When you stroll through the aisles at your local fish store, marveling at all the colorful fish, do you ever wonder where they came from? Freshwater fish are bred in huge numbers, sometimes selectively to bring out certain traits (think about all of the different tail types in betta fish. When it comes to tropical marine fish, however, the water is murky.
A staggering number of tropical fish are imported in the United States each year and over 1 million American households have saltwater aquariums. What many hobbyists fail to realize, however, is that they are supporting a trade that takes saltwater fish right out of the ocean to put them in tanks.
In this article, we’ll explore the saltwater aquarium industry in depth to learn how tropical fish get from the ocean to your aquarium. We’ll also discuss the debate between aquacultured and wild-caught aquarium fish while taking a closer look at some of the species that have been successfully captive-bred.
How Do Tropical Fish Get from the Ocean to the Aquarium?
According to a 2014 survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, more than 1 million American households have a saltwater aquarium. More than 10 million tropical fish are imported in the United States alone each year, more than any other country. Though a small number of saltwater species have been captive-bred, the majority of the estimated 2,000 unique species involved in the ornamental fish trade are captured from coral reef habitats and sold to hobbyists.
As large as the saltwater aquarium industry is, it is largely undocumented. There is no centralized database that tracks the number of fish taken from reefs and even less information about how the capture of those fish affects their populations in the wild. There are just as few details about the route those fish take from the ocean to their final destination.
To learn more about this process, a group of National Geographic explorers took a $25,000 grant and traveled to Southeast Asia and around the U.S. to trace the supply chain of tropical aquarium fish. The primary subject of their study was the blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus).
Here’s an overview of the journey of one fish from ocean to tank:
1. The blue tang is native to the reefs of the Indo-Pacific, known locally as the “Letter Six” fish because it has a black, 6-shaped design on its back.
2. Rasdin, a Sama-Bajau or “Sea Nomad” from Indonesia, uses handmade nets to catch up to hundreds of fish per day, relying on the aquarium trade as a primary source of income.
3. After capturing the blue tang, Rasdin passes her off to a middleman Sarli who works with Sama-Bajau fishers in the Toropot Village of Indonesia.
4. Conrad Chen, one of the largest ornamental fish exporters in Indonesia, receives the fish from the middleman and sells them to an importer or supplier.
5. Suppliers receive large shipments of reef fish after they endure long overseas flights, then sell them to small retail storeowners or directly to the customer online.
6. The hobbyist purchases the fish online or from a local fish store, taking it home to their own saltwater tank as the final step in the journey.
This long and complex journey is one that millions of fish take each year. Pet industry analysists estimate that the global aquarium trade is worth over $10 billion and sees an average annual growth of more than 10%. Including livestock, tanks, accessories, foods, and medications, the total industry is worth closer to $20 billion. The market has grown so large that the public aquarium sector claims less than 1% of the global ornamental fish market.
source : ratemyfishtank.com