SYDNEY - A booming trade in aquarium fish, sparked by Finding Nemo, the Disney film
featuring clownfish, is endangering the wildlife of the Vanuatu
archipelago in the South Pacific.
Over the past year about 200,000 fish and other marine creatures have been
exported from the country, and local tour firms are warning that the reefs
will be at risk if the tropical fish trade is not regulated.
"It's a very popular trade and on the back of Finding Nemo it's boomed,"
said Heidi Bartram, of Vanuatu's fisheries department. "It's developing
faster than anyone can keep up with. There's a lack of understanding of
reef systems and how fast they recover. Understanding them is hard enough
without having the added pressure of people taking the fish."
Concern about the trade and its sustainability is so great the government
has set up a committee to examine the issue.
The four species of anenome fish in Vanuatu - which are related to, but do
not include, the clownfish - are classified within the archipelago's top
10 most exported species.
Concern has grown among local dive firms following the arrival, in April,
of a US-owned company, Sustainable Reef Supplies, which employs 20 people
to fish the waters around Vanuatu's main island, Efate, and which
dominates the export market. The firm flies out up to 8,000 wild animals a
month from the capital, Port Vila.
Rare tropical fish can fetch more than 300 an animal in the US and
Australian markets, although clownfish can sell for 10.
Rod Habla, president of the Vanuatu tour operators' association, said
aquarium firms had to ensure sites were not overfished. "The problem is
managers will tell collectors not to go into restricted areas but at the
same time give them a list of the species they want."
Dive operators say that aquarium firms have over-fished several popular
scuba sites, including Hat Island where they claim 38,000 fish were taken
within one month this year.
Local businesses pay custom fees to traditional, Melanesian landowners for
the rights to fish or dive.
According to the United Nations, the global aquarium trade deals in 11m
tropical fish a year, with Britain alone importing 110,000 clownfish