Intro to Fish ID

FL AFS Fall 2021 Continuing Education Virtual Workshop

Posted below is a link to the fish ID overview from Theresa Warner (FWC) from the FL AFS Fall 2021 Continuing Education Virtual Workshop. This video is a part one of a four part video series that focuses on the introduction to fish anatomy and identification. This series goes over how to identify species within the Carangidae, Epinephelidae, and Lutjanidae families. This is a great video for anyone that is new to some of these species, needs a refresher, or needs additional fish ID resources. The rest of the series will be posted throughout the week but you can check out these videos and more from other workshops at

Don’t forget to check out the “Upcoming Workshop” tab on the AFS FL website ( to stay update on any new workshops in the future!

2021 Sheepshead Shuffle Fundraiser is EXTENDED to July 2nd!

If you haven’t already signed-up for the shuffle, do it now: 

You will get a free swag bag right off the bat!! 

Then GET OUTSIDE!! & get hustlin’ your way through 5k (3.1 miles). It’s only a billion degrees out and rainy. No big deal. Run on your treadmill if you prefer, we don’t mind. Feel free to walk or run half a mile a day. Take your pupper along or your roommate/significant other for some quality screen free time.

Track your steps on a running app or just record your time. And don’t forget to take a selfie!! Sweaty selfies are encouraged. Cute pets are extra encouraged. 

Make sure you send your times or a screenshot from your running app along with your selfie to to be entered to win some awesome prizes!!! 

Share that selfie on facebook with the hashtag #sheepsheadshuffle2021

Technology Preview: Acoustic Telemetry

Technology Preview: Acoustic Telemetry

Written by Lauren Kleiman

Since early human history, we have followed animals to learn things: the best paths through a forest, the foods that are safe to eat, safe places to find shelter. Today we still track animals, but now the questions we seek to answer through tracking animals have become more advanced. In this post I will be discussing tracking of fish, mostly due to the subject matter of this site and my own research. Mark-recapture methods involve implanting an external tag or marker on an animal, releasing it, and recording any recaptures either by directed efforts or incidental through commercial fisheries. This method has been in use for a long time, and can give some important distribution data, but it is not effective if the organisms disperse too far for effective recapture. Recapture rates are extremely low on mobile organisms, so it requires a lot of upfront tagging efforts and sometimes thousands of deployed tags. Mark-recapture data only gives point data: the mark time and place and the recapture time and place. There is no data between those two points. 

To address the issues with mark-recapture, many research labs adopted acoustic telemetry; a technology system that uses sound to track organisms directly in their natural habitats. Size-specific acoustic transmitter tags are implanted in the body cavity of the fish, based on the size of the organisms to avoid affecting natural movement behaviors. The most common size used in fish is a V16 which is about the size of a tube of lipstick, as the bigger the transmitter the larger the battery and the longer the transmitter continues transmitting data. Transmissions are given off on a random interval within a set time range, usually around 2 minutes to ensure that tags in the same area don’t “talk” over each other. The receiver, an omnidirectional hydrophone, is a listening device that records the time, date, and specific ID of the tag when it occurs within the range of the receiver. Although this technique requires initial capture of the fish, recapture isn’t required. Data is recorded to the receiver as long as the tags are within range of the receiver.

Active acoustic telemetry utilizes the same tag and receiver pairing. However, as it states, this is an active process. The tags generally transmit at a higher rate which causes a shorter lifespan of the tag due to battery capacity. The hydrophone is manipulated by researchers to continuously track the tag, usually off the side of a boat in the case of fish, resulting in very fine-scale movement data. Unfortunately, a boat can only track one organism simultaneously and the effort for this technique is very high for personnel, time, and boat access. Active tracking also requires being able to follow the organism where they go which is not always possible on the water. A boat in the water

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Figure 4 Active acoustic telemetry

