As some of you familiar with my work know, I cover all types of fisheries. Over the past few years, I have reported frequently on marine aquarium fisheries, especially those in developing island nations of the Pacific. I have come to see that, not unlike other fisheries on which I have reported, sustainably-harvested marine aquarium fisheries can be one of the best paths to real conservation of the resource, especially considering the alternative resource extraction industries targeting these island nations. I have seen firsthand how local fishers monetizing their reefs can lead to real economic incentive to fish sustainably. I have seen how keeping local fishers fishing their traditional fishing grounds is often in the best interest of the resource. In short, I have seen real socio-economic and environmental benefit as a direct result of fishing sustainably for the marine aquarium trade.
Unfortunately I have also seen the other side, and, while I would like to say unsustainable practices are the exception rather than the norm, the reality is that the marine aquarium trade at present relies heavily on fisheries about which we should be concerned. This is really nothing new, but, for a variety of both complex and not-so-complex reasons, the status quo continues to prevail. I frequently draw the analogy between food fisheries and marine aquarium fisheries and the progress that has been made in the former. Might some of the same approaches be appropriate paths to reforming marine aquarium fisheries?
The following is an excerpt from an article I have in the current issue of CORAL Magazine that suggests trade reform–if it happens–may come from some “unusual suspects.”
As someone who has covered sustainability issues in the aquarium trade for several years now, I believe the necessary trade reform is going to be driven by some new players—entities that have the incentive, resources, and imagination to achieve what others have been unable or unwilling to achieve. As discussed above, public aquariums and, by extension, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) will play a leading role in positive reform, but so will others.
Home aquarists and many in the trade have not traditionally embraced many of these “new” players. In fact, some would be hard pressed to even identify them as players, but their efforts and engagement in the issues that will make or break the aquarium trade have already proven they are the ones with the incentive, the resources, and the will to make a change. Expect, along with public aquariums, to see the Petcos and Disneys and Sea Worlds of the world define the agenda in the coming months. Expect the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) to engage on behalf of, and in conjunction with, these entities. Aquarists and individuals involved with the trade have a choice here—will the likes of public aquariums, Petco, Disney, and Sea World be embraced or shunned? Will aquarists become fractured and segmented over petty arguments about who really knows best and what the best path forward ought to be, or will aquarists support these emerging thought leaders and enter into a constructive dialogue with them? Will those in the trade expand their relationships with these players and actively collaborate to increase the sustainability of the trade, or will they insist on a business-as-usual approach that will only push the trade closer to the abyss?
If you’re interested, you can read the article in its entirety for free here thanks to the editor making it available online.