International Waters: Heavyweight Support for the Aquarium Industry
We are still struggling with the Hawaii crisis that has resulted in a ban on the issuing of fish collecting permits, thus, putting a stop to the state’s marine ornamental sector, with no early end in sight. In Fiji, while the authorities have repealed their ill-advised ban on live coral and rock exports, we are still awaiting the decision of the Management Authority, which is responsible for issuing quotas. Until this happens—something that could take months—that industry, too, is paralyzed. For its part, the Indian industry is getting going again after it was subjected to its own wide-ranging ban, which, happily, has been repealed.
With so much negative activity affecting the ornamental aquatic industry, it is heartening to report that not everything, or everybody, appears to be conspiring against it.
The February 2018 edition of the OFI Journal, for instance, focused on conservation and the industry, and featured a selection of articles highlighting some of the positive effects of the industry on livelihoods, communities and natural habitats. Reports on some of the projects currently underway in several leading fish-collecting and exporting regions, from India to Indonesia and Brazil, all show where industry and conservation can, and do, work together toward a common target.
In addition, this special edition carries letters of support for the aquarium industry from three heavyweights of the conservation community. These make valuable and interesting reading. Therefore, just as I provide space in this column for legislative and other matters that often impact negatively on the ornamental sector, I think it is only fair to give due prominence to these three gestures of support. I, thus, quote in some detail from all three letters.
•Devin M. Bartley, retired senior fisheries resources officer, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome
“The strategic objectives of FAO are to end hunger and poverty, promote sustainable use of natural resources, support stable markets and help countries respond to natural and human induced disasters. Aquarium fisheries can be an important element in achieving these objectives. Collection and trade in aquarium fisheries can provide stable and secure livelihoods in developing countries, helping to alleviate poverty. Maintaining habitat for aquarium fisheries can also encourage the preservation of biodiversity and natural systems, thereby ensuring that productive natural resource bases (i.e., clean water and air, healthy soils) are available to sustain healthy communities.
“Since 1985 the value of the international trade in ornamental exports has increased at an average growth rate of approximately 14 percent per year. Given that developing countries account for about 63 percent of the export value, these figures demonstrate significant potential for the ornamental fish industry, when developed responsibly and sustainably, to play an even greater role in building livelihoods and addressing poverty alleviation.
“The work of groups such as Project Piaba [project piaba.org] in the Brazilian Amazon, the LINI Project [Indonesia Nature Foundation, lini.or.id] in Bali, and others that encourage sustainable growth of the aquarium fish trade are therefore critical to helping achieve the goals of FAO. Project Piaba, working in the Rio Negro region of Brazil, is working with local fishers to encourage best handling practices, increase incomes for fishers, and demonstrate additional benefits of a sustainable fishery, such as habitat protection and carbon storage (critical in the efforts to combat climate change). The LINI Project is working with fishers, governments, and local communities in Indonesia to develop and promote sustainable fisheries by increasing the health of coral reefs, improving fisheries management, and developing marine conservation areas. These local and regional efforts are essential to support, scale up, and promote to ensure the longevity and full potential of the aquarium fish industry.
“The work of the above groups and OFI can … help make the ornamental fish industry a sustainable and responsible industry now and in the future.”
•Rosie Cooney, chair, IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), Gland, Switzerland, CEESP (Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy)/SSC (Species Survival Commission) Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi) & Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies, University of New South Wales
“The IUCN and other global conservation organizations are seeking examples of where communities residing in regions of biological importance can meet basic livelihood needs in a sustainable way. In the case of sustainable fisheries for the aquarium trade, there are examples that go beyond meeting these objectives, where trade results in an effective driver of environmental stewardship.
“The fact that many of these fisheries have been ongoing at stable levels for generations provides evidence that the resource of aquarium fish, and access to the global market, is a reliable basis for sustainable use. The longevity and reliability of the industry also provides economic assurance to communities, which can be quite meaningful when compared to regions without stable livelihoods, where poverty and hopelessness are widespread. This is likely to have a significant impact where, otherwise, there would be hardship and very threatening circumstances for biodiversity.
“The aquarium industry and its market are subjected to a variety of external influences. A significant force is public perception of environmental impact. IUCN SULi is aware of, and commends, the efforts of Ornamental Fish International and its members to spotlight and promote these examples of fisheries where there are socio-economic and environmental benefits. We look forward to deepening our partnership to promote sustainability and sustainable local livelihoods.”
•Valerie Hickey, practice manager, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, World Bank Group
“The World Bank’s vision is a world free of poverty. As this statement suggests, it is rare that we tackle a problem that is not grounded in poverty.
“Saving wild species and wilderness provides food security, generates jobs and revenue flows, and builds resilience against external shocks, or so the theory goes. We are testing this theory at the World Bank. We are committed to promoting and protecting nature as a local and national public good through our capital, convening services and technical assistance. We are committed to making it relevant in the development marketplace of ideas. Truth be told, we simply cannot alleviate poverty by impoverishing—by design or simple neglect—the natural wealth accounts of rural communities.
“I was pleased to hear of the case studies in the aquarium trade in a discussion with Scott Dowd a few years ago at the Word Parks Congress in Sydney. Scott shared the example of Project Piaba, where the cardinal tetra fishery in Brazil’s Rio Negro serves as an example of the bank’s theory in practice. He explained that this species weighs an average of 0.2 grams at capture.
“It has been documented that, in some years, as many as 40 million cardinal tetras have been captured and exported for the aquarium trade. This amounts to 8,000 kg offtake for a fishery that takes place in an area of 122,476 square kilometers, a very small biological offtake in comparison to the impact on livelihoods. Fishing communities are broadly distributed throughout the region, and the fishery is the primary driver of the local economies. This example of a single species providing a mechanism of income for communities that are cash poor, but biologically rich, falls squarely within the bank’s theory.”
The full texts of the above letters, plus the articles referred to, were published in Issue No. 86, February, 2018, of the OFI Journal (official publication of Ornamental Fish International: ofish.org)
John Dawes is an international ornamental aquatic industry consultant. He has written and/or edited more than 50 books and has contributed more than 4,000 articles to hobby, trade and academic publications. He is the editor of the OFI Journal and a consultant to AquaRealm, the new trade show that took place June 2017 in Singapore.