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August 15, 2018 2 Comments

Industry Under Assault

This has been a difficult year for the marine aquarium trade. The supply of corals, anemones, and some fish are becoming extremely limited and prices will rise significantly.


Export bans in Indonesia, Fiji, and Hawaii have caused a seismic shift in the marine ornamental industry this past year. These incidents have caused all of us in the industry to redouble our aquaculture efforts. We have operated our state licensed coral aquaculture facility for 18 years and have recently reorganized our propagation efforts. However, new genetics are needed from time to time to expand and refresh the variety and selection.

This has been a difficult year for the marine aquarium trade. The supply of corals, anemones, and some fish are becoming extremely limited and prices will rise significantly. Corals and anemones that had been regularly available for sale are no longer available at all, at any price. The long-term survival of the commercial side of the industry is definitely in doubt! Only a very few areas in the world allow for export of wild or cultured marine ornamentals. These include Australia, that has a modern western economy and prices for marine ornamentals are high plus freight and misc. costs are also very high and there is a limited variety of corals collected from there.  

"It's now been several months and we have a somewhat clearer picture of the situation. However, there are still many unanswered questions as to why the shut down occurred and how or when exports might be started again. "

You may have read my previous blog entries about my trips to hand-pick corals in Indonesia. Over the last few years I visited coral farms in Indonesia and acquired some amazing cultured corals and other invertebrates. Many of these corals formed the broodstock for our farm in Maryland over the years. Well, that all came to a halt in early May this year, 2018. Inexplicably, overnight one random Thursday the export of wild collected and cultured corals and anemones was halted from Indonesia. As the word spread, we in the US industry knew more about the situation than many of the affected exporters in Indonesia because there was much confusion as to why the ban happened.  

The coral trade worldwide was in shock. Rumors were rampant as to why this happened and the earliest publicity stated it was just fake news that there was no ban on exports. For days I was messaging my contacts in Jakarta and at times I had more accurate information here than they did there. It's now been several months and we have a somewhat clearer picture of the situation. However, there are still many unanswered questions as to why the shut down occurred and how or when exports might be started again. The Indonesian exporters have a trade association, the Indonesian Coral Shell and Ornamental Fish Association (AKKII), updates from that association have been extremely limited, thus leaving their customers worldwide in the dark as to why the ban started and when or if it might be reversed. Exports could start again any day or never again, no one knows for sure.

In a similar manner, coral exports were also banned suddenly from Fiji at the end of 2017 and have yet to be resumed. It is estimated that up to 90% of the corals for aquariums worldwide had originated from Fiji and Indonesia combined. Now with ending coral exports those two countries there are very limited sources for maricultured or wild collected corals to supply the huge worldwide demand—a global business estimated to be several billion dollars. The days of inexpensive corals that even the beginner hobbyist could afford such as many soft corals may be over for at least a while and maybe permanently. 

A good review of the situation in Indonesia is presented in this article from the Jakarta Post:


Two different Indonesian government agencies, Ministries, control the collection, domestic transport, and export of corals in Indonesia. Basically the two agencies are in a power struggle for control. Egos of the Ministers are also at play combined with past sins of the coral collectors and farmers exacerbating the situation. Likely egos and divergent personalities are at play in the ban in Fiji as well. Many players in the global coral trade are unusual characters and have huge egos, my guess is that this plays into these situations.

As a prime example of the egos at play here read this article about the Indonesian Minister that shut it all down, see this New York Times article;


The situation in Hawaii has involved the banning of fish exports. Yellow tangs are the most famous fish collected from Hawaiian waters along with many other mainstays in the hobby. Studies have consistently shown that collection for the aquarium trade has not affected wild populations of aquarium desirable fish. However, as is always the case, government with it’s bureaucrats are convinced they know better and once again government jumped into action to fix a problem where a solution was not needed. The battle is now in the court system and we shall see how those in that system can mess thing up more. Stay tuned on whether you will continue to see Yellow tangs available. In the meantime, there is some movement on the aquaculture of them and other fish previously unseen in the hobby, but the cost is much higher and availability still very limited.

Certainly we all need to be responsible and sustainable in our actions. And, the industry as a whole has been at fault in too slowly adopting new ways of doing things. However, these bans have not been implemented based upon any research, facts, or sound scientific findings, or any findings. These bans are all based upon egos, misinformation, misguided political correctness, and rumors. Marine aquarium hobbyists will ultimately suffer from a lack of available affordable livestock and if the bans remain for extended periods or permanently then the industry at every level will change significantly. 

Spread the word

2 Responses

David Polzin
David Polzin

August 16, 2018

Great article. People do not realize the damage that comes from all this and the people that will loose their job. They need to make money someway and will turn to poaching rare or endangered species for the black market. They will start dynamiting the reefs for food fish. Creating an economic value on the reef gives the locals a reason to protect it. The ban against people like Walt Smith who was actually putting corals back on the reef, making man made live rock and maricultured corals is gone because of the ban in Fiji. The ban in Indonesia also includes maricultured corals and I do not know who can justify that. The bans in Hawaii on fish means more dead fish because now they will come from farther away. Hawaii studies showed Yellow tang population are increasing not declining and that was the man fish taken from Hawaii. The ban in Fiji has stopped dry rock shipments of Pukani rock. I am all for limit’s, regulations or even bans on species that are truly endangered. If a reef is struggling yea they should not collect there, but bans for no reason make no sense.


August 16, 2018

Dr. Mac, thanks for spreading the word very clearly on this. (and personally, thanks for the Maxima. It’s doing well!) Your info on the Indonesia situation is logical and the best I’ve seen.

That being said, the situation in Hawaii is worse. It’s not bureaucrats that have shut fish export there (they are generally on the side of science, which clearly states there’s no clear problem with the yellow tang fishery the way it is now). Elected officials have mostly been good. It’s activists – and particular lawyer activists – who spread false unscientific propaganda, and engage in constant harassment by lawsuits and lobbying against the aquarium fishery. The aquarium fishery is small and an easy target (there’s no way they could possibly do this to the recreational or commercial food fisheries). What’s most telling is that to preserve fisheries you have marine protected areas (which the relevant parts of Hawaii have) and catch limits (may or may not be useful for the Yellow Tang). These activists are against such things, and are for a complete ban. Again, totally hypocritical in that they’d never dare to propose such a thing for commerical food or recreational fisheries.

As has been discussed elsewhere, I think the aquarium industry needs to be sure its act is pretty tight (minimize deaths, environmental impacts – which I know you do) and to educate (as you are doing here). The rest remains up to consumers to care for their livestock, and care/advocate for the future of their hobby. Unfortunately I’ve found aquarists so far to be a bit of a feckless lot, and unwilling to organize. Again, so far……

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