Passive acoustic telemetry installs the receiver in a stationary location in the environment so any tagged fish moving by these receivers is recorded and the receiver is later retrieved and downloaded which can limit the locations or numbers of receivers. In this technique, the layout of receivers can greatly influence the scale of the data and the questions to be addressed. Receivers can be placed at specific natural chokepoints, multiple placed in a line to examine passage at a location, or grids of receivers to attempt triangulation of more exact fish location. There are tradeoffs between cost of the equipment and coverage of the ecosystem to consider when designing these experiments. Passive tracking allows for longer recording of tags. The transmission rate can be longer since there is not active tracking of the tag so the lifespan of the tag can be very long. Some tags can transmit for up to ten years which can allow fidelity and life history questions to be addressed. These are still limited by the locations of the receivers as even if the tags are transmitting, if they are not within range of a receiver, then the data is not being recorded. 

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Figure 5 Passive acoustic telemetry


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Figure 6 Potential acoustic receiver layouts illustrated on the Loxahatchee River. a. Overview of Loxahatchee River with boxes over the inset locations. b. Example of a chokepoint receiver. c. Example of a receiver line. d. Example of a receiver grid.

These more complex systems of tracking animals allow scientists to address specific questions about movement, spawning, habitat use, sexual segregation, and many more. As these data are limited by the number and spread of receivers in the environment, there has been a large move towards collaborative networks of researchers. A receiver can hear any tags in that area, not just the ones deployed by a certain scientist so researchers can have data from the tags of other organism and from other institution’s tags. By agreeing to share data from the tags of those researchers, they are able to also receive data from their own tags on that scientist’s receivers. This leveraged data across organizations and studies allows larger scale studies of migrations. These networks cover multiple water systems, states, and countries. The scope of these studies is becoming larger and more collaborative, and science is able to answer larger questions.


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Figure 7 International telemetry collaborative networks


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Figure 8 Continental U.S. telemetry collaborative networks

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Figure 9 Members of Florida Atlantic Coastal Telemetry (FACT) network

2021 Officers

Here are the new officers for 2021!

President: Casey Murray

Casey Murray is a PhD student at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Lab working with Dr. Matt DiMaggio where her research is focused on characterizing larval fish digestive physiology to inform the design of feeding and weaning protocols that aim to reduce the overall use of live feeds while maintaining high larval survival. Casey is studying both freshwater and marine ornamental fishes to develop species-specific larval fish culture protocols. Casey received her B.A. in Biology from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2015 where she discovered her passion for ornamental aquaculture during her senior thesis research on the determination of juvenile Banggai cardinalfish habitat preference.  Casey graduated from the University of Miami with a Master of Professional Science degree in 2017 where she studied the factors affecting loggerhead sea turtle hatch success in Everglades National Park.  Prior to starting at the Tropical Aquaculture Lab in 2019, Casey worked at Roger Williams University where she helped culture Atlantic lookdowns, glassy sweepers, and smallmouth grunts along with researching alternative protein sources in salmonid feeds.
In her spare time, Casey enjoys traveling, baking and spending time with her pet duck, Tiny.

Vice President: Brent McKenna

Brent is a Master’s of Science student at Florida Atlantic University.  His interests lie primarily with fishing and the best ways to ensure the survival and success of fishes.  He believes that fishing is one of the best ways to interest people in conserving fishes. Thank you to everyone in Dr. Baldwin’s lab for their experience and friendship.

University Co-Liaisons: Kenzie Horton and Kristie Perez

Kenzie is native Floridian and received her Bachelor of Marine Science from the University of South Florida in 2016.  During her undergraduate degree, her passion for research grew through her various internships that varied from fisheries, marine immunology to husbandry. She is currently working as a Fisheries Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the Fisheries Independent Monitoring program to provide data on managed and non-managed fish using a variety of gear types including small seines, large seines, trawls, and Baited Remote Underwater Video surveys. The program samples different estuaries around the state of Florida and along the West Florida Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, she accepted a position in the Master of Science in Marine Science program at Jacksonville University where she will continue to pursue her passion for research.
Kristie is a certified project manager with a background in corporate project management. She will complete her master’s degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Science at UF’s School of Forest, Fisheries and Geomatic Sciences this summer. Her technical project is focused on the planning for a Long-Term Stakeholder Process which has been proposed to begin later this year for Florida’s newly designated Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve. Her primary interests are in aquatic animal health, coastal management, and conservation behavior. She will begin a PhD in Interdisciplinary Ecology in the fall at UF’s School of Natural Resources and the Environment focused on these as they pertain to shellfish in the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuary Research Reserve.

