The marine ornamental fish trade is decimating coral reefs, and lawmakers are currently powerless to do anything about it, according to a study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the journal Marine Policy.
Authors Brian Tissot and 17 other colleagues call for the US to leverage its considerable market power and implement reforms that would make the trade more ecologically sustainable and reduce the effects of ornamental trade stress on coral reefs worldwide.
Using data from a variety of sources, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and papers in scientific journals, the authors indicate that up to 30 million fish and 1.5 million live stony corals are removed for the aquarium, curio, home décor, and jewelry industries.
The marine ornamental trade alone targets over 1500 species of reef fishes, 500 species of invertebrates, hundreds of coral species, as well as live rock.
Local populations of some species have been extirpated, age structures have suffered major changes and collection practices that destroy reef habitats have been promoted as a consequence of this trade.
One such example is the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), where demand for the ornamental fish trade has caused populations of this species to be substantially reduced or eliminated throughout its range.
The high international demand for marine ornamental species, combined with weak local and national governance capacity in major source countries, have led to limited and ineffective management.
The United States is the world’s largest importer of marine ornamental species, accounting for about 60% of live coral, coral reef fish and invertebrates in trade.
The authors contend that increasing the power of U.S. laws and enforcement capacities, coupled with increasing consumer and industry demand for more responsible products, can strongly induce source countries to improve resource management.
The measures they advocate include increasing (U.S.) legal coverage of species to be protected, improving tracking and enforcement to ensure compliance with the laws, changing U.S. market demand to species obtained by more ecologically sustainable means, and promoting ecosystem-based management in source countries via U.S. and regional investments in conservation efforts.
For more information, see the paper: Tissot, BN, BA Best, EH Borneman, AW Bruckner, CH Cooper, H D’Agnes, TP Fitzgerald, A Leland, S Lieberman, AM Amos, R Sumaila, TM Telecky, F McGilvray, BJ Plankis, AL Rhyne, GG Roberts, B Starkhouse and TC Stevenson (2010) How U.S. ocean policy and market power can reform the coral reef wildlife trade. Marine Policy doi:10.1016/j.marpol.2010.06.002