquarium fish trade, to develop and incorporate metrics through which this progress can be assessed, and to provide mechanisms to promote this industry. Project Piaba’s work is also on Facebook.