Globally, it’s estimated that more than 90% of ornamental marine fish and invertebrates, like coral, and between five and 10% of freshwater fish entering the ornamental fish trade are caught in the wild for aquarium keepers to enjoy in their homes. This can’t be much different in Sri Lanka’s case, either. In Sri Lanka, those who fish aquarium fish for local aquaria as well as for exporting earn a living from the Indian Ocean surrounding Sri Lanka from all sides, and our inland waters, some natural and some man-made, and they are directly dependent on these habitats remaining healthy.
Sri Lankan aquarium fish breeders export about 35 species of aquarium fish. The freshwater aquarium or ornamental fish species such as Neon tetra and guppy account for 60% of the export trade. Marine aquarium or ornamental fish contribute to about 20% and brackish fish make up 5% of the export trade. Apart from Guppy and Neon tetra, Platy, Swordtails, Molly, Angels, Goldfish, Zebra danio, and Discus are the other predominant export aquarium or ornamental fish species. Also, the demand for ornamental exotic fish in Sri Lanka is steadily on the rise.
Major export markets for Sri Lankan aquarium fish include the following countries:
The wild-caught aquarium fish is harvested from the sea, lagoons, and all kinds of inland waters natural and man-made. That apart, Sri Lanka has favourable landscapes that lend themselves to the aquarium or ornamental fish farming. Lands that cannot be used for agriculture are used for fish farms and this is supported by the favourable climatic conditions and the availability of quality water. The grow-out facilities for captive-bred aquarium fish are cement cubicles, glass tanks, and earthen ponds.
Catching wild fish for aquariums is mainly done by hand, using a minimum of equipment. This allows fishermen to carefully select how and what they catch – often targeting the species of interest they have orders for. This causes a minimum of damage to the habitats where fish live. Great care has to be exercised because the fish need to be alive and in good condition so that they could travel around the world and be healthy when sold. The captive-bred ornamental fish could be easily caught by hand-held nets; catching fish from the wild, that is from the sea or any other waters is done by the following methods:
Some fish hide in submerged wood, rocks and shells which can be picked up and gently shaken over nets to catch them.
Fish are shepherded into a handheld net using a paddle in both freshwater rivers and on coral reefs. Stop nets, usually a couple of metres long, are also used by reef divers. Fish caught up in them are picked out by hand, causing little disturbance to the reef.
Typically sedentary fish, crustaceans, and sea cucumbers at the seashore, along with freshwater fish caught in muddy floodplains, are caught by hand.
Traps are set either with bait to lure fish into them or to capitalize on the fish’s natural behaviour. The research, however, shows that only a small range of fish is caught this way.
Seine nets (larger nets pulled in by hand) are not widely used for catching ornamental fish although sometimes nets are used to sweep up woody debris where discus hide.
Snorkelling requires little investment but fishing is restricted to handpicking or hand nets. At slightly greater depths, hookah and scuba diving are the main ways to catch fish, again with hand-held or larger nets, or to collect corals by hand. This is expensive equipment so often it’s the wealthier fishermen who do this or it’s supplied by a middleman/exporter.
Sri Lanka is one of the leading ornamental fish exporters to the world with our aquariums and fish farms successfully captive breeding some of the most exotic and rare freshwater, marine and brackish water fish species and marine ornamental invertebrates in the world