The Marine Aquarium Council was created in 1998 by key stakeholders to provide voluntary standards and an eco-labeling system for the marine aquarium trade. Since then, MAC has worked with fisheries, industry operators, and stakeholders to develop certification programs at 21 fisheries in the Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, Hawaii, and the UK, covering over 400,000 hectares of waters, 50,000 hectares of reefs, and 1,000 hectares of no-take zones. Nearly 100 certificates have been issued to fisheries, importers, exporters, and retailers to date across Southeast Asia, North America, and Europe. Our programs have helped to achieve direct and indirect social, conservation, and economic benefits in source countries while, at the same time, increasing the number of certified organisms channeled to hobbyists worldwide.
MAC’s concept was based on the idea that consumers should be able to purchase an eco-labeled product that demonstrates the industry’s commitment to supporting ecosystem conservation and biological diversity. While the voluntary standards movement is rapidly gaining acceptance worldwide as a viable business solution, the MAC system has had difficulty in gaining market traction, even though the organization continues to be supported by the largest importers in both the US and Europe. Since 1998, MAC has encountered a number of challenges, such as a lack of regulatory presence in collector communities, roving fisherman, long supply lines, and lofty certification costs. As a result, questions continue to exist regarding whether voluntary standards and certification are the appropriate methods to accomplish the task at hand, if additional regulation is warranted and, furthermore, whether MAC is truly the organization to manage such a system.
That being said, a number of key organizations, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), rely on MAC to help monitor collection methods, holding facilities, and importers used to obtain and transport specimens. They believe that MAC’s goal to establish a marine-related system of standards and certification, which will ensure that the ornamental marine fish trade is sustainable, is an important step in managing this important natural resource. Hobbyist demand for MAC-certified organisms continues to build, while, at the same time, collectors and their communities are working towards the development of sustainable fisheries that protect their coral reef ecosystems for future generations to come.
Today, MAC and the marine aquarium industry as a whole find themselves in an increasingly difficult situation. Voluntary certification has not gained the market shared earlier envisaged and there are strong signals that regulatory pressure on the marine aquarium trade will increase over coming years. A collective solution needs to be developed and implemented based on the expertise across stakeholder groups worldwide and the lessons learned at MAC. The aim remains to help the marine aquarium industry properly manage the collection and care of the valuable, desired and vulnerable living resource upon which it depends and to reward best practice in terms of conservation and husbandry.
To properly facilitate this discussion, MAC has proposed to hold a conference of key stakeholders in Washington, DC this year, the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity, to determine how marine aquarium resources should be appropriately managed going forward. We are currently looking for both monetary and in-kind support to help plan, schedule, moderate, and summarize results that provide clear next steps for the trade of marine aquarium organisms. Expected outcomes of the workshop include:
•Collation of experience and lessons from the evolution of MAC’s engagement in the marine aquarium trade, particularly with regard to development of the voluntary certification approach;
•Assessment of evolution of the marine aquarium industry, current and likely future threats to and opportunities for the marine aquarium trade;
•Evaluation of potential policy and institutional pathways for continued attention to the goals MAC was established to address;
•Recommendations on key policy and institutional approaches for the next 3-5 years.
A number of key organizations have already expressed interest in participating in this event, including: AZA, US Department of the Interior, the Indonesia Nature Foundation (LINI), ISEAL Alliance, IUCN, OATA, OFI, PIJAC, Quality Marine US, Scandinavian Pet Trade Union, The Nature Conservancy, The Ocean Foundation, Traffic International, USAID, and WWF. Additional organizations we plan to contact in the next few weeks include: Cairn’s Marine, Conservation International, EAZA, Eco-EZ, MACNA, NOAA, Petco, Petsmart, MAC Certified Members, and other important stakeholders in the marine aquarium trade.
If you are interested in participating in this event, providing financial assistance to the Marine Aquarium Council, or would like to donate goods or in-kind services, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact our offices at +1 (808) 550-8217. All donations are tax-exempt, and MAC offers complete transparency in our sources and uses of funds.
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