Posing a Threat to Freshwater Endemic Fishes Via the Aquarium Fish Trade

Red Lined Torpedo Barb. Credit: Nathan Hill, via Practical Fishkeeping

 

Imagine having a Red Lined Torpedo Barb, a beautiful fish with a black and an orange stripe that you purchased as your new pet, only to find out that your pet comes from a school of fish that are threatened by the pet fish market. You really love your best friend, so you want to do what it takes to prevent the extinction of his species.

A recent study shows that the Red Lined Torpedo Barb (RLTB), along with other threatened and endangered species, are at risk because of overfishing and a thriving aquarium pet market in India. Many of these species are found in India’s hotspots, or areas intended to conserve and maintain a variety of endemic species. RLTBs are especially vulnerable because they have experienced a huge decline in their populations. Furthermore, the number of females and the number of males are imbalanced, causing the species to produce fewer offspring.

In this study, it was found over 1.5 million freshwater fish in 30 threatened species had been exported from India over a time span of 7 years. Of this number, over 300,000 of the individuals were RLTBs, and that doesn’t include the RLTBs that were fished to make up for the individuals that died after being collected.

The million-dollar question is probably, “how are such endemic species able to be sold as pets?” According to this study, the answer lies in the regulations and enforcements, or lack of such, in the aquarium fish trade. The government agencies in India don’t pay as much attention to the conservation of freshwater fishes, and the fact that the export of these species stimulates the economy makes matters worse. Poor enforcement has allowed Indian states to bypass the ban on exporting RLTBs by changing the trade route.

On top of the poor enforcement, the regulations were implemented on the basis of little scientific knowledge concerning the conservation of these species. For example, seasonal closures prohibit fishing activity in order to give the fish a chance to reproduce. Since the seasonal closure was mistimed for RLTBs, a lot of fishing is done during their breeding season.

The industry is also able to avoid regulations by putting a different label on the RLTBs and other threatened/endangered species when exporting. Instead of identifying the species, they’ll give it a generic label like “live ornamental fish”, which is commonly used for fish of an unidentified species.

It’s difficult to crack down on the law on a matter that provides jobs and an income for so many families in India. According to the study, the government agencies have supported harvesting the native aquarium fishes because of its financial benefits.

The authors of the paper have suggested a number of ways that the trade of endangered and threatened species can be eradicated or minimized. It is very important that the customs keep tabs on what species are being exported instead of grouping many species into a “live ornamental fish” category. The government agencies also need to figure out which species should be involved in trading and of those species, how they are being traded.

Reference:

Raghavan, R., Dahanukar, N., Tlusty, M. F., Rhyne, A. L., Krishna Kumar, K., Molur, S., & Rosser, A. M. (2013). Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and the aquarium pet markets. Biological Conservation, 164, 158-169.

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