Crawling to Collapse: Ecologically Unsound Ornamental Invertebrate Fisheries


Please find an excerpt of the full PDF below

Crawling to Collapse: Ecologically Unsound Ornamental Invertebrate Fisheries

Background: Fishery management has historically been an inexact and reactionary discipline, often taking action only after a critical stock suffers overfishing or collapse. The invertebrate ornamental fishery in the State of Florida, with increasing catches over a more diverse array of species, is poised for collapse. Current management is static and the lack of an adaptive strategy will not allow for adequate responses associated with managing this multi-species fishery. The last decade has seen aquarium hobbyists shift their display preference from fish-only tanks to miniature reef ecosystems that include many invertebrate species, creating increased demand without proper oversight. The once small ornamental fishery has become an invertebrate-dominated major industry supplying five continents.

Methodology/Principal Findings: Here, we analyzed the Florida Marine Life Fishery (FLML) landing data from 1994 to 2007 for all invertebrate species. The data were organized to reflect both ecosystem purpose (in the wild) and ecosystem services (commodities) for each reported species to address the following question: Are ornamental invertebrates being exploited for their fundamental ecosystem services and economic value at the expense of reef resilience? We found that 9 million individuals were collected in 2007, 6 million of which were grazers.

Conclusions/Significance: The number of grazers now exceeds, by two-fold, the number of specimens collected for curio and ornamental purposes altogether, representing a major categorical shift. In general, landings have increased 10-fold since 1994, though the number of licenses has been dramatically reduced. Thus, despite current management strategies, the FLML Fishery appears to be crawling to collapse.


The global trade of live tropical reef organisms is a multibillion dollar industry [1,2,3], fueled by the demand for live food fish markets, traditional medicines, pharmaceutical and research industries, and the aquarium, jewelry and curio trades. The collection of live fish and invertebrates for home and public aquaria expanded from a small cottage industry in Sri Lanka in the 1930s, extending through the 1950s in the Philippines and Hawaii. By the 1980s, the live organism trade had grown into a major industry with collectors throughout Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, the Red Sea, Brazil, Hawaii, Florida and the Caribbean and recently, European species have entered the trade [4]. Currently, over 45 countries supply an estimated 30 million reef fishes annually in a global trade that includes over 1400 species. In addition, the last decade has seen aquarium hobbyists shift their display preference from fish-only tanks to miniature reef ecosystems that include many invertebrate species. Today’s tanks are scale models of wild reefs where the dominant biomass includes reef-building corals assembled around a framework of ‘‘live rock’’ [5]. This demand for coral has led to an explosion in the live coral trade with annual increases of 10–50% since 1987. In 2005, over 1.5 million live corals and 1.5 million kg of live rock were traded [6]. The high value of this trade, estimated globally at $USD 200–330 million annually, is one factor fueling growth of this industry, but the growth continues without full consideration of the impacts to coral reefs[7]…


Download the full PDF here (2 MB)