“With some support and coordination, ornamental fisheries can be a low-intensity extractive business that offers a legal and reliable source of income generation. This industry can also prevent families from engaging in logging, gold mining, illegal crops, bush meat trade, slash and burn agriculture, etc.” –World Wildlife Fund
When it comes to sustainability, the seafood industry is frequently in the public spotlight, but what of other non-seafood fisheries? I had the opportunity to interview Scott Dowd from the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and Project Piaba last week, and we discussed the ornamental (aquarium) freshwater fishery in Brazil. Here is a fishery where both environmental and socio-economic sustainability exist. It is a fishery conservation organizations like the WWF see value in supporting and even promoting.
During my travels throughout the developing island nations of the Indo-Pacific, I have seen, photographed and written about ornamental marine fisheries that are having the same positive impact as the Brazilian ornamental freshwater fishery I discussed with Dowd. I have seen sustainable ornamental fisheries that have created real economic incentive to conserve, while keeping local fishers fishing and preserving cultural traditions.
Unfortunately, I have also seen ornamental fisheries that are a threat to conservation–where destructive fishing practices and overfishing are having a net detrimental impact. In order to become sustainable, these unsustainable fisheries need the support and coordination of organizations like the WWF, but the reality is that many NGOs in these developing nations have a de facto anti-trade agenda that threatens even the sustainable fisheries.
In addition to support and coordination from NGOs who see the potential environmental and socio-economic benefit of sustainable ornamental fisheries, the marine aquarium trade needs systemic trade reform. This may come in the form of regulation, assurance schemes (e.g., certification, verification) or market-based initiatives. Who will be the drivers of this change? Will the market support these changes? What will the impacts be to local fishers and the reef ecosystems which they fish? As one scientists who has studied and written extensively about trade issues said to me the other day, “The seafood industry’s past could be the ornamental aquarium trade’s future.”