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CARE Update
Update on the Banggai cardinalfish

As you know, we here at Blue Zoo Aquatics started the CARE (Conscientious Aquarist Restricted Entry) program several months ago in order to emphasize our commitment to a sustainable marine aquarium hobby through action rather than just talk. To us, sustainability means that the hobby will continue to grow in such a way that the ecosystems, the animals and the local collectors upon which the hobby depends remain healthy and robust. The CARE program gives us, as a business, a chance to self-regulate the sale of certain species that may be at risk as a result of the compounded pressures of the marine aquarium industry, commercial fishing and environmental stressors like sea surface temperature change and degraded water quality. By self-regulating, we believe we are setting an example for others to follow. By self-regulating, we are taking direct responsibility for our actions, even when the effects of our actions are only witnessed thousands of miles away. By self-regulating, we are weakening the arguments posed by those who would seek to excessively regulate our industry from without by showing that we can conscientiously manage it best from within. Taking steps to proactively improve the industry, even if it means the loss of some short-term profit, is the right thing to do for our business, for the hobby and for the animals, and we thank you for support our efforts as we work toward a truly sustainable marine aquarium hobby for generations to come.

Because you, as a hobbyist, also bear responsibility for the actions of the marine aquarium industry, we periodically update you on issues of import in order that we can work together toward a brighter future. Of all the species we currently include in the CARE program, none has received greater attention and debate than the one at the center of our CARE logo—the Banggai cardinalfish. The Banggai cardinalfish has received a lot of attention recently, especially given Eric Boreman’s call at MACNA to boycott all wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish. Borneman’s actions appear to have done more to bring the issue to the forefront of hobbyists’ minds than any other action including the species being listed in 2007 as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List and the even more recent, albeit failed, attempt to have it included as a CITES Appendix II species. We at Blue Zoo chose to self-regulate the sale of wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish this past summer because we believe that the species status is, at best, uncertain. Due to its limited native range, huge popularity in the hobby and the dire warnings of researchers who have studied the effects of the marine ornamental trade on the species, we believe that the most conscientious position is to proceed with great caution when it comes to promoting the sale of wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish.

In essence, we are already supporting Eric Borneman’s call to boycott, as we are, at present, only providing wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish to public aquaria, researchers and breeders (for broodstock). We are, however, watching with interest the work that is being done to protect and better manage the fishery. It is reasonable to assume that, with the proper data-based management plan in place and enforced and the continued training of collectors in sustainable collection techniques, a sustainable trade in wild-caught Banggai cardinalfish may be a reality at some point in the future. Would we support such a trade? Indeed we would by removing the Banggai cardinalfish from the CARE program. Why would we do this for a species that has been proven well-suited for aquaculture here in the United States? Because we believe that supporting the socio-economic growth of developing island nations is an important and beneficial component of a sustainable hobby. So what will we be looking at over the coming year to determine whether or not we will remove the Banggai cardinalfish from the CARE program?

This fall and winter, we will be looking at a number of important benchmarks in regard to protecting the species and managing a sustainable trade in wild-caught fish. In November, for example, a draft Banggai cardinalfish management plan is scheduled for review. This winter, a number of marine protected areas established by the Banggai district government are scheduled to be fully implemented providing greater protection for the species. A population survey assessment for Banggai cardinalfish populations outside the Banggai Islands will be conducted, and non-native populations of Banggai cardinalfish will be looked into as another significant alternative source of good quality wild-caught fish. Finally, with local government support, various NGOs and other entities are spearheading an effort to train Banggai collectors in sustainable collection, holding and shipping techniques. All of these efforts may have a significant impact on the Banggai cardinalfish fishery and eventually lead to our decision to remove the species from the CARE program.

In closing, it is our belief that one of the greatest justifications for a marine aquarium hobby is that reef aquarists are some of the best reef conservationists. Reef aquarists possess an inherent love of tropical reefs and the animals that inhabit them. They also possess a unique knowledge of the threats faced by those reefs. By sharing their aquaria with friends and family, reef aquarists are some of the most important ambassadors of what may accurately be termed “the rainforests of the seas.”

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