MAC Requirements
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As we move into the 21st century, coral reefs are rapidly becoming one of the most vulnerable ecosystems on the planet. In addition to other devastating forces, such as climate change and pollution, the earth’s oceanic environments are at risk from an unregulated and uncontrolled aquarium trade that has been known to use chemicals and dynamite to collect marine species – oftentimes in some of the world’s most critical and diverse regions, including the fragile Coral Triangle. How can we stop these destructive practices?

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  • Low barriers of entry exist at every point in the chain. There is no cost to the fisher at the most basic levels of collection, while the fisher who makes a greater investment in equipment is more likely to seek out training, knowledge and methodologies to better collect, handle, transport and deliver a higher quality, more saleable product that will yield higher returns over the long term.

  • Unsustainable harvesting of large numbers of lower-value fish lessen the price of those animals, resulting in lower levels of husbandry through the chain of custody. At the same time, more prized specimens garner higher prices in the marketplace, which increases motivation to harvest such species in an unsustainable manner, oftentimes with the aid of chemicals or through other destructive practices that damage the underlying habitat.

  • Operators with little or no infrastructure investment will attempt to generate profits by keeping operational costs very low, which oftentimes results in a compromised husbandry system, resulting in higher mortality.

  • Changing distribution models and the elimination of certain steps in the chain of custody have also increased pressure on profitability. As operators squeeze profit margins due to transportation costs, competition, and other market pressures, the husbandry of animals is often compromised. Once margins shrink, larger numbers of animals are required to cover increasing costs, resulting in more pressure, which creates even more incentive to harvest irresponsibly or unsustainably.

  • The practice of transshipping animals directly to retailers and consumers ill equipped to properly acclimate and care for these animals after a long transport period also leads to increased mortality, which often results in tolerance due to the perceived savings associated with these shipment methods. In many cases, a resultant string of non-payments and bad debt will result in these distribution models, leading to non-payment to exporters and, in some cases, fishers. This results in fishers having to harvest even more to survive, and skews judgment in terms of using sustainable fishing methods. When survival is one’s primary motivation, conservation and long-term planning become secondary concerns.

  • Competition for resources also leads to the overharvesting of marine aquarium organisms. If fishers are licensed to collect in certain areas and are without the pressure or fear of others collection or harvesting the same resources, there is a much greater likelihood that sustainable methods will be used. If fishers fear their resource is under pressure from others, they will often over-collect what they see, since the perception is that whatever is left behind will be collected by others.

  • Supply side countries, particularly the Philippines and Indonesia, must learn over time to protect their ecosystems and biological diversity for the long-term through improved reef stewardship and the elimination of destructive fishing practices. Limited entry to fisheries is essential to this protective process, as are the establishment of marine protected areas.

  • Fishers can be taught to culture corals instead of harvesting them from the wild. In addition, proper licensing, training, and monitoring must take place throughout the process.

  • Industry operators can pledge to support disadvantaged collector communities by preventing the exploitation of marine resources and working to develop fair pricing mechanisms, where appropriate, to ensure that coral reef ecosystems can be managed in perpetuity. In addition, operators must learn to properly care for marine aquarium organisms throughout the handling process so as to reduce the need for additional harvests to replace lost stock.

  • Exporters, importers, and retailers in particular must be more effectively regulated through permit systems and licensing requirements. There must be a penalty system for gross negligence, and such operators must be expected to meet minimum husbandry, infrastructure, and monitoring requirements. They should also help promote trade sustainability through the distribution of educational materials.

  • Hobbyists must demand sustainable products from retail shop owners so as to contribute their part to a sustainable trade.

The MAC Certification System provides value to the industry through the creation of conservation benefits and also works to alleviate poverty and promote sustainable livelihoods for some of the world’s poorest communities. MAC Certification generates value, both tangibly and intangibly, to all participants across the industry value chain. It also benefits a wide range of stakeholders, including hobbyists themselves. Further, rural fishing villages that border coral reef ecosystems are also positively affected, as MAC Certification promotes a sustainable, environmentally sound trade that provides incentives for reef stewardship and responsible management.

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