Thursday, August 4, 2016

Collecting Aquarium Fish

Have you ever been to a restaurant or hotel that had a large saltwater aquarium? These aquariums may be beautiful to look at, but did you ever wonder where the fish come from?

With the recent release of the movie, Finding Dory, some scientists are concerned about an increase in demand for saltwater fish that have been collected in the wild. Despite the message in the first film, Finding Nemo, that saltwater fish belong in the ocean, not in a tank, there was an increase in demand for clownfish after the movie's release .

But, did you know that nearly all of the fish that are purchased for saltwater aquariums have been caught in the wild. This is very different for the fish you find in freshwater aquariums. Many species of freshwater fish can be bred in captivity before being sold to the public.

Millions of saltwater fish are collected for the aquarium trade every year. The result is that some saltwater fish are disappearing from the reef. Collectors hope to make big profits by selling fish to pet stores, but there are many negative effects of removing these fish from the reef.

First, populations of some fish are declining. Secondly, by removing certain species, collectors are changing the natural balance on the reef. For example, removing herbivores may cause algae to overgrow and smother the reef. Finally, some collectors may disturb or destroy habitat in order to collect the fish that they are after.

Most of the fish that are collected in the wild never even make it to an aquarium.  For every fish that arrives alive, many more fish will die on the way! The fish that do make it to an aquarium often die within the first week. Many will survive just one year, where in their natural environment they may live for decades.

While it is unlikely that you would find a clownfish or regal blue tang in Hawaii, Hawaii is the number one spot for collecting yellow tangs. There are few regulations in place to protect them, and monitoring the damage and effects of collecting is hard to monitor.
So what can you do help reduce the negative effects of aquarium collecting? If you want to view these beautiful marine fish, the best thing to do is to visit an accredited aquarium, watch a documentary, or take an eco-sensitive snorkeling tour.

If you must have an aquarium at home, choose a freshwater aquarium or choose only species that have been bred in captivity. If you see a regal blue tang for sale, know that it was not bred in captivity and has been collected in the wild.

Some species of clownfish are now being bred in captivity to reduce the demand for wild-caught fish. Nursery bred clownfish are a better choice, but just because you see one in a pet store, does not mean that it has been nursery bred. You must ask to see certification. This is just one example of how you can help protect these resources for future generations.

This article was excerpted from Hawaii Author, Monika Mira's new book, Finding the True Stars of the Ocean. This book brings to light many of the issues that are faced by coral reefs and underwater habitats while educating kids about the species that live on a coral reef.