Aquarium keeping is among the world’s most popular hobbies, with millions of enthusiasts across the globe. Nearly $300 million U.S. dollars in live fish are traded each year. Aquarium visitors are disproportionately more likely to keep fish and our program focuses on providing information about conservation and the sustainable keeping of ornamental fish to this audience. We are also engaging with producers and retailers in science and market-based efforts to affect a substantial shift in the way that the global trade in ornamental fish is conducted, working to make it more sustainable and a vehicle for aquatic conservation, poverty alleviation, education and ecosystem stability.

Project Objectives

  • Increase interest in the aquarium hobby trade by unifying both wild-capture and culture programs to focus on conservation of threatened species and habitats and ensure sustainability of trade pathways
  • Develop best handling practices for the aquarium hobby trade to minimize mortality and fish health challenges at all stages of the value chain and alleviate significant environmental problems, including the spread of invasive species and novel pathogens

  • Develop appropriate live and artificial foods to allow for the culture of small-mouthed marine larvae and restricted-diet species

  • Develop a series of workshops and short courses to increase knowledge transfer to home hobbyists and professional aquarists domestically and abroad

  • Promote sustainable harvest, economic benefits to rural fishing communities and economically driven environmental stewardship
  • Assess global scope of industry focusing on imports of fish (numbers and species) into the U.S., including their origin and price
  • Through the application of stress measurement protocols developed at the Aquarium, establish best handling practices and industry standards that result in minimal mortality, ethical treatment of fish and maximum market quality
  • Reform the trade to maximize environmental stewardship, safeguard aquatic ecosystems, provide livelihoods for rural communities, preserve biodiversity and retain tropical forests to sequester greenhouse gasses responsible for climate change
  • Create a certification scheme associated with an internationally recognized entity e.g.: Forest Stewardship Council
  • Develop new feeds for species and work with feed companies to get better suited feeds to initial stages of ornamental fish trade networks
  • Determine impacts of harvest on reef ecosystems


The fishery for Cardinal Tetra is important

for preventing the deforestation of large areas

of the flooded forest in Amazonas, Brazil.

Queen triggerfish, eggs and up to

15 days after hatching. (Photo: A. Rhyne)

Aquaculture and Ornamental Fish

The aquarium hobby relies heavily on aquaculture technology for producing and distributing fish, and also for keeping them. Aquarium scientists are working to determine the risks and benefits of the aquaculture production of ornamental species, and to determine the overall impact that aquaculture can have on species and habitats. Many fish in the aquarium routinely breed, and scientists are working to grow species such as the blue chromis and the queen triggerfish. This will decrease the need in the future to collect the species from the wild.

Wild Harvest and Ornamental Fish

In some cases, wild fisheries should not be replaced by aquaculture. For example, aquarium scientists are working to assure the sustainability of the ornamental fishery in Rio Negro, Amazonas, Brazil, as well as Kerala, India. These fisheries are extremely important to help the local economy and can protect large expanses of flooded forest. The Aquarium is working toward a label that will highlight the environmental benefits of these fisheries.