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The role of the Ornamental Fish Trade in Supporting Livelihoods

While the volume and value of the trade in ornamental fishes is small compared to that of food fish, it can provide an important source of income for people living in remote communities and offers good opportunities for the sustainable use of a natural resource.  Giving local communities a strong interest in maintaining the resource as a means of provided income can provide a strong incentive for conservation.  This approach has been summarised in a DfID-funded paper on the role of the ornamental fish trade in poverty alleviation.

Ian Watson worked with the Iwokrama International Centre to help develop a community-based enterprise, El Dorado Aquarium Traders which was set up through the North Rupununi District Development Board (NRDDB) to manage the business of harvesting and selling ornamental fishes.  Key to the success of the enterprise was to identify market demand for fishes from the Rupununi.  There was a need to tie together the taxonomic studies being carried out on the Rupununi with market information in order to find out what species should be harvested and what prices the collectors could expect.  Protection of the resource was given a high priority and the collectors carried out monitoring of catches in order to ensure that the fishery was harvested sustainably.  From the end of the project, El Dorado Aquarium Traders have sought to ensure to that overfishing is not taking place by seeking independent verification of their catch data.

There is much interest in sustainable harvesting of ornamental fishes and the role that certification and ecolabelling can play in this.  However, much of the work on the development of ecolabelling and certification has not been market led and there is not much evidence that consumers are aware of the issues relating to the harvesting of wild, ornamental fishes let alone demanding ecolabelling.  Ian Watson has been working with researchers to develop a network of people with an interest in this area and develop practical, market-oriented initiatives for the sustainable harvest of ornamentals.  He has contributed to the debate by contributions to the OFI Journal (journal of the aquatics trade international trade body) and in an advisory role to the UK trade body OATA

Ian Watson is an Honorary Research Associate at DICE, University of Kent at Canterbury and is involved in MSc student supervision and research.  He has supervised research into consumer choices for discus fish in the UK and Far East and took part into research into consumer and trade preferences in UK and the Far East (May/June 2013).  He also supervised research into trade and consumer perceptions of the difficulty of keeping various species of fishes in the aquarium and care/welfare issues at the retail level.  Ian Watson has co-authored a report for OATA into the benefits of the trade in wild-caught ornamental organisms. In addition to writing an extensive literature review of the subject, this has also involved setting up field surveys on Peru and Bali to generate new data on how the ornamental fish trade benefits local communities in these countries and how important this is for livelihoods support. In 2015 he accompanied a Project Piaba study trip up the Rio Negro to study the ornamental fish supply chain. The outputs from the field studies and the report into the wild-caught ornamental fish trade can be viewed on the OATA website.


Entry costs for collectors in Bali can be low as the reef can be accessed from the shore using snorkel equipment. Coral farming provides a viable livelihood for collectors.  In this location in Bali, coral mining for construction destroyed the original reef but collectors now have a business farming shallow water corals.
Ornamental fish collecting on the Rio Negro can involve the whole family.

 

 

 

Page last updated November 1, 2016