Uncovering an Obscure Trade: Threatened Freshwater Fishes and the Aquarium Pet Markets

The 'Vulnerable' Western Ghats endemic Carinotetraodon travancoricus
Rajeev Raghavan
The trade deals with 30 species that are threatened with extinction

An analaysis of trade data on freshwater fish exports for ornamental trade was recently published in Biological Conservation 164: 158-169: R. Raghavan, N. Dahanukar, M. Tlusty, A. Rhyne, K. Krishnakumar, S. Molur & A.M. Rosser (2013) Uncovering an obscure trade: threatened freshwater fishes and the aquarium pet trade.

The trade deals with 30 species that are threatened with extinction. Here are the highlights of the paper.

Highlights of the study

  • This study for the first time assessed the extent, magnitude and conservation implications of the unmanaged trade in endemic and threatened freshwater fishes from India for the global aquarium pet markets.
  • More than 1.5 million freshwater fish belonging to 30 threatened species were exported from India during the years 2005-2012.
  • Four species, Botia striata (Endangered), Carinotetraodon travancoricus (Vulnerable) and Redline Torpedo Barbs (Puntius denisonii and P. chalakkudiensis – both Endangered) comprised bulk of the exports.
  • Some of the most important conservation concern species exported include Garra hughi (Endangered), Channa aurantimaculata (restricted to a single location), Gonoproktopterus thomassi (Critically Endangered), Glyptothorax housei (Endangered).
  • For example, Botia striata, which occupies fragmented locations within a limited areas of occupancy (AOO) of 400 sq. km, was one of the main species exported during 2005–2012. During this period, over 380,000 individuals were shipped from India
  • < 300,000 Redline Torpedo Barbs/RLTB (comprising of two Endangered species) were exported during 2005-2012. 96% of the RLTB exports were carried out from Bangalore Airport, with Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong being the major destinations.
  • Local regulations (including a fishery ban) on collection and export of RLTB in Kerala seem to have little or no impact. At least 11,260 fish were exported during the ban period during the years 2010-2012. More than 89,000 RLTB were caught and exported during its breeding months from 2005-2012 in spite of a government ban on collection during these months. In addition, 46% (around 145,997 individuals) of the RLTBs that were caught and exported were immature juveniles.
  • Except for Bangalore, record keeping is extremely poor in other airports especially Cochin.
  • Due to the income it provides, various government agencies in India continue to encourage trade in native aquarium fishes including the RLTBs. This is either through the provision of subsidies and developmental assistance for exporters, or by undertaking exports themselves. Close to 150,000 RLTBs were known to be exported by the Kerala Aquatic Ventures International Limited (KAVIL), a joint undertaking with private industry and the Government of Kerala.
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