Aquarium Owners: Are Your Fish Fair-Trade Certified?

As we normally associate fair trade with products like coffee, chocolate, and handcrafted goods, this probably seems like a really strange question. But, in the case of one species of tropical fish, a number of environmental organizations, and the pet industry, are pushing for a certification standard. For fifty years, the cardinal tetra (shown above) has been sustainably harvested by residents of Brazil's Rio Negro region. The income from the sale of the fish has kept the local economy humming, so logging and mining haven't gained a foothold. That could change, though, as commercial fisheries in Florida have experimented with breeding cardinal tetras. Successful farming of the fish could have devastating consequences for the Rio Negro economy, and, by extension, it's ecosystems:

"If this threat is untended, it could result in the collapse of the Rio Negro industry," said Scott Dowd, senior aquarist at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts.

Dowd acknowledged that most ornamental freshwater fish are raised by fish farms, but he hopes to keep the cardinal tetra from that fate.

Dowd and others have a plan to certify the Rio Negro cardinals as eco-friendly. They'll try to persuade aquarium owners to buy the Brazilian fish instead of their farm-raised cousins, which will likely be cheaper.

"Aquarium hobbyists are environmentalists—they use money out of pocket to have a little ecosystem at home," Dowd said. "We want to convince them that purchasing these fish are good for the environment in the Brazilian rain forest."

If it finds the funding, the Forest Stewardship Council has already agreed to handle certification of cardinal tetra caught by traditional means, and WWF, TRAFFIC, and the World Conservation Union have already expressed support for this arrangement. Using the slogan "buy a fish, and save a tree," the FSC hopes to educate tropical fish buyers on the potential ecological impact of buying cardinal tetra from farm-raised sources. For true enthusiasts, this won't be a hard sell, as the fish from Brazil apparently have more natural color. The success or failure of the program, though, will rely on broader acceptance: "The jury is still out. The true hobbyists understand it, but probably the general public hasn't caught on," [Marshall Meyers, executive vice president of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council] said.

We'd love to hear from those of you that keep tropical fish as pets: would you support a certification standard for this species? ::National Geographic News

Tags: Brazil | Fair Trade | Fish | Pets