Wild caught fish: the trade, the benefits, the facts

It’s estimated more than 90% of ornamental marine fish and invertebrates (like coral) and between five and 10% of freshwater fish are wild caught for aquarium keepers to enjoy in their homes.

Fishermen can earn a living from their local rainforest rivers, rift valley lakes or coral reefs in some of the most remote countries in the world and are directly dependent on these habitats remaining healthy, so habitats can be protected because communities rely on them.

We believe these important benefits in the country of origin are often missed in the debate about wild caught fish. People, not fish, really lie at the heart of this issue. We need to ask ourselves what other livelihoods are open to them to feed their families if they cannot catch the species on their doorstep – and keep them alive to supply to our industry. And are those alternatives really ‘better’ – for them and the environment?

We wanted to examine the evidence for the positive benefits of wild caught fish so we commissioned the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology to review available scientific literature. Using this as a springboard, we then wrote our own summary of the global trade in wild caught fish and the benefits it can bring, particularly to the countries where the fish are taken.

The report

Read OATA’s Wild caught ornamental  fish: the trade, the benefits, the facts report online

Download a pdf of OATA’s Wild caught ornamental  fish: the trade, the benefits, the facts report

Case studies


Hear from fisherman Maday in Bali who collects marine fish for the aquarium industry.

Read a livelihood report on Balinese fishermen prepared by LINI, which is working with fishermen like Maday to promote sustainable fishing in Bali.


Hear from Jose who lives with his family in the Peruvian rainforest and their ‘deal with the water dragon’.

Read a livelihood report on Peruvian fishermen prepared by FundAmazonia which funds research into sustainable development in the Amazon.


Hear from Project Piaba about the work they do to support the Brazilian fishermen who catch cardinal tetra and discus fish and maintain vast tracts of the Amazon rainforest in the process.

And here’s a great story from National Geographic magazine that shows what can be achieved when communities work together to catch wild discus in Brazil.


Find out about the MARS coral rehabilitation programme in Indonesia, part of its MARS Sustainable Solutions work supporting the local community build up sustainable livelihoods from the marine resources on their doorstep.


This is a great introduction to the Hawaii aquarium industry. It features data, analysis, and interviews with Hawaii-based marine biologists who affirm that the West Hawaii aquarium fishery is sustainable and valuable.


Click here to see a BBC report on Malawian fish business Stuart Grant Ltd which exports wild caught cichlids – a popular tropical freshwater aquarium fish.


Here’s another example, taken from the OFI Journal, from Kenya Marine Centre which shows the many benefits supplying wild caught ornamental fish has brought to a small town in Kilifi County. This video shows KMC’s divers at work.


This is another interesting article from the OFI Journal looking at the re-establishment of the ornamental fish industry in Jamaica.

The sources

Get sources for OATA’s Wild caught ornamental  fish: the trade, the benefits, the facts report

Read the full literature review from the Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology