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Finding Nemo Spotlights Dark Side of Pet-Fish Trade

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 875 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... FINDING NEMO SPOTLIGHTS DARK SIDE OF PET-FISH TRADE
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1 1:00 PM
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      By John Roach
      for National Geographic News
      May 30, 2003


      As a young clownfish named Nemo enchants moviegoers with his epic adventure
      from the ocean to a fish tank and beyond, the actor whose voice brings the
      animated character to life is urging protection for tropical fish and coral

      "Practically the whole world depends on coral reefs, so if the coral reefs
      get all killed, then the ocean will start going out of whack, and if the
      ocean goes out of whack something might happen on land," said Alexander
      Gould, the nine-year-old actor who is the voice of the namesake character in
      the movie.

      Finding Nemo

      The dark side of the aquarium trade is the use of cyanide by some collectors
      to stun tropical fish, making it easy to scoop the fish up. The very
      poisonous chemical also kills smaller fish, irreparably harms the corals,
      and is dangerous to divers, according to conservationists.

      Gould, who lives near the beach in Southern California and is passionate
      about the oceans and coral reefs, has teamed up with the Honolulu-based
      Marine Aquarium Council to promote sustainable practices in the aquarium

      The council's certification system enables consumers to know that the fish
      they buy for their home aquariums were collected, handled, and transported
      according to a set of internationally-approved "best-practice standards."

      "There are good guys and good practices and bad guys and bad practices,"
      said Paul Holthus, executive director of the Marine Aquarium Council.

      The council awards certificates to those in the aquarium trade who practice
      the good. Pet stores that carry fish that were properly collected and
      transported carry the council's label.

      Nemo Craze?

      The certification system is just a few years old and the council is hoping
      to capitalize on the anticipated boost in interest in the aquarium trade
      generated by Finding Nemo to raise awareness.

      In the movie, Nemo is kidnapped from his home in the Great Barrier Reef and
      plopped in a fish tank at a dentist's office in Sydney. One of the tank
      residents, a butterfly fish named Gill, tells the newcomer that "fish aren't
      meant to be in a box, kid. It does things to ya."

      The movie then follows the adventures of Nemo's father, Marlin, and a cast
      of friends as they hatch plans to rescue Nemo, who has a few escape plans of
      his own.

      Holthus says he is not sure if the movie will be a boon or bust to the
      aquarium trade, but suspects that just as pet stores saw a rise in demand
      for spotted dogs after the 1996 release of 101 Dalmatians kids will be as
      equally interested in pet Nemos.

      With the help of their new spokesperson, the Marine Aquarium Council hopes
      to the get the message out that the demand for tropical fish should be met
      with marine life that was captured from the sea or captive-bred in a manner
      safe for the fish and the environment.

      "The Marine Aquarium Council really wants us to keep the coral and the fish
      safe," said Gould. "They are not saying it is bad to have an aquarium in
      your house, just that you should make sure when you buy fish for your
      aquarium they have been Marine Aquarium Council-certified."

      Aquarium Trade

      Most of the tropical fish that end up in home aquariums are caught in
      Indonesia and the Philippines. To this day, some of the collectors use
      cyanide and then place their catch in plastic bags instead of floating pens
      prior to transport.

      Holthus said the more environment-friendly method for catching fish is to
      place a 20-to-30-foot (6-to-9-meter) barrier net on the reef and then use an
      air-compressor hose to move the desired prey into the barrier where it can
      be scooped up with a little net.

      "It's not rocket science," said Holthus, whose organization works with
      communities involved in the aquarium trade to teach them these sustainable
      practices. Keeping the catch in floating pens is the preferred method for
      holding these animals prior to transportation to pet stores.

      In addition, Marine Aquarium Council certification requires collection areas
      to have a reef management plan that includes sustainable collection
      practices and no-take zones to safeguard tropical fish populations against

      So-called non-destructive collection techniques alone are not enough to
      protect tropical fish, agrees Niclas Kolm, a marine biologist with Uppsala
      University in Sweden.

      Kolm co-authored research in the June issue of Conservation Biology on the
      impact of net fishing on Banggai cardinalfish, a finger-sized silver fish
      with black stripes found only in the Banggai archipelago off the east coast
      of Sulawesi, Indonesia.

      The fish are popular with aquarium hobbyists in North America, Japan, and
      Europe and fishermen lure them into cages with sea urchins, which the fish
      use as a shelter when threatened.

      Kolm and his colleague Anders Berglund found that even this non-destructive
      fishing practice reduced populations of the fish by half when compared to a
      control population that was not fished.

      "I suggest that our results may apply for other species with limited
      dispersal in the first place," said Kolm. "But certainly negative effects on
      a local level may apply for most species of reef fish as they are commonly
      very stationary."

      As an alternative to capturing wild fish on the coral reefs for use in the
      aquarium trade, Kolm suggests captive-breeding programs. Most clownfish
      already in home aquariums, he notes, are captive-bred.

      "The ideal way in my opinion to protect the reefs while still maintaining an
      income for local people in these areas is to start projects breeding fish
      not necessarily in aquaria but at the locations where you find them," said


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