Trade in fanworms highlights issues for managing marine trade

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A study published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS ONE has found unregulated importation of filter-feeding polychaetes for the marine aquarium trade, a process exacerbated by poor identification of the worms.

Using the 2009 edition of the PFK shop directory as a guide, Joanna Murray and colleagues undertook a survey of wholesalers and retailers in the UK to establish the number and provenance of species of ornamental polychaetes (fanworms in the families Sabellidae and Serpulidae) traded.  

The authors identified six geographical regions from which the worms were exported (Singapore, Bali, the Philippines, Indian Ocean, Dominican Republic and Hawai'i), of which Singapore contributed the highest percentage of imports, but of only one worm "type" whereas Bali, the second largest source, supplied five different worm "types".

The authors estimate that between 15,500 and 18,500 ornamental polychaetes are sold annually in the UK, revealing a drastic underestimation of currently accepted global trade quantities. Using the error margin associated with UK records, they further estimate that more than 172,000 fan worms are actually traded worldwide per year (compared to an industry estimate of 9,100).

The inaccuracy in market quantification is further exacerbated by incorrect identification of the traded worms, although the authors found identification of preserved worms using the scientific literature just as inconclusive with high within-species variability and the potential for new or cryptic species.

Aside from highlighting the issues surrounding the collection of baseline information necessary to manage the aquarium trade, the authors also advocate community-based management to ensure a sustainable future of the marine aquarium trade.

For more information, see the paper: Murray, JM, GJ Watson, A Giangrande, M Licciano and MG Bentley (2012) Managing the marine aquarium trade: revealing the data gaps using ornamental polychaetes. PLoS ONE 7, e29543. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029543

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