Tropical fish are just about everywhere. From inside our homes, to doctors offices, and restaurants. But the way these brightly colored fish end up in our tanks is truly shocking. In a special report by National Geographic, an investigation revealed that a whopping 70 to 90-percent of the 12.5 million tropical fish that enter the U.S. each year are illegally caught with cyanide!
According to the report, fish collectors in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia (the largest exporters of tropical fish) crush sodium cyanide, a highly toxic chemical compound, and illegally spray the mixture on fish, coral reefs, and all other marine life in the vicinity to stun the fish so that they can easily be collected. While capturing fish in this way is outright illegal, live fish make a lot more money than dead ones, and often the lucrative activity is enough to lure fisherman into the wildlife trade. According to the United Nations Environment Program, the marine aquarium trade is worth about $200 million a year.
A fisherman applies cyanide to a coral reef off in the Philippines.
What exactly does this poison do to the fish? Once squirted with cyanide, fish painfully lose all respiratory activity. Imagine yourself drowning from a toxic chemical and when you wake up, you’re in a bag with hundreds of other fish, all clinging to life – before being transported thousands of miles across the world.
How Can We Stop This?
The Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, and For the Fishes, have a petition calling on the U.S. government to crack down on these illegal imports. However, since the U.S. is the largest market for these tropical fish, the need to act falls on all of us. If there is no money to be made in this business, the suffering will end. There is absolutely no need for us to use fish as decorations in our offices, hotels, and restaurants. When the buying stops, so does the suffering.