Secretary/Treasurer: Carissa Gervasi

Carissa Gervasi is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida International University. She received B.S. degrees in Marine Biology and Chemistry from Roger Williams University in 2011, where she studied juvenile flatfish ecology and bluefish toxicology. She then pursued an M.S. degree in Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, focusing on fisheries population dynamics and pathobiology in the Chesapeake Bay. After working as a histotechnologist for a few years she started her Ph.D. program at Florida International University in 2016. For her dissertation Carissa is working closely with recreational anglers and state managers to develop a management plan for the Crevalle Jack, a valuable pelagic fish species whose population may be in decline. Carissa loves writing computer code and is passionate about science policy and management.

MS Graduate Research Assistantship Position at University of Florida

Applications for a Master’s position at the University of Florida Tropical Aquaculture Lab are now open. The successful candidate will be conducting larval fish research for the advancement of marine ornamental aquaculture. Please see the attached document for details about the position and application process. Applications are due by May 21, 2021.

Early Larviculture Research for Two Marine Ornamental Fish Species

By Grace Sowaske, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Throughout the world, ornamental fish breeding facilities are increasing their aquaculture production. The values of the marine ornamental aquarium consumer are shifting to include more aquacultured fish due to the knowledge of declining ecosystems, the need for sustainable products and deleterious capture methods. Pelagic spawning species produce underdeveloped larvae that rely on a diet of copepod nauplii and other small, easily digestible zooplankton or phytoplankton and may require decreased light intensity for prey capture. Challenges associated with these characteristics need to be addressed for production of pelagic spawning species to become commercially viable. The melanurus wrasse (Halichoeres melanurus) and the Pacific blue tang (Paracanthurus hepatus) are of great interest to aquaculture due to their popularity in the marine aquarium trade and lack of established rearing methods. Research investigating early larviculture protocols will help to elucidate ideal methods for culturing these species. 

To investigate the environmental parameters that result in the highest survival and feeding incidence, we conducted a variety of experiments. These experiments focused on 0-3 days post hatch (DPH) which encompasses the transition from endogenous nutrition to exogenous feeding, representing a critical bottleneck for survival. Embryos were sourced from populations of broodstock maintained in a greenhouse at the UF Tropical Aquaculture Lab. The groups spawned at dusk, and the eggs were skimmed off the surface into an overflow collector (Fig. 1). The following day, the eggs were enumerated with 150 wrasse or 300 pacific blue tang embryos stocked into each replicate. Temporal replicates were used due to limited number of embryos per spawn. Replicates were stocked into static 15L fiberglass tanks that were set up a day prior to embryo addition and followed the same timeline (Fig. 2). All experiments utilized Parvocalanus crassirostris (parvo) nauplii, sieved below 80um to accommodate for the small mouth gape of the larvae. At the end of the feeding period on 3DPH, the larvae were counted for survival and a subset of 10 randomly chosen individuals were visually inspected for ingestion of parvo nauplii (Fig. 3) to determine feeding incidence.  

Figure 1. Broodstock tanks with a surface overflow egg collector.
Figure 2. Timeline of 3DPH experiments.

Figure 3. The top photo shows a larva that has ingested nauplii versus the bottom photo without any prey in its gut.

