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International Waters

First-ever joint public and home aquarium venture makes a promising start.


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The Round Table Discussion panel: Scott Dowd, Lyle Squire, Ramón Barbosa, John Dawes, Gerald Bassleer, Keith Davenport, Svein Fosså and Rob Jones

The ornamental aquatic industry supplies both the home aquarium market and the public aquarium sector, and it is seen as the central point in a spectrum that contains ornamental (home) aquaria at one end and public aquaria at the other.

While acknowledging each other’s existence, as well as their significance, they’ve tended to harbor a certain degree of reservation toward each other. The reasons for this are unclear, but they have stood in the way of a mutually beneficial relationship.

Recently, the mood has been improving, especially with some leading figures from the public aquarium community visiting the ornamental aquatic industry’s premier biennial event, Aquarama, held in Singapore.

In a revolutionary move that could bode well for the future, the chair of the Home Aquarium Fish Sub-group (HAFSG) of the IUCN Freshwater Fishes Specialist Group, Scott Dowd of the New England Aquarium, joined forces with the Aquarama organizers, via a specially convened committee, to introduce a program of activities aimed at bringing both industries together.

The resulting program, launched at Aquarama 2015 in May, consisted of three components:

• Round Table Discussion (RTD): A panel of seven experts* from the public and home aquarium industries was invited to discuss a number of specially selected topics. After an introduction, in which I, as the moderator for the session, outlined the logic for having both industries under one roof and emphasized the belief that it was the first-ever gathering of its kind, a fruitful discussion ensued from which both sectors left rejuvenated and enthusiastic, as did the large audience that had gathered for the session.

*Members of the RTD Panel: Scott Dowd, chair of the IUCN Home Aquarium Fish Sub-group and Special Advisor on Aquarium Fisheries to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, U.S.; Rob Jones, “The Aquarium Vet,” Australia, and Consultant to Sea Life Aquariums in Australia and New Zealand; Ramón Barbosa, senior curator, RWS—S.E.A. Aquarium, Singapore; Gerald Bassleer, president, Ornamental Fish International; Svein Fosså, president, European Pet Organisation and secretary general, Norwegian Pet Trade Association; Lyle Squire, director, Cairns Marine, Australia, and president, Provision Reef, Australia; Keith Davenport, chief executive, Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association, U.K.

• Seminar: A program of five talks, each presented by a top figure from the two industries, plus the international conservation world, followed the RTD and was equally successful and groundbreaking. The presentations dealt with artificial insemination in sharks, manta ray research, dragon fish, the home aquarium initiative, and tackling conservation needs within the public and home aquarium industries.

• Strategic Development Meeting: This, in some ways, was the “main event,” in which representatives gathered to discuss and establish a framework to maximize environmental and socioeconomic benefits as an outcome of the home aquarium trade. The three introductions made at the beginning of this session were presented by Dr. Gerald Bassleer, president of Ornamental Fish International, Lynn Tang from Conservation International and Cindy Lee of the Toronto Zoo, Canada (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), who laid down the main framework for the ensuing working group discussions on Partnerships for Fostering Beneficial Aquarium Fisheries under the moderation of the Facilitators’ Network, Singapore.

By the end of this particularly fruitful session, the following next steps had been agreed:

• June 19: Open commentary and review on the Aquarama meeting report and the overall strategy of the HAFSG to identify beneficial case studies and opportunities associated with the trade, and then to showcase positive examples at zoos and public aquariums in a way that fosters the market for beneficial aquarium fish. 

• July 1: The HAFSG Steering Committee (SC) to produce a consensus statement comprising points of agreement with regard to fostering environmental and socioeconomic benefits from the aquarium fish trade.

• Sept.1: The HAFSG SC to produce a first-draft white paper describing examples of where the home aquarium fish trade currently results in environmental and/or socioeconomic benefit, where—through attainable adaptation—it could result in benefit, and where there is an urgent need for environmental stewardship or livelihoods that could be attained from the aquarium trade.

• September, AZA National Conference: Advance an industrywide initiative for zoos and aquariums to showcase examples from the HAFSG white paper in their exhibits and programs. This initiative should highlight conservation themes while encouraging visitors to enter the fishkeeping hobby by seeking fish that have been sourced with beneficial outcomes.

• Ongoing: Work with trade groups such as Ornamental Fish International, the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council to seek examples that might be included in the HAFSG white paper.

• Ongoing: The HAFSG SC to maintain dialogue with the broader working group of stakeholders within the aquarium fish trade, the scientific/conservation community, and zoos and public aquariums.

• Ongoing: Plan development meetings at venues where working group members are likely to convene (AZA, EUAC, RAW, Aquatic Experience, Interzoo, Aquarama, etc.).

The Aquarama 2015 Public Aquaria program was a great success, thanks to the efforts and enthusiasm of all those involved in its planning, as well as those who participated in the various activities. It now remains to be seen what the coming months will bring, but if the spirit of optimism felt at the time, as well as the inertia generated in Singapore persist, the future for this budding relationship looks very promising.  


This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Pet Product News.

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