Authorities in Brazil have seized thousands of live freshwater fish native to the country’s Amazon region that are commonly seen in the aquarium trade.
An inspection led authorities to some 7,300 ornamental fish on a boat at the port of São Raimundo in Manaus, the capital of the country’s Amazonas state, according to a March 18 news release by Amazonas officials.
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The fish, which had been captured in the rivers of the state's interior and lacked documentation for transport, were spread across some 50 plastic containers. They included 15 different varieties, many of which are commonly sold in aquarium shops, including the cardinal tetra, iridescent pencil fish and black ghost knife fish.
The seized fish were worth about 200,000 reales ($36,000) in total, according to the authorities. The individual responsible was fined an unspecified amount.
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Many of the freshwater fish sold in the aquarium trade, including the popular blue-and-red cardinal tetras, are native to Brazil’s Amazon river basin.
Between 2012 to 2019, over 30 species of ornamental fish were illegally trafficked from Brazil. The cardinal tetra made up over 40 percent of all ornamental fish seizures in that period, according to a 2020 report by the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network (TRAFFIC).
Ornamental fish sourced from Brazil's Amazon have gone to supply a multibillion-dollar market for home aquariums in Asia, Europe and the United States.
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The legal export of such fish from the Amazon is common. In Peru, ornamental fish exports brought in some $2.5 million in 2018. But fish harvested illegally are often mixed in with legal specimens and shipped to international markets in mass quantities.
Many seizures of ornamental fish are not included in datasets produced by Brazil’s environmental agency (Instituto Brasileiro do Meio Ambiente e dos Recursos Naturais Renováveis — IBAMA) or its environmental ministry (Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade — ICMBio), making the illicit trade in such fish particularly hard to monitor.
Customs officials, moreover, often are unable to distinguish between legal and illegal exports.