To begin, we investigated which microalgae species to include as greenwater to decrease light intensity and increase visual contrast. We used three commonly utilized microalgae species in the trade: Tisochrysis lutea (tiso), Tetraselmis chuii, and Chaetoceros muelleri at a previously successful cell density (300,000 cells mL-1). We learned from this experiment that tiso was the best species to use due to an increased survival and feeding result, so for all subsequent experiments we utilized this species. We then investigated what density of tiso would result in increased survival and feeding. We tested treatments of 0, 100,000, 300,000 and 500,000 cells mL-1 and exposed the larvae to parvo nauplii for 3 hours at a density of 5 nauplii mL-1. The highest survival and feeding results showed a survival percentage of ~65% for the melanurus wrasse and ~70% eating within the 300,000 cells mL-1 treatment. For Pacific blue tang the highest survival was ~20% (Fig. 4, 5) within the same treatment with no sign of prey ingestion, so subsequent experiments utilized a 5-hour prey exposure period. We then wanted to know if prey density had an affect on feeding with treatments of 2.5, 5 and 10 parvo nauplii mL-1. For both fish species, we did not see any significant differences in prey ingestion between the treatments (Fig. 6). This tells us that we can use the lower density and still achieve identical feeding incidence. This is most likely due to the search time, capture success, and other factors affecting optimal foraging.

Figure 4. Survival and feeding incidence for melanurus wrasse as a result of tiso density.

More investigations are underway. Effects of prey type, feed stimulants, photoperiod, and light intensity are parameters that we are investigating to further increase survival and feeding incidence for these two fish species. These experiments are critical in order to determine ideal environmental conditions while still conserving costly live algae and prey resources. My research elucidates some culture methods with green water and copepod feeding that resulted in greater survival at 3DPH. If we can overcome this bottleneck and come out with more larvae after this stage, the chances of larvae reaching a marketable size increase. Ultimately, we want these methods to be utilized in the commercialization of these species and by conducting this research we can arm the producers with the knowledge of methods to increase survival and feeding. 

Figure 5. Survival results for pacific blue tang tiso density experiment.

Figure 6. Results of prey density experiments.

How to raise Lysmata shrimp

By Sarah Hutchins, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Marine ornamental shrimp of the genus Lysmata are vital to the aquarium industry due to the ecosystem services they provide, as well as their bright, flashy coloration. Members of the Lysmata genus are divided into what are commonly referred to as peppermint shrimp and cleaner shrimp. Cleaner shrimp are known for cleaning fish by setting up cleaning stations to pick parasites and dead skin off of fish. Peppermint shrimp are highly sought-after in the marine aquarium trade, primarily due to their ability to eat the glass anemone Aiptasia, a common aquarium pest that can be difficult to eliminate (Rhyne et al., 2004). 

Blood Red Fire Shrimp
Peppermint Shrimp, Captive-Bred ORA®
Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp
Top to Bottom: Fire shrimp, ORA Captive-Bred Peppermint Shrimp, Skunk Cleaner Shrimp. Photo credit:  


Lysmata shrimp should be cultured with optimal environmental conditions that match their natural habitat as closely as possible to reduce stress and mortality and increase the likelihood of successful spawning. Lysmata broodstock require a mixed diet of fresh, frozen, and dry foods, which can consist of live Artemia, frozen mixes, pellets, and dry prawn diets (Calado et al., 2017). Lysmata shrimp are relatively easy to pair off for breeding since they are protandric simultaneous hermaphrodites, which means they start off as males and turn into simultaneous hermaphrodites (Bauer, 2000). A pair can produce up to 3,500 eggs every 10 days and the pair can switch who is the male and female for optimal efficiency (Palmtag & Holt, 2001). The female’s fertilized egg clutch will hatch into larvae and the female will molt and be able to spawn again, making these shrimp continuous breeders (Calado et al., 2017).

