Ecological Issues and the Trades in Live Reef Fishes

This chapter focuses on the various ecological issues that are related to the trade of live reef fishes. Well-managed live reef fish fisheries offer an excellent chance for high-value and relatively low-volume trades that could employ many fishers without damaging wild populations, with the income providing strong local incentives to care for marine resources. Similarly, well-considered and cautious mariculture has the potential to help support local people, but then all mariculture operations and proposals should be very carefully scrutinized for ecological integrity, economic viability, and social implications. Currently, mariculture proposals are often viewed as intrinsically positive without considering their potential impacts. Mariculture, like the import of exotic fishes, could threaten local fish fauna because of the potential for releases and escapes, as well as the spread of disease. Infact, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) actively discourages releases unless they are a part of a well-conceived and long-term international program. Moreover, the polluting and resource-expensive (for feed) demands of the larger carnivorous species being cultured pose a range of problems that are have yet not been addressed. Successful management of live fish fisheries for sustainability requires a creative and interdisciplinary mix of management measures, well supported by government, local fishing communities, traders, and consumers. Ecosystem-level approaches, such as MPAs, offer considerable hope as they help conserve habitat and biodiversity simultaneously. Pre-emptively established no-take zones can become increasingly critical as the live fish trades and associated abusive fishing practices spread into new regions. The direct loss of populations through capture and associated disruption, the damage to other species, and the degradation of reefs from illegal capture methods are all very costly in terms of future fishing income and alternative income-earning opportunities, such as tourism.