The unheard voice in the exotic pet debate the people who catch the fish

A forgotten part of the story

People and communities in some of the poorest parts of the world make a living from catching tropical fish - like cardinal tetra taken from the Amazon in Brazil. One of the biggest threats to these livelihoods is the increasingly vocal campaigns against wild caught fish and exotic pets which suggest that trading and keeping these animals is by its very nature 'bad'.

But the people who catch live ornamental fish are often the forgotten part of this story. They do not have a voice in the developed world in a debate that threatens their livelihoods and the well-being of their families.

What's rarely acknowledged in this debate is that, if best practice is followed (as it is across much of the industry) then fish mortalities are low, welfare standards are high, and the benefits can be huge. These benefits include:

  • providing sustainable livelihoods to people
  • revenue for the country where fish are caught
  • improvements to infrastructure because a business operates in remote areas
  • even carbon fixation - did you know that 67 billion tonnes of carbon are locked in the Amazonas where tropical freshwater fish are collected?

Our industry gives people the chance to develop a sustainable livelihood from the marine or freshwater resources on their doorstep, helping to meet for example UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Rebuilding reefs and livelihoods

Maday is a fisher from Bali's Les village. An experienced marine fish collector, he's been fishing for the trade since 1997. He works with NGO LINI (an Ornamental Fish International member) 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 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.”

To hear more from Maday watch this video and to find out more about LINI's work in Bali go to

Buy a fish, save a tree

Billions of tonnes of carbon are fixed in the areas of the Amazonas in Brazil where tropical freshwater cardinal tetras are collected using handheld nets. These tiny freshwater fish used to contribute to 65% of the Barcelos economy and, in its heyday, the trade employed at least 1,000 families directly - not counting supporting industries. But the trade is declining which could have dire consequences for the community and Amazon rainforest.

A huge fiesta celebrating the importance of the trade in beautiful cardinal tetra and discus fish is put on every year. But as demand declines Project Piaba - an organisation created to research and help the trade survive - worries for its future.

Find out more about Project Piaba's work at and watch the fantastic festival of fishes in the video below.

What's the alternative?

If communities give up fishing the available alternative livelihoods for many of these people are potentially more environmentally harmful than this low volume, high value practice of catching live tropical fish.

"When fishers are asked what they would do if they could not sell fish, the most common answers are timber harvest, cattle ranching, gold mining or urban migration." Project Piaba website

Illegal trafficking is the problem, not honest trade

The UK's Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) and Ornamental Fish International (OFI) seek to protect and promote the interests of the tropical fish industry. Our aim is to enhance the reputation of the global trade by promoting the benefits derived from it, setting high standards, providing good education and training, and encouraging responsible ownership and enjoyment amongst fish keepers.


PhotoMax Library, LINI, Project Piaba, Ian Watson

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