Lysmata larval morphology is quite intricate as these shrimp have many larval stages called “zoeae” and they use “mark-time molting” to keep molting with very little changes in morphology and prolong their development (Calado et al., 2017). Larval feeding may need customization to each species, and larval duration can vary from as short as 25 days in L. rathbunae and up to 110 days in L. wurdemanni (Lin, 2005). Culture protocols developed for the peppermint shrimp L. wurdemanni (Riley, 1994) were applied to raising the fire shrimp L. debelius by Texas A&M University and Texas Sea Grant (Palmtag & Holt, 2001), who the following culturing techniques are from. Larval tanks are nested with a rigid netted hatching chamber inside a mesh rearing chamber. The rearing chamber keeps the larvae and food in close proximity to one another to promote efficient use of food and rate of food consumption. The hatching chamber allows for easy addition and removal of the brooding adult, and a standpipe directing oxygenated water at the brooding adult assists in the release of hatching larvae. Once the larvae are released, the brooding shrimp should be removed and returned to the broodstock tank simply by lifting the hatching chamber out of the larval tank. 

Left to right: hatching chamber inside a rearing chamber, which is all inside a larval tank with a recirculating system. Photo credit: Palmtag & Holt, 2001

For the initial 12 days of culture, fire shrimp larvae eat a combination of Nannochloris oculata algae enriched rotifers of the species Brachionus plicatilis and N. oculata enriched Artemia sp. brine shrimp nauplii. From 12 DPH, L. debelius are fed blended frozen shrimp and squid in addition to the enriched artemia nauplii. Larvae are kept in rearing chambers and the tanks are gently circulated so the larvae are able to sit on the sides of the tanks. Detritus, waste, and dead larvae are siphoned every other day and larvae are moved to clean rearing chambers every 10 days. Fire shrimp are considered market size at roughly six months old when they are about 30 to 40mm long (Palmtag & Holt, 2001). PCV pipes spread throughout the growout tank will decrease cannibalism by larger individuals on smaller individuals (Calado et al., 2017). 

Left to right: Post-larvae fire shrimp (68 DPH) and recently transitioned juvenile fire shrimp (83 DPH). Photo credit: Palmtag & Holt, 2001

Since there are still very few culture protocols currently published, culture techniques have room for further development and improvement. With better diets and tank parameters come quicker larval growth and higher survival rates. If larval bottlenecks can be overcome and stable conditions can be kept over their currently long larval and juvenile stages, high juvenile success rates and easy adult care make Lysmata shrimp worthwhile to culture.


Bauer, R.T. (2000). Simultaneous hermaphroditism in caridean shrimps: a unique and puzzling sexual system in the Decapoda. Journal of Crustacean Biology, 2, 116–128.

Calado, R., Olivotto, I., Oliver, M.P. & Holt, G.J. (2017). Marine Ornamental Species Aquaculture. Wiley Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Lin, J. (2005). Marine Ornamental Shrimp: Aquaculture, Biology and Conservation (ABC). Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, 56, 649-656.

Rhyne, A.L., Lin, J.D., & Deal, K.J. (2004). Biological control of aquarium pest anemone Aiptasia pallida Verrill by peppermint shrimp Lysmata risso. Journal of Shellfish Research, 23, 227–229.

Riley, C.M. (1994). Captive spawning and rearing of the peppermint shrimp (Lysmata Wurdemanni). Sea Scope, 11

Palmtag, M. R. & Holt, G.J. (2001). Captive Rearing of Fire Shrimp (Lysmata debelius). Texas Sea Grant College Program Research Report. 

Managing Pictures for Science

By Brent McKenna, Florida Atlantic University, Marine Science and Oceanography

Since beginning my master’s thesis, I’ve quickly learned that large numbers of photographs can be unwieldy on slow computers and remarkably frustrating to maintain.  Both mis-clicks and accidental drag and drops abound on laptops putting collections at jeopardy; a terrifying prospect when your research relies on those photographs.  Although I do not have the largest collection of photographs (only 350) nor am I by any means an expert, I’d like to share a few tips for managing photograph collections.  

