You are here"Dark Hobby" Response: We Must Not Sit Idle

"Dark Hobby" Response: We Must Not Sit Idle

By jml - Posted on 11 September 2010

By Dr Michael Tlusty
New England Aquarium

and Dr Andrew Rhyne
New England Aquarium/Roger Williams University

Re The Dark Hobby? A New Call to Ban "Aquarium Hunters"

We have an industry that has unique benefits for humans (economics here and to rural and developing regions, education, and society) and ecosystems (species preservation, economic-driven habitat protection), but is not without its complexities. In 2002 one of us (Tlusty) wrote in the peer reviewed journal Aquaculture about Risks and Benefits of Ornamental Aquaculture production, but those lessons can be applied to the whole industry. When a high profile detractor chooses to only look at the “dark side” of the industry, it opens us up to attack and a lot of subsequent scrambling to refocus the negative messaging and fears of harmful legislation.

The industry needs to be proactive and develop policies that can be used to ensure that the true benefits of the industry’s sustainable actions are being accurately conveyed and received by the general public (and more importantly, governmental officials). As it stands, the lack of tangible evidence with regards to sustainability and efficiency criteria is a serious gap. This is the gap through which “Snorkel Bob” attacks. This is not the first time our industry has been attacked from this gap, and will not be the last.

A decade ago, the seafood industry faced similar vitriol, and the industry became proactive and less reactive by using market based mechanisms to improve the sustainability of their sourcing decisions. To accomplish this, the industry did not act alone. Multi-stakeholder groups comprised of academics, industry, and NGOs were formed to work towards creating solutions for the continual improvement of seafood sources (both wild and aquacultured).

Here at the New England Aquarium, we have a long history of working with the seafood industry on moving towards sustainability. We believe it is now time for the ornamental fish industry to fully embark on a similar multi-stakeholder journey. We have worked to improve wild ornamental fisheries, and at the same time working to develop new technologies for captive production. Our recent partnership with Roger Williams University and continuing efforts to promote ornamental fish from the Rio Negro, Brazil sets the framework for such actions. See our program description at

As an industry we must not sit idle while we are attacked from outside interest groups or the misinformed. We must set and live up to tangible science based standards (key point is tangible, not verbal) for the collection, care, and transportation of our fishes, invertebrates and corals. Here at the New England Aquarium, as an NGO, a keeper of ornamental fish, and a group vested in the industry, we can assist to provide an independent scientific authority for development and implementation of such standards and oversight. As an independent scientific authority, we will call out industry issues, but in doing so, look to improve the industry. We will also defend this industry when imprudent actions, such as HR 669, are bandied about.

We invite all interested parties to join the discussion. Moving together as a multi-stakeholder voice is critical for success.

Dr Michael Tlusty
Director of Research
New England Aquarium

Dr Andrew Rhyne
Research Scientist / Assistant Professor
New England Aquarium / Roger Williams University

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