Wild fish trade under scrutiny

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A Liberal Democrat Defra spokesman is trying to move an amendment aimed at reducing the trade in wild caught aquarium fishes.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer has asked a series of questions in the House of Lords recently during debates on the forthcoming Animal Welfare Bill which ask for the trade in wild caught aquarium fish to be restricted.

Although considerable numbers of aquarium fishes are produced through aquaculture, restrictions on imports of wild fishes would have serious consequences for the aquarium trade as well as for those people in developing countries who rely on exporting aquarium fishes for their livelihood.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorn Domer wants the trade in wild aquarium fish to be restricted.

Baroness Miller asked the government how many wild caught fish were imported into the UK and EU over the past five years, and how many of those were protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) species.

Questions were also raised on the impact that the collecting wild aquarium fish has upon the environment and what schemes were in place to certify that wild fish came from sustainable stocks.

Lord Bach, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) told Miller that no CITES listed wild-caught fish had been imported during that period, but that Defra doesn't hold data on EU imports of either CITES-listed fish or on imports of non-CITES fish species.

Bach explained that Defra has not many any generic assessment on the biodiversity impacts of the trade in wild aquarium fishes, but outlined that other organisations were developing and researching sustainable fisheries:

"The Darwin Initiative has funded a range of research and capacity building projects on the sustainable management of wild populations. One such project, led by the Zoological Society of London, is working on sustainable management of Ornamental Fish Species in Mamiraua, in the Brazilian Amazon.

"For the small number of fish species listed in the CITES appendices, EU regulations mean we must be satisfied that the trade will not be detrimental to the conservation of the species before a permit can be issued to import them. The European Commission can also suspend trade in CITES species where it is considered to be unsustainable.

"Although this mechanism is not available to regulate trade in the many non-CITES fish species, it is open to any party to make a case to list more fish species on CITES. Meanwhile the Government are keeping the ornamental fish trade under review, and proposals are currently before the EU member states to list a number of fish species on annexe D of the CITES regulations for monitoring purposes.

"Outside of government, the Marine Aquarium Council is also working to create market incentives for sustainably managed resources and has established a certification process to help ensure that the collection and trade in aquatic species is environmentally sound."

Cruel tradeBaroness Miller said on the Liberal Democrats website that she believes many people are unaware of the devastating effects that the trade in wild aquarium fish can have:

"The trade has already contributed to the extinction of several wild species. If people were aware of the cruel practices used to catch these fish, many of which never even make it to market, then there would be a much bigger outcry against the trade.

"The Government should take an active role in helping people dependent on these waters to manage their resources more carefully. The Government should also take note of the health risks. Fish can potentially bring thousands of infectious diseases through our borders.

"While the ban on trade in birds is debated in Europe, we should take this opportunity to bring other unsustainable trades, sometimes cruel and dangerous, into the public eye."

SustainabilityStudies on commercial fisheries in the Brazilian Amazon have shown that, when properly managed, the aquarium industry can have a low impact upon the environment.

Project Piaba, a community based interdisciplinary project based in Barcelos on the Rio Negro, has established a managed commercial fishery which allows locals to work in the flooded forest and has created a sustainable fishery.

Experts believe that the trade in aquarium fishes in this part of the Brazilian Amazon has meant that locals have not adopted more environmentally damaging sources of income, such as mining or tree-felling, as they can make a better living from the fishery.

Project Piaba believes that those involved in the fishery become protective of their environment and that the trade minimises other forms of environmental damage, while providing a welcome source of income to those in this poor area.