  • Use no-loss formats

When taking the photograph itself, save the photograph in a no-loss format.  Depending on the camera, this may mean using a format like .tiff or .png instead of .jpg.  This will ensure, however, that your work going into photography will be usable by others and in the future.  Each time a photograph is compressed, unexpected changes like loss of quality (leading to image blurring) or artifacts (color changes) may occur.  When the clarity of a photograph is important (e.g. when measuring features visible in a photograph), maintaining the quality of the photograph is critical.  

  • Simple codenames are best

When naming a photograph, use a code that is easy to understand but descriptive.  Avoid describing what is in the photograph being named and having spaces in the name.  Eventually, descriptive names lead to more than one photograph with the same name while spaces can be problematic for cataloging photographs.  

  • Back-up every photo

Make multiple copies of every photograph.  Use online and offline repositories.  Online backups like Google Drive limit the physical space needed to carry photographs but cannot always be accessed.  Simultaneously, external hard drives are much easier to lose.  Together, however, recovering photographs will almost always be possible.  Moreover, accidental alteration of photographs happens frequently and may be permanent depending on the program in use.  Laptop trackpads can be notorious for random clicks.  Even with a regular computer mouse, lack of attention or exhaustion may lead to accidental clicks that could cause permanent changes to the photograph.  With multiple forms of backup, alterations lead to loss of time only if you need to access a new copy of the altered photograph.  The option to undo mistakes by copying the original photograph accentuates the importance of saving in a lossless format.  

  • Record photograph characteristics in a single document

Keep a record of your photographs in a central location but make copies of your record too.  I’m partial to using a spreadsheet because photograph names can be easily associated with the location the photograph was taken, a description of the photograph, the photographs location on your computer or preferred device, a link to the photograph, and any other useful information such as magnification, ISO, or conditions in which the photograph was taken.  

 I am by no means an expert at managing and utilizing photographs.  Hopefully, however, these four tips that I have shared can help streamline projects and management of ever growing collections.    

Marine Ornamental Fisheries of Southeast Asia: An Analysis and Recommendations

By Casey Murray, University of Florida, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

The marine aquarium trade is a growing global industry that is responsible for providing ornamental marine fishes and invertebrates to home and public aquaria. The main consumers of marine ornamentals are hobbyist aquarists that own coral reef tanks, which resemble a living coral reef ecosystem (Calado et al., 2017). In 2003, the value of the marine aquarium trade was estimated at $200-330 million (USD) annually (Wabnitz et al., 2003). Most of the exported marine ornamentals originate from Southeast Asian coral reefs where Indonesia and the Philippines are the main exporters in the industry (Figure 1; Wabnitz, 2003; Bruckner, 2005). The major importers of marine ornamental commodities include wealthy countries such as the United States, Japan, and countries within the European Union (Rhyne et al., 2012a). From 2008-2011, approximately 22.5 million marine ornamental fish comprised of more than 2,000 species were exported to the US, with 56% of exports originating from the Philippines and 26% originating from Indonesia (Rhyne et al., 2017).

With increasing popularity of marine aquarium keeping, the ecological sustainability of the marine aquarium trade has been questioned due to instances of loss of fish and invertebrate abundance (Tissot and Hallacher, 2003; Rhyne et al., 2009), habitat degradation due to destructive collection practices (Rubec, 1986; Rubec et al., 2001; Wood, 2001), and non-native species introduction (Holmberg et al., 2015; Semmens et al., 2004). Some collectors in the marine aquarium trade have been known to utilize illegal sodium cyanide to stun reef fish for collection, however the use of this poison has been shown to be destructive to coral reef structures and can cause delayed mortality of captured ornamentals (Shuman et al. 2004). Also, the trade has been responsible for the introduction of the invasive lionfish in Caribbean reef ecosystems (Whitfield et al., 2002). Despite these issues, some coastal communities in Southeast Asian countries, such as Indonesia, rely on the income generated from collecting and selling marine ornamentals from local reefs (Reksodihardjo-Lilley and Lilley, 2007). 

