Examining the Livelihood and Conservation Benefits from the Trade in wild caught live Tropical Fish

CEESP News - by Pauline Davey, Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association Ltd (OATA)

The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association has published a report examining the livelihood and conservation benefits from the trade in wild caught live tropical fish for aquariums. The report, highly commended in a recent UK awards Publication of the Year category, also showcases four communities which are making a sustainable living from marine and freshwater resources on their doorstep.

OATA Wild caught ornamental fish_Report_front coverThe Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) is a UK based organisation that represents more than 850 businesses involved in the tropical and coldwater fish industry which supply fish, plants and aquarium/pond related items to hobbyists. 

With increasingly negative campaigns in the media regarding the collection and keeping of live animals, the trade body wanted to examine the evidence for the positive benefits of wild caught tropical fish to both the remote local economies worldwide that rely upon the trade and the positive impact that maintaining healthy habitats where the fish are caught can have on the wider environment.

Catching live fish for the aquarium trade helps people in some of the world’s poorest countries to make a sustainable living from the resources on their doorstep (part of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030). OATA wanted to tell the story in a way that would inspire the global trade to use the information to engage with politicians to show there is another, positive side to this issue.

The University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology was commissioned to review the available scientific literature which produced a 175 page report which contained a great deal of useful data. But it needed to be condensed into an easy-to-read and visually appealing report to make it much more accessible for various stakeholders. 

Wild caught ornamental fish: the trade, the benefits, the facts charts the journey fish caught in the wild take to the UK, where they come from, how they are caught, how they travel and the regulations that govern that journey. An important element looks at the alternative livelihoods on offer to people who catch live fish and whether these are ‘better’ for them and the planet. It also includes four case studies - with videos in the digital report - showing people talking about their livelihoods and way of life.

Almost all ornamental fish are exotic (not native to the UK) and about 90% of marine (saltwater) fish and 5% of tropical freshwater fish in home aquariums are caught in the wild from coral reefs, rivers and lakes across the world.

Just 70 tonnes of live fish are taken from the oceans each year, that’s less than 0.0001% of the global marine catch of 80.9 million tonnes. Tropical fish for the aquarium trade are collected across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the Caribbean and north east coast of Brazil – a vast area. The most popular species in trade have a wide geographic distribution, are abundant in many areas and are very fecund so their populations are very resilient. Live fish are also worth a lot more than food fish so fishing communities can catch less but earn more. Fish are caught either by hand or using handheld nets, with virtually no by-catch, and they are collected with the sole aim of keeping them alive. The industry provides vital livelihoods for tens of thousands of fishermen and communities in remote areas that have few employment opportunities and less welfare provision. And it encourages communities to conserve the environment to ensure they can continue to make a sustainable living over the longer term.

The report is available digitally and in print and has been shared across the globe. It has also inspired parts of the global trade, in the both the United States and Germany (two of the biggest markets for tropical fish), to update and reproduce the information for their own markets. OATA has also used the report to engage with UK and European politicians to show there is another side in the debate about exotic pets – that of the people who catch wild fish who do not have a voice in developed countries in a debate that threatens their livelihoods and the well-being of their families.

The digital version of the report can be read here http://wcof.ornamentalfish.org/ and there is more information on the OATA website here http://ornamentalfish.org/what-we-do/represent-the-industry/wild-caught-fish/

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