Did you know that around 90% of tropical marine fish for home aquariums are caught in the wild?
Catching these beautiful and colourful fish or harvesting coral gives people in some of the poorest parts of the world the chance to earn a sustainable living from the sea (or freshwater rivers and lakes) right on their doorstep.
From Argentina to Zambia, more than 50 countries spread across five continents collect and export wild caught fish, corals and invertebrates for home aquariums (both freshwater F and marine M as shown on this map).
This truly global trade provides livelihoods in many small Pacific islands and countries identified by the UN as ‘least developed’ and ‘countries with low human development’ where there are limited opportunities to learn a living.
Buying a wild caught fish is like a ripple on the water – creating incomes not just for the fisher but also many other businesses along the supply chain within the country of origin. After all, you can’t catch fish without nets and you can’t export without packaging and airports.
Fishers mainly catch wild fish by hand, using the minimum of equipment - like handheld nets. This allows them to carefully select how and what they catch – often targeting the species of interest they have orders for which means there’s little by-catch.
And live fish for an aquarium are worth much more than food fish for the plate so fishers can catch fewer fish but still earn more money. This further incentivises people to take greater care of their local environment because it gives them a sustainable livelihood over the long-term.
Indonesia was the world’s biggest exporter of increasingly maricultured coral for the aquarium trade. (Mariculture means growing coral fragments in open seas).
But in May 2018 coral exports were effectively banned. Since then it’s estimated around 12,000 jobs have been lost and there's been an 80% drop in foreign investment in the sector.
Coral is now increasingly sourced from other parts of the world, such as Australia, with the potential for increased environmental and conservation pressures within those countries.
Local communities in Indonesia no longer have any incentive to protect the reefs and the local environment or to protect their local area from more damaging activities. To try to replace those lost jobs local businesses are switching to fish collection – increasing competition, lowering costs and creating an impact on fish populations.
Before the ban, 10% of Indonesian cultured coral was returned for reef-building and restoration - this is no longer happening.
This is Maday who is a fisher from Bali’s Les village. An experienced ornamental fish collector, he’s been fishing for the trade since 1990s. He works with NGO LINI in its work to build an artificial reef in the seas bordering his village.
"Ornamental fish are my main source of income so it’s important to have good fishing areas for the future. As a result of this work [with LINI] we’ve created a sustainable source of fish that enables me to send my children to school, have my own house and provide for my family’s daily needs.”
Hear more from Maday and to see the work of LINI (www.lini.or.id) in Bali in this video.