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Figure 1. The “coral triangle” in Southeast Asia (Cros et al., 2014).

Unlike food fish fisheries, the marine aquarium fishery encompasses thousands of species of ornamental fish and invertebrates. Since the start of the industry, it has been flawed by the lack of monitoring and reporting and the only data available to track imports and exports from Southeast Asia are invoices (Murray et al. 2012). The first attempt to track the marine aquarium trade was with the creation of the Global Marine Aquarium Database in 2000, which utilized invoices from wholesale exporters and importers from 1988-2003 (Murray et al. 2012). However, this database was limited because only 20% of the wholesalers submitted invoices and most of the invoices failed to specify scientific names of most species (Murray et al. 2012). In 2015, the Marine Aquarium Biodiversity and Trade Flow database was created to better understand the marine ornamental imports into the United States (Rhyne et al. 2015; This database was created using US Fish and Wildlife declarations and their respective commercial invoices and imported species were identified to the lowest taxonomic level (Rhyne et al. 2015). This database helped determine that the volume and number of species traded is much greater than originally thought (Rhyne et al. 2012). However, with the available data, this database covers only select years between 2000-2011 (

There is currently no official system for monitoring marine ornamental exports/imports in the marine aquarium trade (Rhyne et al. 2017). The lack of data within the industry makes it difficult to estimate the sustainability of marine ornamental harvests and virtually impossible to construct successful management regimes (Rhyne et al. 2012b; Rhyne et al. 2017). The only species that are regularly monitored in the marine aquarium trade are those listed by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Compared to the vast number of marine ornamental species traded, only a handful of them are CITES-listed and include stony corals, seahorses, and giant clams (Rhyne et al. 2017). Therefore, the only management regimes in effect in the marine aquarium trade are for CITES-listed species. 

Presently, no marine ornamental fish, other than seahorses, are protected under CITES. There are some species, such as the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), that have been known to suffer major population declines due to collection by the marine aquarium trade (Figure 2). This fish was ranked as the 8th most imported fish into the US in 2011 with approximately 127,000 P. kauderni individuals exported annually from Indonesia from 2000-2011 (Rhyne et al., 2015; Rhyne et al., 2017). In addition to fishing pressures, populations of Banggai cardinalfish are suffering from habitat destruction through coastal development, dynamite fishing, and harvesting of essential habitat, such as sea urchins, for human consumption (Yahya et al., 2012). The exploitation of P. kauderni has led to its classification as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and as threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration under the Endangered Species Act (Allen and Donaldson, 2007; NOAA, 2016). 

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Figure 2. Banggai cardinalfish, Pterapogon kauderni. Source: New England Aquarium


To address these issues, the supply chain first needs to be simplified. To improve upon record keeping and decrease wasted harvests, unnecessary middlemen patrons should be phased out and exporting companies should directly hire collectors for targeted harvests. This way, collectors would have a more dependable income, but it would also eliminate the ability of middlemen to pick and choose specimens to buy, which results in the waste and mortality of unwanted specimens. This supply chain simplification has already been in place for some CITES-protected marine ornamentals, however, to maximize success it should be expanded to include the whole of the marine aquarium trade (Bruckner, 2001). 

Trade-wide monitoring programs should in the form of co-management and incorporate inputs from several different groups of people including scientists, various stakeholders, and local citizens including collectors (Tissot, 2005). Utilizing co-management in the marine aquarium trade is most beneficial because it helps empower the communities that utilize the natural resource and will be most affected by management decisions (Tissot, 2005).  Initial monitoring efforts should be undertaken by the collectors themselves because they are most familiar with local ecosystems, data collection is inexpensive and long-term, and large sample sizes can be achieved (Moller et al., 2004). This would allow collectors in the marine aquarium trade to understand the importance of sustainable wild harvest and become more involved in the management of the fishery. Although data collected in this manner may be imprecise, it provides a decent overview of the status of coral reef fish and invertebrate populations (Moller et al., 2004). Science-based population assessments should also be performed to complement the monitoring efforts of collectors to better understand coral reef fish and invertebrate populations (Moller et al., 2004). Because science-based data collection is often expensive and requires specialized equipment it is more economically feasible to utilize this type of data collection as short-term ecosystem assessments (Moller et al., 2004).

