While it has been reported that an estimated 90 percent of freshwater ornamental fish in the aquarium hobby come from fish farms, in the last seven years, India exported more than 1.5 million wild-caught freshwater fish for the aquarium trade; many of them threatened species, according to a report that appears in the journal Biological Conservation.
According to the report, “Uncovering an obscure trade: Threatened freshwater fishes and the aquarium pet markets” 30 species of fish deemed threatened by the IUCN were exported from India during the years 2005-2012, and most of those species came from two areas of India that are considered areas of high biodiversity; Eastern Himalaya and Western Ghats. Indian ecologist Rajeev Raghavan told the Economic Times that the majority of the fish exported from India for the aquarium trade are from just three species of fish: the zebra loach (Botia striata) and the red lined torpedo barb (Puntius denisonii) which are both endangered, and the dwarf pufferfish (Carinotetraodon travancoricus) which is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.
The paper points out that the use of the generic label “live aquarium fish” when exporting fish is an issue that should be addressed in an effort to stop the trade of endangered and vulnerable species. The authors say an organized coding system that would include species name, capture location, size and the name of the collector and exporter could serve as a start to better regulate the trade in India. They noted, however that the collection of this data would not ensure that the harvest of these ornamental fish does not lead to a further “decline in wild species abundance.”
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Lead author Raghavan and co-authors Neelesh Dahanukar and Sanjay Molur outlined in the paper several steps to better regulate the trade in India and to protect and prevent the extinctions of India’s endangered and vulnerable freshwater fish species. Their recommendations include “strengthening the enforcement of inland fisheries laws and acts in various states of the country, developing and implementing freshwater protected areas and fish refuges, framing policies with regard to the collection and export of endemic and threatened freshwater fishes for the pet trade and recognizing fish as an important group of wildlife for conservation rather than just a commodity for exploitation.”
While they realize that the aquarium fish trade won’t go away, they do argue that if the trade is well managed, local communities in rural and remote areas of the country would benefit while the diversity of freshwater species in India would be protected.