A regional consultation to support the marine ornamental industry (January 2009)
Wednesday, 31 December 2008 00:00

 By Antoine Teitelbaum, Beeing Yeeting, Ben Ponia and Jeff Kinch,


SPC has been assisting the region to develop management and monitoring regimes to ensure the long-term sustainability of the marine ornamental trade whilst promoting best eco-friendly industry practices to ensure maximum benefits from these resources. As part of this effort, the Aquaculture Section and the Live Reef Fisheries Section of SPC and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) hosted a subregional workshop in Noumea, New Caledonia in early December 2008 on the marine aquarium trade. The workshop was a technical consultation between private stakeholders, public stakeholders and specialists from this industry in the Pacific to examine current and new issues in the trade and to identify national and regional initiatives that will ensure the long-term sustainability of this important, yet relatively unknown industry.

The workshop objectives were to: 

Assess the global and regional trends of the industry in terms of markets and production systems;-          Investigate criteria for commercial viability at both community and company levels;

Assess requirements and issues related to international agreements for export, such as non-detrimental findings for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the recent World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) veterinarian requirements;

Determine the role of certification programmes;

Evaluate resource assessment techniques to ensure sustainability of wild fisheries;

Identify further opportunities for aquaculture;

Determine base requirements for national management plans; and

Identify priorities for research, development and training. 

Major exporting countries such as Fiji Islands, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Tonga and Solomon Islands were represented, while other countries that have marginal or developing trade in ornamentals, such as Cook Islands, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, and PNG, were also present and actively participated in the various sessions. Representatives from Australia’s Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries presented the Queensland Great Barrier Reef approach to managing this industry, which is currently being implemented. 

Private sector representatives who are highly regarded in the trade, such as Tony Nahacky from Fiji Islands, discussed the good practices of their companies and stressed issues such as safety of the collectors, quality of the product and sustainability of the collection practices. Walt Smith from WaltSmith International presented his rock and coral farming projects, amongst other things, to the delight of smaller entrepreneurs from Vanuatu, Kiribati and Tonga who benefited greatly from those presentations. Tekinaiti Kaiteie from Moving Colors, a Kiritimati-based exporter, represented the Kiritimati Petfish Association and shared his experience and concerns about operating business and shipping live animals from such a remote part of the world. The lack of support from NGOs and government agencies was also stressed and ways to improve this were discussed. 

Representatives from NGOs, other independent organisations and USP actively participated in all sessions on topics such as aquaculture development, trade barriers, CITES, and sustainability of practices. Participants from the Marine Environmental Research Institute of Ponhpei, USP’s Institute of Marine Resources (IMR), and the WorldFish Center in Solomon Islands all contributed their knowledge and experience to help improve this important industry in the Pacific. 

Two field trips were organised by SPC. The participants visited the newly refurbished Aquarium des Lagons on Noumea’s Anse Vata beach, where they were able to observe species from New Caledonia found in habitats ranging from the rivers to the outer reef. Some rare species were spotted by the more experienced fish watchers, while the 50 kg maori wrasse remained a favourite. A second field trip took over 20 participants for a snorkelling trip to the reef where ornamental trade enthusiasts and fish experts could see for themselves the fantastic New Caledonian marine life. 

At the end of the workshop, an interactive CD with all the PowerPoint presentations was produced and distributed to participants. A technical report is currently being prepared and will be available online soon. 

Emerging issues and challenges 

A few key issues emerged from this workshop and form the basis of the work that will need to be pursued in the future. 

Aquaculture for alternative sources Aquaculture is providing the market with an increasing range of cultured products. For example, giant clam farming has increased since the first trials in the 1980s; in 2007 over 75,000 cultured clams were exported from the Pacific. Cultured corals and cultured live rocks are also being successfully marketed to environmentally conscious aquarists. As the culture of these products expands in the Pacific, alternative employment is being created for people in rural areas. Culture of fish such as the highly sought after clownfish is also increasing worldwide, and the Pacific seems to have good opportunities for development in this area. 

Air transportation – a continuing saga The aquarium trade has a symbiotic relationship with the airline industry. Live fishes and corals surviving on a limited oxygen supply must be shipped quickly to their destination, and the trade therefore depends on airlines to get its products to market. At the same time, the flow of outgoing airfreight cargo provides a steady stream of business, helping these international flight routes stay afloat. In Tonga for example, the ban on live-rock harvest caused a drop in airfreight cargo and reputedly contributed to the demise of one of the international flight connections.  

Certification for a ‘Pacific’ product — a label for Pacific exemplary practices Certification of best practices for the marine aquarium industry was deemed a high priority by both governmental and private-sector stakeholders at the Noumea workshop. Eco-labeling can add value to consumer verifiable certified products, or at least help maintain market share. The industry stakeholders, however, stressed a need to avoid past experiences with burdensome over-documentation and to apply certification in areas where operators already have strong commercial incentives to do well. The SPC-based Coral Reef Initiative in the South Pacific (CRISP) has announced an intention to carry out a feasibility study in 2009 to identify possible models for certification and eco-labeling in the marine aquarium trade, and to seek the one that is most appropriate for the industry in the Pacific.  

International compliance Today’s global market has made compliance and reporting increasingly stringent and complex. As aquarium products move from one country to another they must comply with the powerful CITES, which aims to ensure that international trade is not affecting global biodiversity. Lately, the Pacific has been affected by temporary bans that have been imposed on some species. A factor in these bans has been poor coordination between environment departments, which typically issue CITES permits, and fisheries departments, which are responsible for the industry. Biosecurity is an issue of increasing importance. Recently the European Commission (EC) imposed a requirement for all live aquatic imports to be accompanied by a disease certification and for the exporting countries to also be members of OIE. The Pacific has become an unintentional victim of this new requirement. Most, if not all, of the countries affected by this ruling lack the institutional and funding capacity to accommodate these measures. Fortunately, there are some conciliatory gestures from EC indicating that a regional approach coordinated by SPC may provide a temporary respite. However, this really only serves to raise a flag that increasingly stringent biosecurity measures in the trade are right around the corner. 

What lies ahead? 

With growing interest in the aquarium trade from Pacific countries, the trade is expected to continue to grow in the region. SPC will continue to coordinate efforts and provide the technical support and assistance required by PICTs to develop and manage this industry in a sustainable way. A ‘Pacific’ label that indicates high quality eco-friendly products that promote sustainability is an idea worthy of exploration by Pacific Island nations. And as for international trade measures, they have the capacity to either become a barrier for the Pacific marine aquarium trade or to assist the trade in keeping a clean image. 

For further information please contact Being Yeeting, SPC Senior Fisheries Scientist (Live Reef Fisheries), email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or Antoine Teitelbaum, SPC Aquaculture Officer (Aquaculture Section), email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .