IUCN Freshwater Fish Specialist Group

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Home Aquarium Fish Sub-Group (HAFSG)



Photo credit: Vincent DiDuca

For decades home aquarium fish have been collected from regions of biological importance across the globe. The vast majority of the organisms in the home aquarium trade are represented by freshwater species (90 percent). The home aquarium fish trade is a large international market responsible for hundreds of millions of dollars annually in revenue for businesses. Although the majority of freshwater aquarium specimens are captive cultured, there are still fishing communities residing in areas of biological importance that capture and export fishes for the global trade. These fisheries are a powerful driver of the local economies and environmental protectionism in regions where their collection takes place. These fisheries face many pressing issues, including:

• Market competition from Ex-situ fish farms
• Public perception pressure on the industry to shift to captive bred stock
• Decline in recruitment of new fish hobbyists and a disconnection with millennials
• Increasing regulations on the importation of wild captured fishes
• The need to implement Best Handling Practices for wild caught fishes to maximize value and market competitiveness and minimize fish stress
• The need to develop marketing framework to highlight socioeconomic and environmental benefits of wild caught fishes
• The need for solutions that benefit the environment to address unsustainable or destructive practices
• The need to establish fair and equitable distribution of economic benefits

Collecting Tetras Daracua

Collecting Tetras in Daracua. Photo credit: Gary Jones (Mars Fishcare)

Enacting best practices for the capture and export of these fish can provide effective incentives for communities andworkers to fend off other industries and practices that degrade the environment upon which the fish depend, resulting in protection for not only the target species but the entire ecosystem. Many of these regions that contain marketable species, as well as other species that may be threatened according to IUCN Red List, are, in effect, Protected Areas, as a result of resident-based stewardship. In important instances in developing countries, the home aquarium trade has become an effective instrument for poverty alleviation, preservation of remaining areas of biological importance and critically endangered species, and preserving global climate stability.

The HAFSG is composed of and draws from its Steering Committee and Advisory, composed of stakeholders the IUCN’s Specialist Groups and partnering NGO’s, leaders in the home aquarium industry, and the public aquarium and zoo community. Science-based findings towards conservation objectives are conveyed via zoos, aquariums and other outlets in a harmonized strategy with commercial partners to achieve shared goals.

With this in mind, the HAFSG has been created with several goals, which include:

• To identify, validate, and promote the conservation and wise management of wild populations of tropical fishes that are part of the home aquarium trade, as well as the ecosystems where they are found
• To support sustainable, socioeconomic, and environmental benefits for home aquarium fishing communities, especially living in regions of biological importance
• To develop and implement solutions that result in the most robust market for home aquarium fish that result in environmental protectionism, poverty alleviation, and climate stability.

Recent and Upcoming Activities

Aquarama 2015 Report

Front cover

This report summarizes the discussions and outcomes from the Strategic Development Meeting held at Aquarama 2015, and co-lead by Scott Dowd (Chair of the Home Aquarium Fish Sub-group). The goals of this meeting were to develop a framework to maximize environmental and socioeconomic benefits as an outcome of the home aquarium trade.



Download the Aquarama Report here [PDF, 1.3MB]


Brazilian Expedition with Project Piaba

Scott Dowd, in addition to several members from the Project Piaba Brazil team and international partners, led a group to the fishing grounds in Brazil in late January 2015. Several stakeholders joined Scott and the Project Piaba team in the field, including the President of Ornamental Fish International, commercial fish traders, Zoo & Aquarium specialists, aquatic animal health specialists, and Brazilian collaborators from the Amazonas State and Federal Government.

World Parks Congress Side Event

As one of its first activities, the HAFSG hosted a side event at this year’s World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia. The event took place on Monday, November 17 from 7-8 a.m. AEDT (UTC +11).  Sub-group Chair lead a discussion about the new sub-group and its many opportunities. The side event built upon a separate presentation at the Congress on Creating Protected Areas by Fostering Socioeconomically and Environmentally Beneficial Aquarium Fisheries.


Scott Dowd


Photo credit: Vincent DiDuca

Scott has served as a biologist at the New England Aquarium (NEAq) since 1987 He also co-founded, and is now Executive Director of Project Piaba (piaba is the local name for the ornamental fish). The Mission of Project Piaba is to increase the environmental, animal welfare, and social sustainability of the Amazonian aquarium fish trade, to develop and incorporate metrics through which this progress can be assessed, and to provide mechanisms to promote this industry. Project Piaba’s work is also featured on the NEAq website, and on Facebook.

Email: [email protected]