The Sustainably Minded Aquarist Part I – Wild Animals (Excerpt)

While covering the marine aquarium trade at the intersection of science and sustainability, I’m frequently asked what the sustainably minded aquarist should do. Over the next ten weeks, I’m going to try to answer that question as best I’m able through a series of weekly articles I’m calling “The Sustainable Marine Aquarist.” Please join me by clicking on the image below.

The Sustainably Minded Aquarist Part I – Wild Animals

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 Aquaculture, Developing Nations, Ecolabels, Hawaii, Indo-Pacific, Ornamental Fisheries, Overfishing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to The Sustainably Minded Aquarist Part I – Wild Animals (Excerpt)

  1. Pingback: President and CEO of PIJAC Continues Disinformation | Good Catch Blog

  2. Tank Watch says:

    Tank Watch is a free mobile app to educate hobbyists on this subject.

    • Ret Talbot says:

      As I’m sure you know from reading my posts in the past, I support sustainable aquarium fisheries in the same was I support sustainable food fisheries. The effect of aquarium fisheries is tiny compared to commercial food fisheries and even recreational fisheries. Having said that, the aquarium trade does need comprehensive reform to address unsustainable and illegal activity. Framing all wild-harvested fishes as “bad fish” is, however, a simple approach that ignores the complexities of data-driven, adaptive fisheries management and environmental & socio-economic sustainability. As is often the case, the best way forward avoids the extreme positions and deals in the gray areas. Regardless, I’m pleased we’re having the dialog.

      • Tank Watch says:

        Ah… yes, but with less than .02 of the 11 million aquarium fish imported by the U.S. sourced sustainably; with the majority of the rest captured in areas where illegal cyanide use is rampant; and, with no traceability in the supply chain, captive-bred is the only environmentally sound and conscientious — good — choice.

      • Ret Talbot says:

        I assume you are pointing to the 2005 data published in 2012 in “Revealing the Appetite of the Marine Aquarium Fish Trade” (Rhyne et al.). From May 2004 to May 2005, total reported imports of marine fishes for the aquarium trade in the United States were 11,003,181 individuals. I’m not sure how you came to the conclusion that only 0.02 (around 220,000) were sourced sustainably. Combined imports from Australia, Fiji and Solomon Islands, three source countries where sustainable aquarium fisheries are more the norm than the exception, total over 300,000 imports. There is no doubt, as I said in my piece, that we need to demand greater traceability and sustainability in the largest source countries, but there are certainly more than 220,000 sustainably sourced fishes imported annually. Encouraging the sustainably minded aquarist to purchase these animals, as well as more aquacultured animals, is a step in the right direction.

      • Tank Watch says:

        Yes, you are correct, I was referring to Australia. However, quibbling over an additional 80,000 fish (.007 of total imports) that may or may not be sustainably sourced is barely worth the effort. The cyanide and traceability issues remain. Captive bred remains the only Good choice.

  3. Ret Talbot says:

    My point is that the data show that in 2005 a little over 9 million of those 11 million fishes came from the countries about which we have the most concerns in terms of environmental and socio-economic sustainability. Certainly not all the fishes originating in those source countries are unsustainably harvested, but as both you and I point out, with a lack of traceability, we simply can’t know which fishes originating from these countries are sustainable. As such, it makes sense to steer the sustainably minded aquarist to the two million or so fishes that come from countries other than the two largest source countries (as well as to cultured fishes). I don’t think it’s categorically true to say that “captive bred remains the only Good choice,” and it would be awesome to see an app helping aquarists find sustainably harvested fishes in addition to aquacultured ones.

    • Tank Watch says:

      You just made a jump from 300,000 to 2 million… hmmmm…. that’s an interesting gap…

      • Ret Talbot says:

        When I cited 300,000 above, I was only including Australia, Fiji and Solomon Islands, a few of the countries I mentioned in the blog post. The 2 million figure is the rough estimate of aquarium fish imports in 2005 exclusive of the two largest source countries about which we have the most concerns.

  4. Tank Watch says:

    Your point is mute without traceability, but your effort is appreciated.

  5. Ret Talbot says:

    In Part II of the series ( I show that some traceability does in fact exist, and I think that’s where, in addition to aquacultured fishes, we should direct sustainably minded aquarists. In many cases it is indeed possible for the sustainably minded marine aquarist to forgo the fishes coming from the countries about which we have the greatest concerns and support the countries about which we have the greatest confidence. Like seafood, however, the decisions regarding sustainability are more often about point of origin rather than a species approach. It would be great to have an app that directed sustainably minded aquarists to the fishes that can be traced back to sustainable fisheries.

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