We are building a coalition of interested organisations, from fellow trade associations to other reef-related groups, to ensure our voices are heard by the CITES Secretariat as it works on Decisions 18.296 to 18.298 on Marine ornamental fishes agreed at the Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Geneva in 2019. Read more about what was decided here. This was updated at the 2022 CITES COP held in Panama following delays due to COVID-19 which meant the proposed workshop did not take place. Read the latest report from CITES here.

This decision could potentially have huge ramifications for both the home and public aquarium industries and we need to ensure those industries play a substantive part in the how decisions are reached.

Why is this important?

The proposal originally agreed was to examine ‘marine ornamental fish’ traded around the world. The CITES Secretariat subsequently decided to focus on ‘international trade in live specimens of non-CITES listed coral reef fishes (fish which live amongst or in close relation to coral reefs that are found in the tropical and subtropical Western Atlantic and Indo-Pacific oceans, typically occurring between 30 latitudes), and on those species (including sharks and rays) that are caught and traded for display in public or private aquariums’.

This project has the potential to severely restrict the range of species available to both public and home aquariums.

What’s being proposed?

To establish the information needed to make any decisions CITES Secretariat want four ‘thematic studies’ (ie reports) to be researched and written that will investigate the extent of the trade in live coral reef fish. These reports will then be presented to a workshop to ‘consider the conservation priorities and management needs related to the trade in non-CITES marine ornamental fishes worldwide’. The workshop is expected to come up with an overall picture of the findings of the reports and make recommendations to the Animals Committee for agreement and to be proposed to the Conference of Parties where decisions are made on species that need any kind of listings (restrictions) on their trade.

What will the reports cover?

The workshop wants to consider biology, conservation status, trade and management, applicable trade regulations and enforcement so the CITES Secretariat has decided this work can be produced in four ‘thematic studies’ which will cover:

  1. International trade in non-CITES listed live coral reef fishes – to establish which fish are in trade, try to gauge volumes of trade, identify major trade routes, look at which are caught in the wild and which are captive reared and identify issues in the supply chain which can have an impact on the sustainability of any species.
  1. Biology and conservation status – having established the species to examine in report 1, this report will look at the current data on the biology and conservation status of these species, identifying gaps in knowledge or where trade is likely to be a threat and so suggest a list of species (or groupings) where conservation measures may be needed.

  2. Fisheries management – to establish what regulations, initiatives and management frameworks have existed in the past or already exist and assess how well (or not) they have worked and make recommendations.
  3. International regulation – to establish what regulations are currently in place across the globe and look at their enforcement.
Who will write the reports?

Our concern has always been that organisations which lack the necessary independence will be chosen. For example the Swiss-based Foundation Franz Weber was involved in the original submission to look at this issue and has a clear campaign to halt the keeping of fish in aquariums. We do not believe organisations such as this, with their inherent bias against the trade, should be in any way involved in the creation of the reports for the workshop.

We acknowledge that, after substantial lobbying by our industries, the CITES Secretariat clearly stated that any discussions needed to include industry representatives, source countries and other stakeholder organisations and we welcome news that UNEP-WCMC (UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre) has been contracted as project manager for the workshop. This organisation was involved in developing the Global Marine Aquarium Database and producing a 2003 report into the marine aquarium industry, to which OATA contributed. There will be other organisations involved and WCMC’s role will to be coordinate their input. We are hopeful that IUCN and FAO will also be involved in some way. These are all respected independent institutions, so we see this as very positive and an indication that CITES has listened to our concerns about the process.

Who will be at the workshop where recommendations are made?

CITES Secretariat state that ‘Animals Committee representatives, representatives from range states, exporting and importing countries, fishery stakeholders, industry representatives and relevant intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations’ will be invited and asked to contribute.

But the Secretariat also makes clear that it does not currently have the funds to run the workshop and travel and meeting restrictions due to Covid-19 also put it in jeopardy.

Its solution is to organize ‘a full or partial online expert workshop’. For something as important as this, which aims to examine such a wide range of species, only a properly convened and attended meeting supported by comprehensive reports should be contemplated. If this cannot be arranged, then the workshop should be put on hold until it can be.

Read the latest proposal on this piece of work by CITES here.

What have we done so far?

OATA has joined a coalition of different organisations to write letters of concern to the Secretary General of CITES secretariat.

Read our first letter here.

Read our second letter here following the proposal for an online workshop.

We are also pleased to hear that OFI will be one of the organisations asked to help UNWCMC on its work preparing for the reports and proposed workshop.

Which organisations is OATA working with?

We are pleased to have joined forces on this issue with:

Asociación Española de la Industria y el Comercio del Sector Animal de la Compañía (AEDPAC)

The Coral Reef Aquarium Fisheries Campaign


European Pet Organisation (EPO)

Norges Zoohandleres Bransjeforening (NZB)

Ornamental Fish International (OFI)

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Councils (PIJAC) US

Pet Industry Joint Advisory Councils (PIJAC) Canada

Syndicat professionnel des métiers et services de l’animal familier (PRODAF)

Watson Fish Consulting

Zentralverband Zoologischer Fachbetriebe Deutschlands(ZZF)

Zoobranschens Riks Förbund (ZOORF)