My issue with the aquarium industry is at the source. From what I’ve come across, most people don’t think about how the pretty little fish (or coral, or anemones, or shrimp, or crabs, or lobsters, or pretty much anything) are caught. Cyanide fishing is the norm. Fishermen dive down with rudimentary dive equipment (read hose, not always with a regulator, in mouth attached to a compressor on a boat) and a squeeze bottle filled with sodium cyanide.
When they see the fish on order (and let’s face it, by now it’s more than likely to be threatened), they squeeze the
NaCl NaCN (Sillly Sam— and everyone thinks she is a real scientist! :D) around the area. The mixture stuns the fish, slowing it down so it can be caught without damaging it. Unfortunately the toxin is deadly to invertebrates and any hard or soft coral in the area are done for, as well as other species that are food and habitat sources for reef inhabitants.
The fish is usually shipped off to a factory where it is packaged to be flown to whichever country the order came from. The main powers of the West (USA, UK) and various countries in SE Asia are the main customers. More often than not the fish are given various drugs and antibiotics so they are “clean” for the aquarium, but this just shortens their life span exasperating the demand on the source reef.
The danger is also inherent for the fishermen, from impoverished nations that are trying to make enough for their families. I’ve seen the struggle here in Philippines, the uncertainty of the next meal, the children’s future, health bills etc. And in nations, like this one, the sea is pretty much the only resource available. But in the efforts to get these fish, they are putting their lives at risk.
Almost none of them have any sort of formal dive training. No precautionary measures are taken to prevent decompression sickness that is thought to be on of the worst pains around. It can paralyze and very frequently kill. Sadly it is easily prevented with the right training, equipment, and attitude. Imagine what happens if the compressor on the boat fails, if the hose slips out his mouth, if anything goes wrong. If the fisherman doesn’t die he left unable to work, and unable to earn for his family.
It’s dire straits any way you cut it. And it’s all to meet a frivolous demand. With no demand, the supply chain evolves towards something else, something more sustainable for both man and nature.
To quote a catchphrase from the anti-shark fin movement, applicable pretty much everywhere: When the demand stops, the killing will too. As the consumer, you actually have all the power. Use it. And if you must have fish in your tank, look for reputable suppliers, that don’t drug the fish, and train their fishermen suppliers. They are out there.