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Pet Product News Editorial Blog:

March 28, 2012

Sourcing from the Wild: Pro and Con

By Patrick Donston and David Lass

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Sourcing from the Wild (sustainable harvest): Pro
A sustainable animal is a must from a marketing standpoint and the future of our industry. Furthermore, if and when the choice is available, they are a better buy for health and vitality.

A responsible industry should ensure the health of aquarium organisms, as well as promote sustainable conservation projects that impact coastal zones and waterways. The environmental and socioeconomic impacts of our trade affect hobbyists, industry operators and government agencies. Marketing trends such as “go green” are not only wise but necessary. Your business should always appeal to the core values of your customers. Purchasing sustainable organisms sends a message to all of the above. It is the smart thing to do. Of course it’s important to have a creative way with presentation and identification of these animals.

coral reef

In terms of the argument to never sell wild-caught specimens: in order to promote a sustainable hobby, we need to “inspire” clients. Quite frankly, there just aren’t enough aquacultured, captive-raised or sustainable organisms available. If we as a group were to embargo all wild-caught specimens we would never be able to financially support the sustainable side of the industry. While I have stated in previous blogs that the outlook looks promising, we are not there yet.

If we were to stop the importation of all wild-caught supply, we would suffocate ourselves with a less-interested audience. No audience, no money. There would be little incentive to invest in aquaculture, captive-rearing or other new ideas in terms of sustainable harvesting. We should be using a balance between the two and when possible, choose sustainable options. I’m confident that as we grow we will be able to do more to help conserve our oceans and fresh waterways. —PD

Sourcing from the Wild: Con
Most of the freshwater fish for sale in local fish stores have been aquacultured commercially in Florida or the Far East. And if the few freshwater fish taken from the wild were to no longer be available, the effect on the hobby/industry would be a very small blip on its radar. As new fish are discovered—if they are commercially popular—it only is a matter of months before fish farmers in Singapore, China, Bangkok and/or Indonesia start producing them for the trade. Some recent examples are the celestial pearl danio and the roseline shark.

On the saltwater side of the hobby, it is virtually the opposite. Other than clownfish, dottybacks, sea horses and some small gobies, the vast majority of fish are caught in the wild. This simply has to stop. “Sustainable harvesting” is the proposed solution to sweeping reefs clean of fish. I would argue that a sustainable harvest is a pipe dream. In Hawaii, where U.S. law protects fish, it may be possible to control the harvest. Yellow tangs are the primary fish from Hawaii, and the industry/government has established different territories where these fish are taken from. It may work, but there are nutcases like “Snorkel Bob” who come closer every year to getting the Hawaiian legislature to ban taking all fish from the waters.

Almost all of the marine fish in the hobby are wild caught in the Pacific/Coral Triangle, which runs from New Guinea/Australia to the Philippines, then down to Indonesia/Malaysia and to the Solomon Islands. These thousands-plus islands all have reefs with corals and fishes. The native peoples have lived off the sea for ages—and they fish to survive. It is absurd to think we could ever enforce sustainable harvests in the Pacific/Coral Triangle.

What is realistic is a combination of aquaculture and sustainable harvest, namely the establishment of local enterprises in the Pacific where corals and clams are grown as a crop by natives. ORA (Oceans, Reefs and Aquariums), which only deals in aquacultured fish and corals, is doing this in the Pacific. Sustainable Aquatics brings in post-larval stages of fish from the wild and grows them to market size in its facility in Tennessee. I applaud it and others who are working to commercially aquaculture marine fish and inverts. It is only a matter of time before we have to stop taking fish from the reefs. —DL


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Reader Comments
Link to peer review data showing Yellow Tangs numbers 73% lower? You can't just make up facts to suite your needs like Snorkel Bob.
Willis, Augusta, GA
Posted: 3/31/2012 6:18:14 AM
Hawaii aquatic biologists have been studying aquarium trade impacts on yellow tang populations and other heavily targeted species since 1998. Their data repeatedly shows depleted populations ranging from 14 to 97%. Yellow tangs are 73% lower - because of aquarium collecting. The state biologist in charge called it "unsustainable". The people of Hawaii and their local governments understand the higher value these animals have when left on the reefs to benefit the ecosystem and ALL people. Snorkel Bob is but one champion of reef wildlife.
Rene, Maui, HI
Posted: 3/30/2012 7:56:19 AM
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