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 these areas from destructive development.
The HAFSG is composed of a 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.
Scott Dowd and Tim Miller-Morgan, in addition to several members from the Project Piaba Brazil team and international partners, lead a groups to the fishing grounds in Brazil normally for two weeks each January and February.
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.
In 2018 CarbonCo LLC prepared a report on Project Piaba’s Potential as a Forest Carbon Offset Project. This rapid assessment report discusses how continued sequestration of carbon and atmospheric scrubbing healthy tropical forests (REDD+) processes might relate to the objectives of Project Piaba.
The February 2018 Issue of the OFI Journal – the official publication of Ornamental Fish International – has a focus on conservation. It includes some excellent articles, including one on Conservation and Management of Indian Ornamental Fishes, and an article by Scott Dowd, Chair of the Home Aquarium Fishes subgroup of FFSG, on Project Piaba: The fostering and advancement of ‘good.’ There are also three important letters in support of a sustainable ornamental fish trade in support of conservation and livelihoods, written by Rosie Cooney (Chair, IUCN SSC/CEESP Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group), Devin Bartley (Retired Senior Fishery Resources Officer Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) and Valerie Hickey (Practice Manager, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice World Bank Group).
Ornamental Fish International have very kindly allowed FFSG to post this Special Issue copy on our website, for access to our members and others with an interest in these subjects. If this issue is of interest to you, then please consider joining Ornamental Fish International.
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.
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 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.