Marine Aquarium Trade Data and Why It Matters [Excerpt]

When it comes to the marine aquarium trade, there are precious few indisputable realities quantified—the trade has almost no data.

The Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow Database makes U.S. import data available to the public.

The Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow Database makes U.S. import data available to the public and is an excellent first step toward a more data-centered trade.

[The following is an excerpt from a piece I published at The Fish Channel.]

I had a high school science teacher who used to tell us to replace the word “data” with “facts” when using it in a sentence. That way, he suggested, you will insure you are using it properly because, while people frequently don’t use it as such, “data,” like “facts” is plural. Today I frequently repeat that advice when discussing the aquarium trade and aquarium fisheries. I repeat it not to correct my audience on proper usage, however, but rather to reinforce that data are, quite simply, facts. In an era of big data, data journalism and the ubiquitous infographic, we sometimes forget that the fundamental reason we seek data is because good data should represent an indisputable reality, and we should be making decisions on reality rather than on unsubstantiated anecdote.

When it comes to the aquarium trade, there are precious few indisputable realities quantified—the trade has almost no data. Not having data is a luxury the aquarium trade and aquarium fisheries can no longer afford. Not having data makes the trade unable to adequately defend itself against false allegations of unsustainable harvest. Gone are the days when it sufficed to simply say the aquarium trade is so small—the harvest of marine life for aquaria is so inconsequential when compared to other fisheries—that sustainability is a foregone conclusion. Given a history of well-defined shifting baselines and overfishing across a broad swath of commercial and artisanal fisheries, it no longer suffices to say, “We know we’re sustainable because we’ve been fishing here for 20 years, and we’ve seen no effect of that fishing on populations of marine life.” Instead of anecdote, the aquarium trade needs hard data.

When data are available, they can work wonders. The aquarium trade has seen this in Hawaii, where… [Continue Reading]

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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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