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

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

The next time that you decide to purchase a pet freshwater fish, you could end with an individual of a threatened species in the convenience of your own fish bowl. A recent study published in the journal Biological Conservation shows that poorly enforced regulations on the aquarium pet market in India has led to the trading of endangered and threatened species.

According to the British researchers, the Indian aquarium pet market poses a risk for at least 22 endemic freshwater fish species, 12 of which are threatened. These species are found in the biological hotspots, or regions that contain a large number of endemic plant and animal species, of India.

In this particular study conducted to examine the effects of trading the endemic freshwater fish species, it was observed that over 1.5 million freshwater fish individuals from 30 threatened species were imported from India between 2005 and 2012.

This study focuses particularly on the Red Lined Torpedo Barbs (RLTBs), an endangered species whose population has declined significantly and has low reproduction rates. Partially due to the miscalculation of spawning seasons, the overfishing of RLTBs has had a severely negative impact on local populations.

The study indicates that the number of RLTBs exported from India exceeded 300,000, not including those that were fished to make up for the number of individuals that died during the trading process. The RLTBs are considered to be a staple in India’s aquarium pet market.

The primary countries that imported the RLTBs were Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia.

According to the researchers, the threat of the conservation of freshwater fish species is due to the loose regulations and the poor enforcement of the aquarium market by the government. The study suggests that the loose regulation by government agencies is due to lack of contributions of scientific knowledge and little concern for the conservation of freshwater fish species.

The particular case study of RLTBs reveals that the loose regulations allowed the states of India to change the trade routes in order to avoid bans on the collection of RLTBs. The study also shows a drastic decrease in the number of identified species being exported, thereby suggesting that these threatened and endangered species may be exported under generic labels.

Poor regulation and enforcement are likely due to the fact that the aquarium fish market is a thriving industry, therefore providing an incentive to fish for all kinds of species, including those that are threatened and endangered. In fact, such species’ rarity increases their novelty, which caters to those who collect fish. According to the study, it is apparent that the Indian government encourages fishing for native species due to the income that it generates.

The researchers of this study present the option of choosing which species should be traded and how they should be imported and exported as one of the possible solutions to the problem. They also suggested that species level information needs to be collected at every airport to ensure that threatened or endangered species are not traded due to generic labeling.


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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