The Horrific Way Fish Actually are Caught for The Aquarium of yours – With Cyanide

The Horrific Way Fish Actually are Caught for The Aquarium of yours – With Cyanide

The Horrific Way Fish Actually are Caught for The Aquarium of yours – With Cyanide

As much as ninety % of saltwater aquarium fish imported to the U.S. are caught using cyanide. A brand new petition is calling for the authorities to crack down.




Editor’s note, June five, 2018: The government rejected the petition in the summer of 2016, in part because the cyanide test it called for had not been independently validated. A study published in May 2018 calls into question the veracity of the data underpinning the method promoted in the petition. Read more here.

They are IN YOUR dentist’s office, hotel resorts, in restaurants, and homes all around the world. The saltwater aquarium, with its bright coral and brighter fish, brings a portion of the outdoors into the family room of yours.

But do you actually understand exactly where those saltwater fish come from? A full ninety eight % – yes, nearly all – species of saltwater fish currently cannot be bred in captivity on a commercial scale. They need to instead be taken from ocean reefs. And how’s that done?


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As much as ninety % of the tropical fish that enter the U.S. each year are caught illegally with cyanide.

Sodium cyanide is a very toxic chemical compound that many fish collectors in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia (the biggest exporters of tropical fish) crush and dissolve in squirt bottles to spray on the fish – and the reef and all another marine life in the vicinity. Stunned, the target fish can then be easily scooped up.

As much as ninety % of the eleven million tropical fish that enter the U.S. each year are caught illegally with cyanide, according to a 2008 report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Some other data suggests the number is considerably smaller, but researchers state the percentage is beside the point – any cyanide use on reefs is extremely difficult.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit environmental conservation organization, together with the Humane Society and For the Fishes, a Hawaii based organization that created the award winning Tank Watch app*, filed a petition Monday calling on the U.S. government to crack down on these illegal imports.

Picture of destroyed coral reef This reef off the island of Luzon in the Philippines has been destroyed, either by cyanide fishing or perhaps dynamite fishing.


“Compared to a lot of green catastrophes currently facing the world’s oceans, this’s a single which could be easily solved,” said Nicholas Whipps of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Because the U.S. is such an effective market player in this industry, the burden to prevent this practice falls disproportionately on the United States’ shoulders.”

Where do tropical fish in saltwater aquariums come from?

They are almost exclusively taken from the reefs of Southeast Asia to Fiji to Kenya to Hawaii. Everyone is attempting to breed popular species in captivity, but no one has really figured it out yet. There are aproximatelly 1,800 species of marine aquarium fish in the trade, and breeders have only managed to successfully raise a number of those, including many types of gobies and clownfish.

Indeed, it’s illegal to catch fish with cyanide.

Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines have all banned cyanide fishing, based on the Center for Biological Diversity, however, it also occurs on a huge scale. Enforcement just is not strong enough. In the Philippines, private planes allegedly bring in cyanide to the fishermen then whisk away the live fish, the World Wildlife Fund reported.

But it is oh so lucrative.

Live fish make fishermen a great deal more cash than ones that are dead, therefore a lot more fishermen have turned from supplying the fish-for-food trade to the fish-for-aquariums trade, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The marine aquarium trade may be worth aproximatelly $200 million a season.

What does cyanide do to the targeted fish?

Umberger cites a scientific study on cyanide exposure, and it is not pretty: Upon being squirted with cyanide, fish suffer “severe gasping, followed by loss of balance and a total loss of all respiratory activity.” Some fish get an excessive amount of coverage and just die there and then. Many, more die in transit. Others may hang on until they are in an unsuspecting aquarium owner’s tank after which give out.

“The name of the game for all those in the trade is’ sell the fish as fast as possible’ because next you are passing the risk on to another buyer,” said Rene Umberger, the director of For the Fishes.

What does it do to the majority of the marine life?

Cyanide that does not kill a fish temporarily impairs the ability of its to swim and breathe. Then there is the coral. Each live fish caught with cyanide destroys about a square yard of coral, according to biologist Sam Mamauag of the International Marinelife Alliance, in the Philippines. Even in lower doses, cyanide is able to cause coral bleaching and mess with the coral’s biology. Often, the coral is killed outright.

After the coral’s dead, the whole ecosystem collapses. Without other animals, plants, crustaceans, reef fish, and coral don’t have breeding, shelter, and food grounds. The effects ripple up the food chain, affecting a huge number of species – us included. Reef habitats provide food for tens of millions of individuals and add to the livelihoods, through professional fishing and tourism, of many more.

What can the U.S. do?

The U.S. has a law known as the Lacey Act, which tends to make it unlawful to import some wildlife caught despite a different country’s laws. That gives U.S. law enforcement the power to turn away shipments of fish sourced using cyanide. But no U.S. agencies now test imported fish for traces of cyanide, Whipps said. The brand new petition calls on the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Customs and U.S, and Border Protection. Fish and Wildlife Service to work with the Lacey Act authority to crack down on cyanide caught fish by requiring certification and testing of imported tropical fish.

Precisely what can you do?

Advocates are calling on aquarium hobbyists to buy only fish bred in captivity. A number of stores have labels, but the easiest way to discover is usually to ask. For the Fishes’ free app Tank Watch*, which was created with the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and software developer Aysling, helps you identify reef friendly species.

* Disclosure: National Geographic Society is a partner and judge in the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge, led by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Tank Watch won $10,000 in the challenge and is currently fighting for the $500,000 grand prize.

This story was corrected on March fourteen and March twenty two, 2016, to reflect the fact that commercial scale breeding of marine aquarium fish occurs for aproximatelly 2 % of traded species and that the newest estimates of marine aquarium fish imported to the U.S. are eleven million per year, not 12.5 million. The story has also removed the lower bound of the estimation of the % of fish imported to the U.S. caught using cyanide because that number was drawn from an estimate using just on one country.