Marine Policy Paper Sheds New Light on Ecological Risks of the Aquarium Hobby

Giant Grouper on display at the Georgia Aquarium. Home aquarists can buy baby specimens of this same species in local pet shops. Image: Dilif/Wiki Commons.

Giant Grouper on display at the Georgia Aquarium. Home aquarists can buy baby specimens of this same species in local pet shops. Image: Dilif/Wiki Commons.

A new paper in the journal Marine Policy (“The 800-Pound Grouper in the Room: Asymptotic Body Size and Invasiveness of Marine Aquarium Fishes,” Holmberg et al.) is critical of the aquarium trade practice of selling fishes unsuitable for most home aquarists. In particular, the paper looks at some of the largest fishes—some which exceed 100 cm (39 in.) as adults—that are commonly available to novice aquarists as relatively inexpensive juvenile fishes. While the authors acknowledge within this paper and elsewhere (Tlusty et al. Zoo Biology, Rhyne et al. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability) the global aquarium trade has the potential to become a positive conservation force, here they also point out how these large fishes can lead to one of the largest ecological risks of the home aquarium hobby–the introduction of nonindigenous species.

Their argument is that these so-called “tankbusters” are more likely to be invasive than suggested by how common they are in the trade. This suggests there are specific motivations behind intentional releases that have proved ecologically and economically devastating in states such as Florida. If an aquarist is more likely to release a so-called “tankbuster” over a fish that will never exceed an adult size of 20 cm (8 in.), what actions can the aquarium industry and state and federal agencies take to limit the trade in these large fishes and, in turn, reduce the risk of non-native introductions?

To read my full coverage of this important paper at Reef to Rainforest, click on the figure below, which, in and of itself, tells the story pretty well.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 5.43.41 PM

 

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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.
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