Acquisition of fishes and aquatic invertebrates for zoological collections. Is there a future?



The majority of the freshwater fishes in the ornamental trade now originate from captive-bred sources, as do a large proportion of the freshwater species exhibited in public aquariums. In contrast, commercial operators who also supply marine specimens to the ornamental trade remove directly from the wild approximately 98% of the marine fishes and invertebrates exhibited in public aquariums. The common perception prevails that captive propagation is inherently a better alternative to obtaining animals from the wild. Although captive propagation has been shown to have many benefits for terrestrial species, there are a number of features unique to marine species that challenge the idea that every species should be bred in captivity. Some of the key issues relating to the development of widespread conservation-oriented captive propagation programs include: 1) the high taxonomic diversity in marine animals; 2) the resultant variety in their reproductive methods; 3) their ecological, behavioral, physiological, and nutritional needs; and 4) our general lack of knowledge on their husbandry and medical care. There are several characteristics of marine fish and invertebrate populations that make them suitable candidates for sustainable harvest. For instance, marine teleosts are “r-selected,” meaning that they have an extremely high fecundity, and most marine teleosts have a wide distribution and the ability to disperse over long distances. In locations considered for fish collection, appropriate management techniques should be employed to ensure that fishes and invertebrates are collected with as little impact on the ecosystem as possible. The collection of marine fishes and invertebrates for public aquariums and the hobby trade should be managed like a fishery to ensure long-term sustainability. The public aquarium community should support marine organism certification initiatives, such as the Marine Aquarium Council (MAC). Marine organism certification will create market incentives that encourage and support quality and sustainable practices by creating consumer demand and confidence for certified organisms, practices, and industry participants. The creation of refuges that supply propagules to harvested areas, the rotation of areas fished, species-specific size limits and seasons, and standardization of collecting, handling, and transportation techniques should be used to manage these fisheries and harvest areas. Zoo Biol 22:519–527, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.