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James Cervino / NOAA

Millions of Aquarium Fish Are Caught Each Year With Cyanide

Poisoning Nemo and Dory

| 2 min read

Poisoning Nemo and Dory

For decades, cyanide fishing has been recognized as one of the most destructive means of collecting tropical fish. To catch fish by this method, fishermen crush cyanide pellets into squirt bottles filled with seawater. They then dive down to coral formations and squirt the poison into the crevices where fish lurk. Stunned, the target fish become easy to scoop up.

Some cyanide-exposed fish are destined for the dinner table in Hong Kong, and others may find themselves swimming in a tank at a dentist’s office in California.

A new report released by the Center for Biological Diversity and For the Fishes finds that around 6 million tropical marine fish imported into the US each year for the pet trade have been exposed to cyanide poisoning.

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The report comes ahead of the release of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory, as the film is expected to fuel the sale of tropical reef fish, including royal blue tangs like Dory. Following release of Finding Nemo in 2003, fans wanting a pet Nemo of their own elicited a spike in clown fish sales.

“Finding Dory is almost certainly going to trigger a consumer drive to buy tropical fish like the ones seen in the movie,” said Nicholas Whipps with the Center for Biological Diversity in a press release. “Sadly this business has a dark and dangerous side that ruins coral reefs and devastates tropical fish populations.”

Large percentages of the fish that are captured alive by cyanide are so weakened by the poison that they die in transit. The cyanide also kills nearby invertebrates, non-target fish, and the corals themselves. “This report reveals the extensive destruction to reefs and wildlife caused by the saltwater aquarium hobby,” said Rene Umberger with For the Fishes.

The Lacey Act prohibits acquisition of or trade in wildlife that was collected in violation of another country’s law. Cyanide fishing is illegal in most countries that export reef fish, including the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka. However, an international monitoring system to track imports and exports of live reef fish is currently lacking.

Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity, For the Fishes, The Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International petitioned the Obama administration to halt illegal import of tropical aquarium fish that are caught overseas using cyanide.

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