Sustainable wild harvest includes respecting species-specific collection quotas, establishment of no-take protected areas, and enforcement of safe harvesting practices. After regulated monitoring efforts are in place, management plans can begin to develop. Management of collection should be species-specific and take into account the life history strategy, longevity, endemic range, fecundity, and recruitment rate in order to be successful because each of these traits varies widely between reef fish and invertebrate species. For example, a reef fish that has high fecundity, a wide endemic range, and high recruitment will have a harvest quota higher than that of a reef fish with low fecundity, a limited endemic range, and low recruitment potential. Because of the vast number of marine ornamental species traded, developing species-specific quotas would be difficult. In this case, it would be most valuable to first develop species-specific quotas for the top 10 species traded including the fire goby (Nemateleotris magnifica), blue chromis (Chromis viridis), and blue damselfish (Chrysiptera cynea) (  

Once species-specific quotas are established, they should be divided among collectors within a region, similar to the individual fishing quota (IFQ) and individual transferrable quota (ITQ) systems. IFQs give collectors an allotted number of marine ornamentals they can harvest over a set amount of time while ITQs can be sold to other collectors within the region (Stage et al., 2016). To prevent overcrowding of collection grounds, boundaries should be set for specific collection regions and IFQs/ITQs should be assigned to these regions proportionally. This quota management system would allow for sustainable removal of marine ornamentals and would also be socially and economically beneficial to Southeast Asian coastal communities. 

Although some practices within the marine aquarium trade are unsustainable, it is possible to work toward a more sustainable industry without jeopardizing the livelihoods of the coastal communities in Southeast Asia (Teitelbaum et al., 2010). Community-based aquaculture is a promising initiative that provides the opportunity for coastal fishing communities to produce valuable marine ornamental species while simultaneously reducing the collection pressures on wild populations (Job, 2005). Therefore, it is important to focus research efforts on improving aquaculture techniques of high-demand marine ornamentals that can be practiced in the country of collection.

Community-based aquaculture should be undertaken in such a manner that involves a diverse group of people including marine ornamental collectors, stakeholders, government agencies, and community representatives, which can also be considered a form of co-management (Figure 3; d’Armengol et al., 2018). Involving a diverse group of people in community-based aquaculture could help ensure that social balance is maintained and that the local workers, not big companies, benefit economically from aquaculture efforts (Monticini, 2019). Successful community-based aquaculture would allow for ornamental collectors from coastal Southeast Asian communities to have a more constant, reliable income compared to relying on wild collection, which can be affected by weather and can be unpredictable in harvest success. Community-based aquaculture would also allow for the supply chain of the marine aquarium trade to become more controlled, which would ultimately increase the sustainability of the trade because records of fish origins and export volumes would be more easily kept (Monticini, 2019). 

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Figure 3. Banggai cardinalfish community-based aquaculture facility in Bone Baru Village, Indonesia. Source: CITES.


The marine aquarium trade supplies important income to fishers in coastal Southeast Asian communities. However, the deficiency in monitoring and the lack of comprehensive management are widespread issues within the industry. Improving upon the economic, social, ecological sustainability of the trade requires the use of co-management regimes to empower coastal communities, spread awareness of the status of coral reef fish and invertebrate populations, and maximize profits from collected specimens. Co-management regimes should include monitoring efforts, supply chain simplification, training for collectors, and community-based aquaculture with the goals of establishing species-specific management, decreasing destructive collection methods, and improving the overall health of coral reef ecosystems. Ultimately, the improvements that can be made within the marine aquarium trade will not only improve upon environmental sustainability, but also increase economic and social sustainability within the coastal communities of Southeast Asia.

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