Trade bodies from around the world are calling on aquatic businesses to sign up to help them to compile a comprehensive picture of the marine ornamental fish trade.

This follows the 18th Conference of the Parties (CoP18) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), held in Geneva this August, where the international pet trade was put under the spotlight. Amongst their decisions, CITES Parties agreed to convene a technical workshop to consider the conservation priorities and management needs related to the trade in non-CITES listed marine ornamental fish worldwide with a particular focus on data from importing and exporting countries.

Trade bodies have asked CITES Parties to fully engage industry in their assessment and analysis and are keen to work in partnership with key inter-governmental organisations such as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the UN’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in providing accurate trade data to support the work now planned by CITES.

During the debate and in discussions with key Parties, the CITES Secretariat and relevant inter-governmental organisations, Dominic Whitmee of the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association (OATA) representing the European Pet Organisation (EPO) and on behalf of Ornamental Fish International (OFI), the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), the Sustainable Users Network (SUN) and IWMC World Conservation Trust, highlighted concerns about the biased representation of the trade and the importance of engaging industry stakeholders in any work going forward.

OATA’s Dominic Whitmee said: “This work could have significant implications for our industry across the globe. Interventions by Parties and others demonstrated a troubling lack of knowledge about the trade and a seemingly inherent view that the trade is unsustainable and in need of management and reform. This may be the case in some instances but it is unfair to categorise the entire industry in this way.

“If we can agree on a strategic, inter-governmental partnership involving industry we may have the opportunity to develop a programme of work which identifies well-informed, reliable and constructive outcomes that will help ensure a sustainable long-term future for our industry. We cannot support a rushed and ill-considered process or one led by those with a track record of seeking to damage our trade.”

OFI’s Svein Fossa said: “It is clear from discussions in CITES that some people are targeting the international pet trade. To achieve a constructive approach the engagement of our member businesses will be paramount – to provide the data needed to develop a sound understanding of trade volumes and pathways. Without good baseline data we can expect ill-informed decision-making and potentially damaging outcomes.

“If our member businesses do not engage in this process we should expect an acceleration of new and potentially damaging reforms to our sector. We would therefore welcome businesses with a particular interest or role in importing, exporting or selling marine fish species to get in touch with their respective country or international trade association to see how they can help support the future of their business.”

Robert Likins, Vice President of Government Affairs for PIJAC said: “For the second straight CoP, very limited time was allowed for discussing proposed listings of the species important to the pet trade such as reptiles, amphibians and arachnids, and no opportunity was given to trade bodies to offer their comments on the proposals, despite the fact that they represent the people directly affected by these listings.

“This is very troubling as CITES has increased focus on species in the pet trade recently. We at PIJAC, along with other pet trade associations will be delivering an open letter to the CITES Secretariat expressing our concerns and proposing process solutions that will provide for truly ethical and impartial debate on these complicated wildlife trade and conservation issues.”

Read the open letter here.

UK businesses should contact OATA here, US businesses should contact PIJAC here, and other businesses can contact OFI Secretariat here.