Trends in the aquarium trade have an effect on more than just aquarium hobbyists — they can affect the whole world.

If you are an experienced aquarium hobbyist, perhaps you have noticed changes in trends yourself over the years. These trends may relate to decorations for the aquarium, popular species of fish or even size and style of the aquarium itself. These trends have an effect on how you design and maintain your aquarium at home, but the effect may be much larger than you realize. Not only do trends in the aquarium trade affect aquarium hobbyists, they also affect the people all over the world who make a living off the aquarium trade. These trends also have an effect on the environment, particularly in regard to conservation and harvesting of fish and corals. In this article you will learn a little bit about how trends in the aquarium hobby reach far beyond affecting just aquarium enthusiasts like yourself.

Aquarium Trade Statistics

The aquarium hobby has a large impact on global trade, not just in terms of fish. Trade for the aquarium hobby includes corals, invertebrates, live rock and even substrate like sand. A paper published in the Journal of Conservation Letters for the aquarium hobby remarked that trade in coral reef animals was steadily increasing by about 8% per year between 1990 and the mid-2000s. Now however, it has been decreasing by about 9% per year. Over 40 different countries participate in providing aquarium stock to hobbyists and it is estimated that 50 million coral reef animals (including fish, corals and invertebrates) are sold to 2 million hobbyists around the world each year. While the United States is a leading destination for these products, the Philippines and Indonesia account for almost 85% of total trade volume.

Harsh Realities of the Trade

Countries like the Philippines and Indonesia have long benefited from the marine aquarium trade, but few studies have been conducted to assess the actual number of imports made into the US each year. Between 2004 and 2005, Dr. Rhyne and a team of students conducted a study regarding the export of marine fish into the United States. Invoices provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as the Fish and Wildlife Service indicated that over 1,800 different species from 125 families of fish were imported during that year. Estimates from government import forms, however, varied from these numbers – estimates were much lower, about 1,470 species from only 50 families. The total number of imports was estimated at 15 million while the real number was only about 11 million.

These statistics go to show how poorly the import of marine fish is monitored and assessed. While many companies provide accurate records, many see no reason to do so because there are no regulations. This lack of regulations affects far more than just import statistics, however – it also affects the fish themselves. If there is such little regulation in terms of reporting the import of marine fish, what can be said for the import processes themselves? Poor handling practices, long supply chains and exposure to extreme conditions results in the death of countless fish each year. With so little regulation in place, there is nothing to stop these numbers from growing.

Sustainability and Controversy

There have been many stories and reports made of fish suppliers using questionable or even destructive collection practices. Some companies go so far as to use cyanide in their collection, a practice which can do severe damage to natural reef habitats. While most Caribbean countries have established marine protected areas where fishing is not allowed, some countries like Haiti have no restrictions in place at all. During 2003, a non-profit organization called Reef Check evaluated Haiti’s coral reefs and reported that they were some of the most overfished reefs in the world. These reefs, which were once travel destinations for scuba divers around the world, have been greatly affected by the aquarium trade – not in a good way.

Activist groups have been protesting destructive collection practices for years In fact, activists in Hawaii have attempted to have the aquarium trade banned from the state entirely through lawsuits and legislation. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society launched a new campaign designed to end the aquarium trade in Hawaii – the society also hopes to eventually end the trade around the world. As of now, however, the aquarium trade is still going strong.

As an aquarium hobbyist yourself, you should be aware of your own impact on the world around you. Many industry representatives and scientists have spent years exploring sustainable practices to make the aquarium trade more eco-friendly. These efforts involve things like raising fish and coral in dedicated facilities for aquaculture and developments of safer collection practices. If you want to continue to enjoy the aquarium hobby safely and for as long as possible, consider looking into some of these practices yourself.