Thoughts on imperiled species in the aquarium trade?

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Narelle
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Thoughts on imperiled species in the aquarium trade?

Post by Narelle »

I'm curious how everyone else feels about wild caught individuals belonging to imperiled (endangered, critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List) species being sold to the general public through the aquarium trade?

In more serious fish keeping circles, there's a lot of excitement around trying to obtain new, rarely imported species. We get the collector's mindset, I think. So I get the impression most don't even stop to consider this (I know I've been guilty of this in the past). Perhaps it's common to assume that if they're available, it must have been okay to import them?
(Actually, the trade of freshwater fishes is very poorly regulated - see below if you're unfamiliar.)

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For me, I waffle on my feelings about them being imported at all, but mostly I have strong reservations about how readily available these fishes are for anyone to purchase. There's such a steep learning curve to the hobby, so it makes me wince when I see a wild caught imperiled fish for sale in a venue where any newcomer to the hobby could stumble upon them and decide to buy them.

I'm aware there are some dedicated hobbyist groups that try to "preserve" their species of interest through the hobby. I think the efforts are admirable, but they are often billed as a potential pool of material for future reintroduction efforts and I'm skeptical if that's such a feasible outcome. There's a lot of nuance to introduction, and no regulation of these hobby-bred stocks to ensure they wouldn't be carrying disease to the already imperiled wild populations or that breeding limited numbers hasn't created a genetic bottleneck that's introduced new variations that may disrupt the novel genetic makeup of the wild population that's allowed them to persist in those conditions and made them the species they are. (This is an oversimplification, but I hope it gets the point across?)

Many of the fishes I pay attention to who would fall into this demographic aren't imperiled because of the trade (I'm a fan of a lot of species that occur in peat swamps, so habitat destruction is what's got them under threat), but I can't imagine removing additional individuals from a population already under threat is doing anything to help their numbers. And for me personally, as much as I'm invested in the hobby (it's what got me interested in these fishes to begin with), I care a lot more about the persistence of a species as a whole than my ability to keep them.

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For those unfamiliar with how poorly the trade is regulated, the only international regulation I'm aware of is CITES, which lists only a handful of freshwater fish species (see the species list here).
Other taxa are better regulated by CITES, and even some other groups of fishes (there are more Chondrichthyes listed despite there being more species in Teleostomi).

I am not familiar with the regulations of other countries, but in the US, the only regulation of freshwater fishes is CITES and the regulations placed on natives (primarily through the Endangered Species Act and federal and state specific fishing regulations). Natives aren't typically traded, just kept by niche hobbyist groups that collect their own fishes, so as far as the trade is concerned it's essentially only this tiny CITES list that has any bearing on which fishes are traded. The IUCN Red List has no regulatory power, at least in the US.

I've seen Red List designated critically endangered species for sale in the past couple months, proudly labelled "wild caught" by the sellers. To give an example.

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This long essay of a post to say, it's an issue that I think about a lot and I'm curious to know what your opinions are?

Is this something you consider when purchasing fishes? If you do, do you have any personal justifications you use to decide which fishes you're comfortable with buying?
Huge fan and collector of Bagrid catfish.
Studying to become an ichthyologist.
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