The rarer a species the higher the price on the market, resulting in a greater profit for traders.

‘You can purchase all reef fish. The Hawaii ones cost CHF 10 more due to long distance transport’, the Swiss trader told me as I asked for a list of the fish sold.

Trade figures
There is no accurate data because not one, single coral fish species is protected (besides Seahorses and the Napoleon wrasse; its lips are mostly eaten as a delicacy). That is why fish can be traded freely. Estimates by the UNEP/WCMC show that there are enormous discrepancies between import and export numbers. For example, exporters say that 43 % of coral fish came from the Philippines, yet importers claim that they have no information on the origin of 81 % of the fish.

More precise data are only available for stony corals, black corals and tridacna muscles as they can only be sold with CITES import and export papers.

Haendler_A_HoffordThe traders
Most aquarium coral fish traders claim that the trade does not have any detrimental effect on coral fish populations.

This may be true for the biggest coral reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where fish traders need to buy licenses and access to coral fish is controlled. This is an exception due to the sheer size of this habitat, the dimension of the coral reef and the proportionally small catch size for coral fish. All these contribute to the less vulnerable status of the fish.

After the movie ‘Finding Nemo’, the demand for anemone fish grew enormously. In the coral reef of Eastern Australia so many anemone fish were caught that some populations have still not recovered.

The most common species are normally not that interesting for trading purposes; rare specimens and fish displaying an array of peculiar colours are preferred by traders.

The biggest European trader in the Netherlands praises his animals on his website in the following way: ‘… the animals are imported from 29 different regions across the globe. On a regular basis you will find many very rare and interesting species on our stock list’.