Kolkata: Bowing down to demands from the booming aquarium industry, India exported more than 1.5 million threatened freshwater fishes in the last seven years affecting the future of the country`s aquatic diversity, says a report.
"More than 1.5 million freshwater fish belonging to 30 threatened species were exported from India during the years 2005-2012," says the study prepared by a group of scientists led by Kochi-based ecologist Rajeev Raghavan.
Published in the latest issue of international journal Biological Conservation, it says the trade in threatened species comprise 30 per cent of the total exports of at least five million aquarium fishes.
Of the 1.5 million threatened fishes, the major share was contributed by three species - Botia striata (Endangered), Carinotetraodon travancoricus (Vulnerable) and the Red Lined Torpedo Barbs (Endangered).
Most wild-caught aquarium fish originating from India come from two global biodiversity hotspots of Eastern Himalaya and Western Ghats, known for their remarkable freshwater biodiversity and endemism, says Raghavan, involved with the Conservation Research Group at Kochi`s St Albert`s College.
With the reported aquarium fish trade exports from India were worth in excess of 1.6 million USD for the seven-year period, the scientists warn that the collection of fish for aquarium pet trade in such large numbers is a major threat to its wild population.
"Aquarium trade is known to be a current or potential future threat to at least 22 endemic freshwater fishes of India, of which 12 are already threatened. Several threatened species that are regularly exported from India have very restricted areas of occupancy," the report points out.
Nine of the 20 threatened species that were exported during 2005-2012 show a continuing decline in their populations.
In India, the country that harbours the most number of endemic freshwater fishes in continental Asia, collection of such species for aquarium trade is entirely unregulated as the country is yet to frame national legislation on freshwater aquarium trade.
The study shows range restricted species of conservation concern such as `Garra hughi` and `Channa aurantimaculata` were also exported.
Four of the 30 threatened species, including the recently described `Dawkinsia rohani` were encountered at retail shops in Germany and Singapore by the scientists, but were not listed in the customs records and so were most likely exported under a generic label.
The researchers also found that new species of conservation concern like `Gonoproktopterus thomassi` (Critically Endangered) and Glyptothorax housei (Endangered) are being collected and exported to satisfy hobbyist preference for rare varieties.
Over 300,000 Red Lined Torpedo Barbs were exported from India during the period to seven countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
Although there were no customs records showing the exports, many specimens of four threatened cyprinids confirmed to have come from India, were encountered in wholesale and retail shops in Germany and Singapore in 2010 and 2011.
"This is a clear indication that several threatened species are exported after `mislabelling` or labelling under the general `live ornamental fish` code," say the researchers.
The report suggests effective monitoring, regulation and management of aquarium fisheries and trade worldwide so that the aquarium industry can become self-sustainable and responsible.