Today Philippine Undersecretary for Fisheries Asis Perez signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the New England Aquarium and the Philippines Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) outlining a pilot project that will allow New England Aquarium staff to assess marine aquarium trade export data from the Philippines. The project, according to the Memorandum, will help develop the capacity for real-time monitoring of the marine aquarium trade and will leverage the respective party’s strengths. The Memorandum was signed at the New England Aquarium and is in effect until 1 January 2018 and is then renewable for subsequent years.
The pilot project, titled “Developing the Capacity for Real-Time Monitoring of the Aquatic Wildlife Trade from a Key Export Country,” will be funded in part through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) grant. The grant will provide the resources for oversight by New England Aquarium staff of data capture of invoices associated with all export shipments of marine aquarium fishes and invertebrates from the Philippines for a period of one year. The grant will also fund the training of BFAR staff to use the data entry system currently being used for a joint New England Aquarium-Roger Williams University marine ornamental database, which is set to publish online this summer. “Ultimately,” the project proposal states, “trained [BFAR] staff will have the…knowledge and training necessary to create digital images of invoices, operate the optical character recognition software, verify the data, and successfully send that data to the marine ornamental database.”
At present, the global marine aquarium trade possesses almost no third-party, independently verified data on which to assess sustainability. What data there are rarely provide species-level information. In the absence of such data, the aquarium trade is unable to defend itself against claims of unsustainable practices, and it is equally ill-prepared to address challenges and implement reform where needed. The publication of the New England Aquarium-Roger Williams University marine ornamental database this coming summer will be an important first step toward shaping the future of a responsible, sustainable and defensible marine aquarium trade, but it will only provide data on U.S. imports. Because the Philippines is the primary exporter of marine aquarium fishes and invertebrates globally, assessing export data from the Philippines will give an even more complete picture of the global trade.
In short, the signing of this Memorandum, combined with the publication of the New England Aquarium-Roger Williams University marine ornamental database this summer, could be a game-changer for the marine aquarium trade.