How Many Wild Orange Clownfish Does the Aquarium Trade Harvest? (Excerpt)

The “Onyx” variant of the Orange Clownfish, A. percula, a species whose ESA Listing is up for debate | Photo by Matthew Pedersen

The following excerpt is from an online article published yesterday by Reef to Rainforest. One addition is that the blogger in question–the one who appears to have first used the statistic of 200,000 orange clownfish imported–corrected his mistake when I reached out to him. That doesn’t always happen so kudos to Nick Visser and The Huffington Post!

As we reported last week, the orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) is now in status review with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for possible Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing. The move from a petitioned species to a species under status review is, in and of itself, not very significant. Nonetheless, the fact remains that this iconic aquarium fish is one step closer to being listed, and that’s got a lot of people talking. Talk is cheap, though, and amongst all the talk, the data commonly get the short end of the stick. We thought it might be useful to cut through the hyperbole and spend a moment looking at what the data actually say about the marine aquarium trade’s effects on wild populations of orange clownfish.

Preliminary Data

So what data are out there now? Before we ask that question, we need to understand the context of the data currently being discussed as a result of NMFS’s 90-Day Finding document. When a species is petitioned for listing, NMFS scientists are only allowed to look at data and information submitted by the petitioner or already in NMFS files. In other words, if the petitioner writes a compelling petition that appears supported by data, then NMFS announces in a document called a “90-Day finding” (which is supposed to be published within 90-days of the original petition, hence the name) that they intend to take a closer look. This closer look is called a “status review” and is far more comprehensive then the initial review of the petition. During the status review, NMFS scientists will fact-check the data and other information submitted in the petition, and they will go far beyond those data, seeking out the best available science and reaching out to anyone who may be considered well informed about the species or the threats it faces. Therefore, since we’re just at the beginning of the status review, the data and information currently being discussed are very preliminary.

Another important fact to keep in mind before looking at the data is that, as is the case in the 20 species of coral recently listed as threatened under the ESA, the marine aquarium trade is neither the primary focus of the petitioning organization nor the primary focus of NMFS. In the original petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the word aquarium is used less than 50 times, whereas acidified and acidification are used more than three times as much. In short, the petition to list the orange clownfish is chiefly about threats like ocean acidification to anemones upon which clownfish depend.

200,000 Orange Clownfish Harvested Annually?

Unlike the recent coral listings, where NMFS states in its final rule that the aquarium trade poses a “low” threat for extinction, in the case of the orange clownfish, NMFS says it doesn’t have enough data at this point to assess the effects of wild harvest on the species. What NMFS says it does know is that the number of orange clownfish imported for the aquarium trade in 2005 was… [READ MORE]

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
This entry was posted in Endangered Species Act (ESA), Global Climate Change, Indo-Pacific, Ornamental Fisheries and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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