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GEO Year Book 2003  
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Non-food fisheries: the marine aquarium trade

Between one-and-a-half and two million people worldwide are estimated to keep marine aquaria. The trade, which supplies this hobby with live marine animals, is worth an estimated US$200–330 million annually, and operates throughout the tropics. Ornamental marine species (corals, other invertebrates and fish) are collected and transported mainly from Southeast Asia, but also increasingly from several island nations in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, to the main destination markets: the United States, the European Union (EU) and, to a lesser extent, Japan (Wabnitz and others 2003).

Some 1 471 fish species and 140 coral species are traded worldwide. With nearly all tropical marine aquarium fish and invertebrates in trade taken directly from coral reefs and adjacent habitats, the aquarium industry has attracted controversy, particularly regarding its sustainability. A maximum of 10 per cent of marine ornamental fish are captive-bred and probably less than one per cent of the total trade in hard corals is derived from cultured origins. Trade in this industry has been on the increase. In 1997, for example, 1 200 tonnes of coral were traded internationally, a tenfold increase on the amount of live coral traded in the late 1980s (Wabnitz and others 2003).

Box 8: Gaining an overview: the Global Marine Aquarium Database

In 2000, the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC), the Marine Aquarium Council and members of various aquarium trade associations began, in collaboration, to address the need for better information and created the Global Marine Aquarium Database (GMAD). In August 2003, the dataset contained 102 928 trade records (7.7 million imported and 9.4 million exported animals) covering a total of 2 393 species of fish, corals and invertebrates and spanning the years 1988–2003. An analysis of the database provided the first global picture of trade in marine ornamental species.
This innovative partnership with traders has led to the collection of a unique data set and an analysis that will assist national ministries and commercial organizations to develop a sustainable approach to the trade.
The GMAD can be accessed through the ‘Species’ page at http://www.unep wcmc.org/

Source: Wabnitz and others 2003

Opponents to the trade emphasize that there are significant challenges to achieving sustainability:
The damaging techniques sometimes used to collect reef specimens. Sodium cyanide, for example, is a non-selective technique used to capture fish. This adversely impacts the overall health of fish and coral and non-target organisms;
The over-harvesting of target organisms;
The high levels of mortality associated with insensitive shipping and poor husbandry practices along the supply chain; and
A paucity of information on the extent of the marine ornamental trade (Box 8).


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