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Buying Endangered Species for the Kids

Posted by Richard Conniff on June 24, 2013

There’s always been a kind of zen, a sense of serenity and connection to nature, about watching ornamental fish.  That’s one reason more than 10 percent of American households keep fish tanks, ranging from goldfish bowls to vast, meticulously maintained saltwater ecosystems.  But according to a new study in the journal Biological Conservation, this popular hobby may be causing some of the most beautiful species on Earth to become extinct.

The study looks at the trade from just one country, India, from 2005 to 2012, and it reports that dealers there exported 1.5 million freshwater fish in at least 30 threatened species, including a dozen that are endangered.Just within the red Lined torpedo barbs, a colorful species complex, more than 300,000 individual fish were shipped to the United States and a half-dozen other countries.

Dealers probably took many times that number from the wild, the study suggests, counting those that died before they could be exported.   Uncontrolled harvesting of these charismatic fish “during the last two decades is associated with severe population declines, and an ‘Endangered’ listing” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  (The IUCN is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.)

Part of the problem with the trade has to do with limited or misguided regulation in India.  When the Department of Fisheries in the southern Indian state of Kerala set out in 2008 to control the trade in red Lined torpedo barbs, the new study reports, it did so with little scientific advice.  So it closed the trade in June, July and October, to allow the fish time to breed in peace.  But these species actually breed … to read the rest of this story, click here.

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