Diving Deep

The Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council is closely monitoring and working on a number of current and emerging issues facing the ornamental aquarium industry.


Over the past 40 years, the ornamental aquatic industry has encountered increasing scrutiny from the environmental community, international treaties and government regulators. Today, we are dealing with multiple issues on a number of fronts involving invasive species, endangered species and aquatic health. Some may wonder: Why the ornamental aquarium industry? The simple fact is that no other industry moves more specimens of more species around the world than the U.S. pet industry.

A couple of years ago, a small group of concerned aquatic industry leaders established a committee within the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) to address increasingly complex issues pertaining to freshwater and marine ornamentals. For those of you who may not be focused on aquatic issues on a daily basis, the following is a snapshot of key issues impacting the aquarium community and PIJAC’s involvement.

Invasive Species
Historically, an invasive species is a species not native to the United States that has been released (intentionally or accidentally) into an environment where it can establish a self-sustaining population, causing harm to the environment. Under the Federal Lacey Act, species may be banned from importation into the U.S. if injurious to wildlife, wildlife resources, agriculture, horticulture, forestry or human beings, now or in the future. Once listed, all international imports and interstate activities are prohibited.

The aquarium industry first encountered the invasive-species issue in 1973, when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to ban importation of all non-native species until each species, on an individual basis, was determined not to be injurious. PIJAC successfully defeated this approach, due to a lack of science and the mandate that one had to prove the species could never be harmful. From 1973 forward, the organization has been involved in virtually every international, federal or state initiative addressing the importation, captive propagation, sale and possession of non-native aquatic ornamentals.

Additionally, PIJAC has represented the pet industry’s interests on the Federal Invasive Species Advisory Committee (ISAC) since its creation by President Clinton. ISAC advises 13 federal departments and agencies on a wide array of issues involving invasive species. However, these issues do not stop at the doorstep of federal agencies—all 50 states deal with invasive species in a variety of ways that are almost as diverse as the species the industry deals in.

Moreover, PIJAC co-chairs two federal steering committees dealing with invasive species. PIJAC believes it is better to be part of the solution than to allow others to label the pet industry as the problem.

PIJAC’s involvement with the invasive species issue includes:

• A public education/outreach campaign—called Habitattitude—used to promote responsible pet owners and protection of our environment.

• A rapid risk-screening process designed to determine which species, not yet in trade, could pose a threat to the environment. Last month, Michigan passed a law requiring usage of this risk process as the basis for creating a white list of species that will be allowed to remain in Michigan’s aquarium industry.

• The international Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), a 164-nation treaty, focuses on invasive species as one of its primary areas. Recently, the CBD adopted guidelines for addressing importation of non-native species. PIJAC participates in CBD deliberations and, at the request of this United Nations treaty, published a “Pet Pathway Toolkit” containing best practices to minimize the risk of pets becoming invasive.

• Animal health issues our industry is dealing with, including: viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS), which afflicts more than 50 freshwater and marine species; chytrid fungus (known as Bd), which is attacking amphibians; and chytrid (BSal), which affects salamanders, both aquatic and terrestrial, and which PIJAC has been most recently involved in preventing from being introduced in the U.S.

Endangered Species
Regulation of aquatics does not end with invasive species. The aquarium industry, as evidenced during the past several years, is the target of an ever-expanding movement to add a number of aquarium species as “endangered” or “threatened” to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). As we go to press, PIJAC is dealing with the recent listing of 20 coral species and proposals to list the percula or orange clownfish (Amphiprion percula) and Banggai cardinalfish (Pteropogon kauderni). Depending on the final decisions, all imports into the U.S.—as well as interstate movement of both wild-harvested and captive-bred corals and fish—could come to an end or be subjected to regulations that render it cost-prohibitive to deal in the species.

A host of sometimes conflicting issues result when a species is listed as “endangered” or “threatened” under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which regulates trade in corals, seahorses, rays, Arowanas and more. PIJAC is working to minimize those conflicts.

Other Emerging Issues
The regulation of the Hawaiian fishery has been fraught with numerous attempts to restrict and sometimes simply ban trade in Hawaii’s marine life. Over the past several years, PIJAC has submitted testimony on 16 state bills that could have crippled Hawaii’s well-managed aquarium fishery. At the same time, PIJAC supported several bills and regulations designed to better regulate the fishery. PIJAC is working closely with industry members on the Big Island to defeat a county bill that would effectively ban the future trade in such popular marines as yellow, kole and achilles tangs.

So how can pet retailers keep afloat and stay informed? Follow what the Aquatics Committee is doing by regularly visiting PIJAC’s website, where you can find detailed information on key issues impacting the aquarium community. Also join with your industry and hobbyists to support the numerous efforts to protect the ornamental aquarium industry.

Marshall Meyers is a partner at Meyers & Alterman in Washington, D.C. For 40-plus years, his law practice has focused on legislative and regulatory matters affecting companion animals and wildlife. He has served as executive vice president and general counsel of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), where he continues to represent the industry as a senior consultant.

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