The SAIA Fish Lists, indicating species unsuitable for the average hobbyist or unsustainable in collection from the wild, are a real success story. Since their first publication in 2011 they have been downloaded countless times, not only by aquarium hobbyists. They continue to raise awareness for a responsible, ethical, and sustainable hobby and trade by taking a closer look and considering potential difficulties in keeping particular organisms due to special needs or taking into account the ecological impact of a buying decision.
We are publishing the updated, third edition now. Two recent developments triggered the update: 1) a trend toward smaller tank size among marine hobbyists and 2) increasing awareness of the data deficiencies on the population status of marine organisms.
New tank size: 1000 liters
We have reduced the tank size considered for the “List of Unsuitable Species” from 5000 liters to 1000 liters. Especially in Europe, hardly any newcomers or average hobbyists keep tanks bigger than 1000 liters. Aquaria of larger volume are often kept by experts or by owners who can afford to hire an expert (e.g., a maintenance company) to take care of their tank.
Many species that were previously listed individually are now summarized at the family level, as their body size (and resulting required swimming space) as well as their behavior make all species in the family unsuitable for a reef tank smaller than 1000 liters. So, while this list might look shorter than before, it is indeed more comprehensive. Together with the AquarioScenario tool, it will continue to be helpful to newcomers and hobbyists setting up average-sized and nano tanks in a way that is mindful of animal welfare.
Data are essential for sustainable fishery management
The “List of Ecologically Unsustainable Species”, which indicates globally threatened species as evaluated at various degrees by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), has grown tremendously. One reason is that more species of interest to the aquarium hobby are listed as “data deficient (DD).” While that means it is unclear whether the species is threatened in its global population status, it also means that no data exist to inform sustainable fishery management. A lack of data together with a lack of fishery management is a common situation for many small-scale fisheries worldwide, but especially for reef fisheries in Southeast Asia. These fisheries remain the main source for most of our tank mates, though. So, it is important to consider a potentially weak sustainability status in your buying decisions and avoid species that have a higher risk for overfishing because of their biology and behavior.
How endangered is “Dory”?
In particular, small, local populations are currently under threat, which can endanger their local existence as witnessed by the local fisher communities. Such is the case, as an example, for the palette surgeonfish (Paracanthurus hepatus, the blue tang, often called “Dory”). The IUCN lists the species globally as “least concern,” because of its wide range and naturally rare occurrence. However, no data for populations in Indonesia or the Philippines exist, so they cannot be assessed. Given the biology of the species and its natural rarity, local declines and potential extirpations, are possible, even likely. However, as the IUCN evaluates the global status of blue tangs as “least concern,” the species is not included in our list of unsustainable species.
Regulations protects our coral reefs
Coral reefs and their populations are critically threatened, directly or indirectly, by various anthropogenic impacts. Thus any use of reef resources should be regulated, including reef fishery. However, for the aquarium fishery, effective regulation is the rare exception (e.g., West Hawai'i, Australia), not the rule. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fisheries are ostracized worldwide. This should include aquarium fisheries, which are largely “unreported” and “unregulated.” The list cannot help in identifying the illegal component of an aquarium fishery, e.g., cyanide use during collection), but it can at the minimum make the hobbyist aware of the data and management deficiencies and general lack of regulations. It is our duty to demand adequate management of aquarium fishing in the main supply countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.
When you decide not to purchase a species identified as unsuitable or unsustainable in the SAIA Fish Lists, you are supporting reef conversation.