November 27, 2001

Certification System for Marine Aquarium Trade Aims to Protect Coral Reefs, Ensure Quality of Fish and Other Organisms (MAC, November 2001)

News Release                    
Contact: Sylvia Spalding, Marine Aquarium Council, (808) 550-8217
Esten Perez, Fenton Communications, (202) 822-5200 x269
International Certification System for Marine Aquarium Trade Aims to Protect Coral Reefs, Ensure Quality of Fish and other Organisms
ORLANDO, Fla. (Nov. 27, 2001) —The Marine Aquarium Council (MAC) today launched a new certification system that aims to protect coral reefs and ensure the quality of organisms in the marine aquarium trade. MAC challenged aquarium hobbyists and industry operators, public aquariums, conservation organizations and government agencies to support the system they all helped to create.
The MAC certification tool meets internationally accepted environmental and quality standards and allows consumers to easily identify marine aquarium organisms that were collected in a sustainable way and handled to ensure optimal health, said Dr. Bruce Bunting, a vice president of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and a MAC board member. He presented his statements during a keynote speech at the 2nd International Marine Ornamentals Conference in Orlando, Fla.
With the new certification system, consumers will be able to identify certified facilities and organisms by looking for the MAC certification label on store windows and retail aquarium tanks. The industry will be able to locate MAC certified suppliers and facility operators on the MAC web site at The label was unveiled at the conference and depicts a fish and a coral within an oval shape encircled by the words “Marine Aquarium Council Certified Organisms.”
“MAC certification harnesses economic forces for positive global environmental change,” Bunting said. “This is a win-win solution for the consumers who buy marine ornamentals, the industry that trades in them, and the coastal communities that make their livelihood from coral reefs.” 
With one million marine aquarium hobbyists, the United States accounts for an estimated 60 percent of the worldwide demand for ornamental fish. Another major importer is Western Europe. Americans and Europeans buy a combined $200 million worth of marine aquarium organisms annually, the vast majority of them collected from reefs off Indonesia and the Philippines. 
Collecting also takes place offshore in Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean and Red Sea countries, Sri Lanka, East Africa, the Maldives and other Pacific island countries. In many of these areas, rural villagers with limited economic opportunities depend on selling aquarium specimens, which bring a much higher profit than other types of reef uses. Aquarium fish sell for $248 per pound compared to food fish at $3 per pound. Likewise, live coral is worth $3.50 per pound, while crushed coral for lime sells for 3 cents per pound.   Collectors, therefore, have strong financial incentives to ensure that stocks of marine aquarium organisms and their environments remain healthy.  
Some industry operators currently use destructive collecting methods, resulting in unnecessary and often irreversible environmental damage to coral reefs. In addition, poor handling practices can contribute to marine fish deaths, incurring financial losses on marine ornamental retailers and hobbyists who purchase the fish.
“A key goal for MAC certification is to put an end to destructive collecting practices, therefore ensuring the economic stability of responsible collectors, the ability of consumers to get a healthy product, and preservation of our fragile marine environment,” said Paul Holthus, MAC’s executive director.
            The MAC Core Standards, which aquarium collectors, wholesalers and retailers must meet to become MAC certified and handle MAC certified organisms, cover the supply chain “from reef to retail.” The organisms must pass in an unbroken chain from certified collectors operating in certified collection areas to certified export-import, wholesale and retail facilities. A MAC accredited, independent certification company will assess collection areas, collectors and wholesale and retail facilities for their compliance to the MAC Core Standards. These standards conform to World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines and were developed through an international process involving conservation groups, the industry, hobbyists, public aquariums and government agencies.
            The feasibility of the standards and the robustness of the certification system were successfully tested in early November by certification companies interested in being MAC accredited. Among the findings was the ability of industry operators to meet the requirement for a low mortality rate per species at each link in the chain of custody (e.g., collector, exporter, importer, retailer). For example, a Philippine exporter participating in the test case reported that collectors trained to meet the MAC standards were recently able to supply 19 of 20 species with 0 percent mortality levels while one species arrived with a 1 percent mortality level. These are a fraction of the rates traditionally experienced under current practices.
Test case participants included collectors, wholesalers and retailers in California, Michigan, Virginia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, as well as five certification companies. Industry participants in the test cases are poised to become among the first MAC certified facilities.
Already 33 companies in nine countries, including 17 wholesalers in the United States who together account for one-third of the US importing capacity, have signed Statements of Commitment to become MAC Certified. The Indonesia Coral, Shell and Ornamental Fish Association and the Philippines Tropical Fish Export Association have agreed to promote MAC certification among its members. Additionally, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association also strongly supports MAC certification.
MAC is an international, multi-stakeholder, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization. It brings together conservation organizations, the aquarium industry, public aquariums, hobbyist groups and government agencies to ensure the marine aquarium trade is responsible and sustainable. More information about MAC and marine ornamental certification can be found by visiting MAC’s web site at