An uncertain future faces the marine betta (Calloplesiops altivelis) and itsPuerto Rican relatives.

Photo: George Berninger Jnr. – Photo Reproduced in Accordance with CreativeCommons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

News is beginning to emerge as I write that could result in a huge threat forthe Puerto Rican aquarium fishery. It has been announced that attempts areunder way to establish a marine park taking up the entire western waters ofPuerto Rico, which would incorporate 80% of the collecting area worked bylocal fishers.

The move, apparently instigated by the environmental group, Pew CharitableTrust, could, conceivably, result in the total wiping out of the island’saquarium fishery. The great fear is not so much the establishment of a park –which could result in controlled, but manageable, collecting regulations – butthat the area could be turned into a marine sanctuary instead. This would endup either imposing strict (or unworkable) conditions on the fishers, or, even,the total prohibition of collecting within the protected waters. Compoundingmatters is the further concern that the decision could be taken withoutsufficient or appropriate consultation with all stakeholders, or withrepresentation heavily skewed in favour of the environmental lobby.

Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources is setting up a Governing Boardto oversee the whole process, something that would not normally be seen asunreasonable, as long as all stakeholders are equally represented. But, if thedetails which are emerging are accurate, this is not the case. There will,apparently, be 15 seats on the Governing Board, with only one going to each ofthe three groups of fishers: ornamental, lobster and spear fishermen. So,whichever way one views these figures, the ornamental marine sector will beoverwhelmingly outnumbered, being represented by just one member. This would,obviously, place this person in the unenviable position of arguing alone infavour of the sector, while no fewer than 12 seats will be taken up byactivists and ‘other stakeholders’. It is not clear who these otherstakeholders are, but, it would not be unreasonable to guess that, besidesgovernment officials, there will be representatives from the travel/touristindustry, recreational divers’ groups, etc.

The Pew Charitable Trust “uses evidence-based, nonpartisan analysis to solvetoday’s challenges.” The Trust “applies a rigorous, analytical approach toimprove public policy, inform the public, and invigorate civic life.” Underits priorities, it states: “Informed by the founders’ interest in research,practical knowledge and public service, our portfolio includes public opinionresearch; arts and culture; civic initiatives; and environmental, health,state and consumer policy initiatives.” Pew “will therefore build partnershipswith countries to help them integrate coastal wetlands and coral reefs intotheir commitments and explore scaling this approach to substantially reducethe rate of coastal habitat loss.” (See Further Reading ).

A few years back, the Pew Charitable Trust funded a series of interviews withfishers, government workers, environmental organization staff members andothers, and found “widespread concern for the health of fish species andagreement that better coordination is needed between fisheries managers andthose who work on the water.” The interviews also revealed that “WesternPuerto Rico fishers are worried about the state of their marine ecosystem andwant to play more of a role in fisheries management.” Further, “The commercialfishers interviewed perceive management practices as unjust, believing thatenforcement is arbitrary and regulations are lopsided against them. They havea general distrust of research and scientific data.” Fishers are also“confused by sometimes conflicting goals, communications, and rules put out bystate and federal regulators.”

In summary, we, obviously, have a situation that is calling out for analysisand workable solutions. The information put out by the Pew Charitable Trustall sounds constructive at this stage. However, the mere fact that theornamental aquarium sector is going to be so under-represented within theGoverning Board, allied to our experiences with other marine fisheries, mostnotably Hawaii, Fiji and Indonesia, should give us cause for concern that non-evidence-based criteria might generate the type of undesirable inertia seenelsewhere. Or, perhaps I’m wrong, and things will work out to the benefit ofall parties concerned. Time will tell.


For full details of the Pew Charitable Trust and its activities,


I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Ornamental Fish International( for alerting me to the above situation.

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