Somewhat behind the scenes in the tropical fish industry, there is a very interesting, and important, debate going on. Basically, the debate involves whether it is better for the environment for most (perhaps all) of the fish and invertebrates sold in the hobby to be commercially produced on fish farms or to be taken from the wild, albeit with sustainable harvesting methods. Most people have an immediate reaction that it is much better to farm fish than to catch them in the wild. However, the proponents of sustainable harvest point out that if fishermen depend on the wild for the source of their income, they will protect that environment, as its continued health is critical to their livelihood.
On the freshwater side of the aquarium hobby, there is really not much left to debate, since better than 90 percent of the fish and invertebrates sold are already commercially aquacultured either in Florida or the Far East. Many of the few remaining fish that have been traditionally available only from the wild, cardinal tetras and rummy nose tetras for example, are now being produced commercially in large quantities. On the marine aquarium hobby side, however, this is not the case. The majority of marine fish being aquacultured are clownfish, gobies and dottybacks; invertebrates, especially clams, corals and shrimps are being commercially produced in large quantities. Everything else comes from the wild.
When it comes to marine fish, the aquaculture vs. sustainable harvest debate is very important. There are some who are loudly ranting about how the aquarium industry is destroying the planet — and are calling for complete bans on any fish for the aquarium hobby. We, as professionals in this industry whose livelihoods depend on there being fish for aquariums, cannot stand idly by. We need to be involved in the debate, and to make it very clear that the incidents of damage to the marine environment because of the hobby are rare. Education is what it is all about.